Book Resource: Imaginative Prayer

I’ve been looking forward to Jared Patrick Boyd’s release of Imaginative Prayer: A Yearlong Guide for your Child’s Spiritual Formation for months now as my older sister (who lives and breathes theological conversation) has been gushing about how the project provides a resource for parents and teachers to connect children’s active imaginations with solid theology and spiritual formation.

It’s no secret that I believe the Holy Spirit works in the lives of childrenimagination is important for children’s faith formation, and children’s formation is vital to congregational health.  It’s also not a secret that I’m generally not a fan of devotional books, much preferring that families struggling to figure out how to worship and learn together start with reading the Bible. 

Imaginative Prayer is a much-needed exception to that rule- in fact, I think it provides a framework for the whole family to learn how to engage the Scriptures with hearts open to the Holy Spirit’s transformation. I’m quite sure that after a year of practicing imaginative prayer methods, parents and children will have re-learned how to wonder about the text with excited curiosity, seek knowing God and God’s character more fully, and want to pursue knowing God through Scripture more regularly.

Occasionally people tell me that their child can’t possibly keep track of Bible stories or theological concepts… and then a few weeks later this same child proceeds to talk at me for 30-minutes of set-up about their research into black-holes or galaxy formation, Ninja Turtles or Nemo, complex book series’ with sequels and prequels and spin-offs. These many and varied things that capture children’s imaginations prompt their curiosity and self-propelled learning. Shouldn’t we seek ways to connect that imagination-driven curiosity with studying Scripture and seeking to know God?

Imaginative Prayer Book

Imaginative Prayer is organized in 36 lessons that follow six sections of Boyd’s Creedal Poem: God’s Love, Loving Others, Forgiveness, God as King, the Good News of God, and the Mission of Christ. Each lesson will take about 30-minutes and includes imaginative listening, thoughtful guided response, creative engagement ideas for the parent or mentor, and a journaling prompt for the child to write or draw a reflection. You could do it as a family after dinner, one-on-one at bedtime or after a parent-child date once a week, or it could be easily adapted for a mentoring program, Sunday morning or mid-week ministry.

My congregation has been talking consistently over the past year about how our habits and life rhythms inform our longings, and this book helps parents and mentors use Scripture reflection to help guide the formation of longings from childhood. I could not be more thrilled that one book- no supplements or memory cards or plastic figurines or laborious workbooks- is focusing on the Christian formation of children in the context of their family or church communities rather than their acquisition of knowledge, behavior control or entertainment.  And, I’m thrilled that I finally have a book I can hand out to families!

Hymns on the Train: Christian Vocabulary, Generations, and an Amtrak

This morning on the Amtrak to Chicago, I shared my car with a group of Amish families including about a half-dozen children. A four-hour drive starting at 6am, most of the car stayed quiet for the first few hours with just a little murmuring and a few stories read aloud on the seats in front of me. During the last hour, though, the children began to sing. Whispery voices sang 3, 4, 5 verses Fairest Lord Jesus, O for a Thousand Tongues, and Amazing Grace in imperfect harmony.

My seat-mate, whom I had just met at the luggage rack, turned toward me

 “When was the last time you heard children sing?”
“Well, my career is with children at church…”
“It’s just so beautiful, so simple. We don’t have any children at my church.”

I lost my words at that last bit. What is a church family without children?

While she reflected on the presence of children, I considered the community that formed them.  I don’t know a whole lot about Amish communities, and as much as I enjoy living simply in some things, I enjoy the connection, efficiency, (and even simplicity) technology brings to my life. Young children (I’m guessing the oldest here was 7 or 8) don’t learn all the verses to hymns by sitting in a church service once a week with a hymnal, their little impromptu concert purely for their own enjoyment grew out of continual exposure to hymns over time.

Songs on the Train (1)

I’m not really interested in putting together a curriculum for “8-Weeks to Teach Kids Hymns”, but my observations challenged me to reconsider the preemptive vocabulary children from my congregation are equipped with through song, memorization, and story. These children sang songs they enjoyed, and these songs included verses about trials, death and eternal life. Even if they don’t know the depth of these truths now, the lyrics equip them with the words and art to express the depths of joy and pain of life.

In Teaching Godly Play, Jerome Berryman teaches extensively about the goal of the storyteller to equip children with Christian language to express their experienced spiritual formation. Many people carefully, imaginatively consider and reform the ways this works its way out in churches across the globe. As we move forward with new ways, the children on the train encourage me to also hold on to traditional ways, like singing. No children’s ministry program can sing with children as they complete chores, meals, and train rides, but congregations together can equip families and communities across generations to reconsider the role of music as a great catechetical tool.

Pentecost Celebration: Lesson Plan

PentecostSince holidays and celebrations are naturally exciting events for kids, special events on the church calendar are easy connection points between even young children and the church year. My goal in planning our celebrations is to engage children without resorting to passive entertainment.

Here are a few of my goals for our Pentecost Celebration this year:

  • Celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit- God with us!
  • Celebrate the Church’s Birthday- God gave us a community!
  • Learn the story of God’s miraculous gift from Acts 2
  • Respond to God’s good gifts with worship & prayer

Story: We’ll read the story from Acts 2:1-12 and talk about how God used a miracle to spread the Good News all over the world. God didn’t just make the disciples a little stronger- God came with them in the form of the Holy Spirit! God didn’t leave them, God came with them! Check the lesson page at www.worshipwithchildren.com for updated details on how we’ll tell the story and reflect on the good news.

Decorations: Red, orange, and yellow streamers, table cloths, and balloons to represent the Spirit coming like a fire, plus these cardstock globe cut-outs to represent how the Holy Spirit enabled the church to spread all over the world.

Snacks: It’s not a celebration without feast food!  I’m planning on making strawberry muffins (chopped strawberries look like little red flames!) with a birthday candle on each one as a reminder that Pentecost is the birthday of the church!

Craft: Pentecost begin’s our congregation’s time of focusing on serving our city and our world. To integrate the kids into this, our older elementary class will be coloring a large map poster, writing the Great Commission on it, and inviting our congregation to join them by writing their own prayers on it in Sharpie.

Party Favor: I’ve ordered bubble wands like those handed out at weddings, and I plan to attach red streamers and the Scripture reference to the wand. Bubbles allow us to see the direction of the wind. Sometimes the Bible compares the Holy Spirit to the wind- you can’t see it, but you can hear and feel it!

What are your plans for celebrating Pentecost with children?

 

Teaching as Spiritual Formation

When my friend who teaches has anxious dreams, it’s about her students at school revolting in absolutely ridiculous ways. When I have anxious dreams, it looks like calling volunteers for Sunday morning help, or showing up on Sunday under-staffed. Lucky duck that I am, I’m pretty much guaranteed all my dreams will come true.

Teaching as Spiritual Formation

I often frame my struggle with volunteer recruitment as a loss for children- a loss of their knowing and learning from the older brothers and sisters in their spiritual family, a loss of continuity, a loss of class offerings. Over the past year, though, I’ve begun to realize more fully that it’s not just the children who miss out, but the adults. If a critical mass of adults are not consistently spending time with the children of the congregation in the context of worship, the whole adult community misses out on the gift of their presence.

Articulating faith and worshipping with children has been the single most spiritually forming process of my life. I started helping with the 2s class when I was 8, so it’s been awhile. Exploring a text with children, hearing their questions, and listening to the Lord alongside them challenges me to put practical application and simple articulation to truths that I easily forget that I believe.  No matter how many times I plan or run through a story, it’s not entirely uncommon for me to have a pause in my heart mid-lesson and catch myself silently renewing my faith.

Do I actually believe that Jesus raised the girl from the dead?

Do I truly trust that Jesus can calm the seas?

Do I seek the church with a doggedness that comes from trusting that God established her through a miracle of the Holy Spirit?

Initially, teaching is more exhausting than invigorating. I rarely have a lesson go as planned, and there are always a few awkward moments- hesitations, pauses, missing resources. The greater inconvenience, and the eventual catalyst for growth, is that it prompts internal spiritual work of the best kind. Some of this extends from working with any group of people who think and learn differently:

  • Why does that child’s question bother me?
  • Why am I feeling impatient?
  • What questions are they going to ask?
  • How do I thoughtfully engage a person who thinks differently so we can both learn more?

Other times, it extends from listening to the spiritual insights of children who Jesus himself said enter faith communities with simple and childlike faith:

  • How do I approach this application with the same joy as that child?
  • Where have I short-changed myself by making an issue more complex than necessary?

Ultimatums are rarely a good idea, and there are some very real reasons why some people shouldn’t serve in children’s ministries. I would argue that across a congregation, an adult spending time with the children of a church should be more the norm than the exception.  Maybe not weekly or monthly, but in some intentional capacity beyond parenting their own children. God often calls people to ministry in ways that they don’t expect, and serving with children is not “missing out on church” but an opportunity to know the church and the God of the church more deeply and fully. Growing alongside children does more than introduce the generations to each other, it provides another angle or facet through which to know God more deeply.

 

Church as Family: why I have a home

Jesus replied to him, “Who is my mother? And who are my brothers?” Jesus pointed to his disciples. He said, “Here is my mother! Here are my brothers! Anyone who does what my Father in heaven wants is my brother or sister or mother.”
Matthew 12:48-50

Part of the church addressing the constantly undulating relationship between family and society means addressing the role of single people in communities.

In many ways, at 26, I feel largely unqualified to share thoughts on this. Being single is pretty easy for me; I live a daily reality that looks like flexibility and feels like freedom. Many of my friends are also single, so I don’t feel “left behind”. I have a stubborn streak toward building and maintaining community, and self-advocate for my needs as a single person to the community at large and personal friends in particular. I enjoy cross-generational friendships. I bake things with chocolate and feed people, which is always a community-builder.

I also have a theological framework for singleness that doesn’t include Christian-karma (God will send a spouse if I perform well for a certain period of time), and does include biblical support for my current status (God worked directly through the single-status of Jesus, Paul, Ruth, Esther, and Mary to name a few). Maybe most importantly, I see myself as part of The Church, which is my family. Wherever I go, I can show up among the church (the people, not the place) and find myself at home.

So it seemed perfectly normal to me to attend the Anglican Family conference last week, and I didn’t feel like I was just going as “a children’s curriculum writer” or “a former children’s ministries director”. I went as Robin, part of the church family: I eat the family meal each Sunday. I show up in the family living room with thoughts and questions. I get a little stressed out at the family dysfunctions. We don’t tell children that they can become part of the family when they are potty-trained or take out the trash, and it’s not appropriate to assume that single people will be any more inherently part of the church family when they begin to form a nuclear family themselves.

What is strange, though, is that single people are so often seen as servants (you’re available to help!) or recipients (you’ll just learn so much from spending an hour or two a week with a family!), or friends (“gosh, they’re just the best! we have so much fun together!”), instead of as brothers and sisters. I love to serve at church and I have received incredible gifts of time and friendship from families. However, the church is meant to be more than a series of transitional friendships; Jesus said that his disciples were his family.

Family derives life from the same source, and are bound by the same history, stories, and rituals in a way that brings growth, laughter and occasional tears. It’s where favorite and richest relationships can also be the most inconvenient ones. Knowing that you keep showing up when someone is needy or annoying is the beautiful part, though, because you’re going to be that person on another day.

When a nuclear family is formed in a healthy, intentional marriage, this type of community begins to take shape in the home. For church families, though, people who are not married might bring the gift of sensitivity and awareness. It’s not that churches are supposed to develop community for the sake of a few people, but that the church-as-family design is a gift of the Lord.

Single people are a good gift to the church, but also one of the most easily de-churched demographics. And when they leave, the whole church family misses out. We miss out on people who know how to take consistent steps of vulnerability and interdependence because they haven’t been able to look to a spouse to fill these needs for years or decades, people who have a unique openness to the Lord’s guidance because they are stewarding flexibility, and people who have learned how to expand their community in life-giving ways because transition means new friendships. In general, I know more single people who are adamant that “there is always room for one more” than I do married couples. Perhaps, in part, because they have been the relieved recipient of the open chair themselves.

So I’m hopeful. I’m hopeful that churches become an increasingly welcome place for single people to find a home. And I’m hopeful that as the church family makes intentional, thoughtful, measured steps toward holistic community, they double-check that single brothers and sisters receive their invitation to the family meeting.