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 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?


Bookshelf: Bibles & Bible Storybooks, from age 0-10

Since I’m not a fan of most devotional books, I have a handy list of Bible storybooks and Bible translations that I recommend to families based on the ages and interests of their children. If your child is old enough to have an opinion on the matter, consider asking them their input about what they would like to read from! Most of these books I have also found at second-hand shops for considerably less than their online retail price.

bible-in-pictures-for-little-eyes0-2 The New Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes:

This updated classic includes a retelling of a story from Scripture with beautiful illustrations, a few interactive questions for parent and child, and a short prayer. While the publishers recommend age 4-7, I know two and three year olds that use this book one-on-one with a parent regularly.

3-6 The Big Picture Story Bible:

This 2014 release also utilizes pictures as a central part of retelling the overarching Scripture narrative. For instance, the page that shows Joseph’s twelve brothers who became the 12 tribes is laid out exactly like the page that introduces Jesus’ 12 followers. They look the same because visuals are how young children make connections! Rather than focusing on individual Bibthe-big-picture-story-biblele stories, this book shows how the stories fit together in a meaningful way.

I chose this text as the foundation for a kindergarten Sunday School class curriculum a few years ago. On the last day, when we talked about the new garden, one of the children piped up about the first garden, and a second commented that there was a middle garden at Jesus’ resurrection! To say that she connected in a meaningful way with the visuals was an understatement.

the-jesus-storybook-bible3-7 The Jesus Storybook Bible

I would be remiss not to include this new-ish classic on the list, though I suspect most families have a few copies. The strength of the text is in building anticipation for Jesus Arrival and the opportunity to be a part of establishing his kingdom. While some of the stories take a little more creative license than I would prefer, the benefits far outweigh my hesitations. The only downside is that some children I work with have heard this version on repeat so many times they are beginning to become bored with it!

7-11 The DK Illustrated Family Bible:dk-illustrated-family-bible

Once a child hits an age of independent reading and personal investigation, I highly recommend The DK Family Bible. Use it as a supplement to an actual Scripture text for family study, or let kids explore historical and contextual facts relating to each story on their own. This Bible storybook introduces children to the ideas of Scripture context and ancient Near East culture at a time when they are beginning to learn more about these things in school. Another benefit is that each tidbit of information is just a few sentences long, manageable for a reluctant reader.

8-10 The Bible for Children, Simplified Living Bible Text:  the-bible-for-children-fully-illustrated

I included this Bible on my list solely for the illustrations. Whenever I bring my childhood copy to teach, kids get excited because they know the illustrations are incredible. They’re sprinkled throughout the full-Scripture text every few pages, and provide realistic, dramatic, and highly detailed perspectives on the text. Few things shaped my childhood imagination in regards to the life of the ancient world as fully as the illustrations in this text. Unfortunately, the text is out of print (the Scripture translation was discontinued by Tyndale in 1996 in favor of the NLT), and the illustrations were gathered from scores of artists around the world, so there’s not likely to be reprint even with a different version (I’ve called the publishing house personally to voice my request). You can often scoop up a used copy off Amazon for $20 or less.

6+ NIrV:nirv-kids-study-bible

Once children are beginning to read their own chapter books (deciphering words on a page that has mostly text, not illustrations), I would recommend getting them a copy of the NIrV. Take them to the bookstore (or pull up a few online tabs) and let them choose their own copy- they can choose if they want illustrations, a specially designed cover, and what kinds of facts live in the margins. The great thing about this translation is that it’s the same NIV quality and methodology but with shorter sentences and clarified wording that places it at a 3rd grade (rather than 6th grade like the NIV) reading level. If your child is a reading fiend and can jump straight to 6th grade reading level, wonderful! Skip the NIrV and use whatever translation* is common in your church community.

*Note: The ESV is a 10th grade reading level and the NIV is a 6th grade reading level. There are many reasons to use the translation common to your worship community, so I wouldn’t discourage using ESV or NIV with children, but recognize that it won’t be as easy for them to understand the text in their personal study or recreational reading. If your child is integrated into a teaching time at church that uses the ESV or NIV, your family has a regular devotional or worship time together, or you feel strongly about memorizing the ESV or NIV, skip the NIrV altogether!