The Wycliffe Booklets are an occasional series addressing current issues in the life of the church. Here the authors of the newest booklet tell us what it is about, and why they are convinced it is crucial.
We believe that the church’s calling is to be a sanctuary for children. It is one of the few places in our society that is naturally fitted to be a place of nurture, safety, welcome, reliability and guidance. Yet sadly, our churches do not always function as sanctuaries, nor are they places where children are able to feel deeply at home over the course of their lives.
Not only what to teach but how to teach
In a culture that increasingly isolates, entertains, and markets to children, we as a church struggle to know what it means to be a “sanctuary” for our children. We struggle to know how to build into our children from an early age the depth, riches, and demands of the Christian gospel. We struggle to know how to give our children the best opportunity possible to live and grow within God’s community so that they are given a chance to know and love this God deeply and fully. We struggle not only with what to teach children, but how to teach it effectively.
In Reimagining Children in the Church, we address these struggles. We propose an approach to raising children in today’s church that recovers some of the wealth that the gospel has to offer. This model, which we invite you to explore, has been tested and tried in many churches over the last decade, and has been first imagined and then developed by many people in the church who care deeply about children, about the church, and about God. We are not proposing a whole new program, or the need to hire a new, dynamic leader; neither are we encouraging you to purchase an expensive new curriculum. Instead, we propose a more modest way forward. We want to provide a vision for children in the church that has both theological depth and pedagogical substance. We also want it to be simple, easy to use, and a lot of fun.
Maybe your church does not have a lot of children. Maybe your church is having trouble recruiting teachers. Maybe people cannot stop talking about the good old days when the Sunday School was overflowing, and do not seem to have a hope for the future. These are real and practical issues.
Using what you already have
Our proposal is that a congregation should take a step back and consider the kind of spiritual space they can provide for children. We hope that this handbook will help churches nurture the soil out of which a vibrant intergenerational ministry can flourish, no matter how many children are there. We hope this handbook will be something that any church—even a small church that does not have a children’s ministry or a church building—can use with the people and materials that they have at hand.
Our goal is not to help you grow a big Sunday School, nor is it to convince you to make radical and immediate changes in your church. (This kind of goal is not only unrealistic, but can often be destructive in a community anyway.) Instead, our goal is to encourage you to start on a journey of actively shaping a “sanctuary for childhood” that nurtures the children God has brought to you. We hope to give you tools that will help you create a learning and worshipping environment that truly communicates God’s good news to children, and empowers them to find their place in his work and in his world. We want to help congregations be better equipped to welcome children so that they can be apprenticed in the Christian faith for the sake of becoming Christ’s body in the wider world.
How does this work in practice?
We propose three approaches and in each case we give not only a rationale for that approach and why it is particularly suited to children, but also simple, practical ways to try it in your church. We call the three approaches intergenerational, embodied, and storied.
In our first section about the rich, Intergenerational potential of the church, we argue that the church is uniquely fitted to be the kind of intergenerational community our youth and children need in the midst of their fragmented and often isolated lives. We offer practical ideas for involving children in regular services and special church events. We encourage a vision of the everyday work of the church, whether in outreach or community building, as a multigenerational task. We suggest ways that a broader range of the church community can easily connect with youth and children.
In exploring an Embodied vision of raising children in Christ, we present a pedagogical approach that intentionally reflects the integrative, full-bodied reach of the gospel. We offer creative ideas for inviting children to explore God’s story and experience it in every part of their lives; we give ideas for making spaces that allow children to more vividly engage with Scripture and we focus on prayer as an embodied activity for children.
Finally, in talking about Storied learning, we argue that a life-long engagement with the Bible is one of the main ways that we grow in understanding, and being a part of, God and God’s work. In this section, we suggest practical ways to teach the children how to begin to find their place in the Christian story, now and at every stage of their lives. We delve into fun games that open up the world of Scripture to the natural wonder and curious minds of children, allowing the Spirit to work in new ways in their lives. Our desire is to find creative ways for children to see, and get in on, the wonder of God himself and his story for them and for the world.
What the church most naturally offers
In the midst of the challenges the church faces today, we need reminding that the church has an extraordinary gift to offer our children and families. Indeed, the church can offer unique wisdom and practical help in navigating the stressed, anxious, consumerist culture in which most of us live. We suspect that what our children and families not only long for but desperately need are some of the very things the church is most naturally gifted to offer.
The way forward for catechesis in the church is not a fancy new program or curriculum, but a holistic, integrative way of thinking about children in the church that flows out of the fullness of life offered to us in Jesus Christ, such that our church communities become “a sanctuary for children”— and for childhood—in our own place and time.