Theology of Children

Scriptures: Various

 

Title: Theology of Children

 

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • What is a theology of children?
  • Why are we developing a theology of children?
  • How do we plan to develop a theology of children?

o   Inter-generational

o   Prayer

o   Programmes

o   Rites of Passage

  • Conclusion

 

Introduction:

There is an intriguing verse in the Book of Ecclesiastes which reads…

–         A cord of three strands is not quickly broken [1]

 

In the context it is talking about the value of friendship and mutual support

–         Consequently, you sometimes hear this verse read at weddings

–         What makes it intriguing is that in friendship (as in marriage) there are two people but with the cord there are three strands – not two

–         What is the third strand?

 

Over the past few weeks we have been working through a sermon series on Christian spirituality called Being with God

–         Today we take a break from this series to do something a little different

–         This coming Wednesday (23rd November) we have a church forum

–         Usually at the November forum we take time to discuss a certain topic or theme in small groups around tables

–         This year we plan to begin discussing our Theology of Children

–         Today’s message focuses on this topic as a way of preparing us for the discussion

 

What is a theology of children?

Now you may be wondering, what on earth is a theology of children?

–         Indeed, what is theology for that matter

 

The term ‘Theology’ comes from two Greek words

–         Theos, meaning ‘God’ and Logos, meaning ‘speaking’ or ‘word’

–         Put that together and theology basically translates as, ‘talking about God’ or ‘words about God’

–         For Christians this means articulating or putting into words what we think and believe about the Christian God and his relationship to creation

 

You might not think of yourself as a theologian, but whenever you put your thoughts about God into words you are doing theology

 

If theology is articulating what we think and believe about God

–         Then a ‘theology of children’ is putting into words what we think and believe about God in relation to children

–         This is how God sees children, this is God’s attitude to children

 

Why are we developing a theology of children?

Another reasonable question to ask is, why are we developing a theology of children? Why is this on the agenda?

–         Well, about two and half years ago now a group of us attended a seminar led by David Goodwin called, Lost in Transition

–         In that seminar David offered some strategies for helping churches with their children’s ministry

–         Over the past couple of years we have considered and implemented a number of David’s recommendations

–         One of the things he suggested was for churches to develop a theology of children that fitted for their context

–         And so David’s seminar is the catalyst for this

 

Of course, we aren’t going through this process just because an expert recommended it

–         Our main motivator here is to pass on Christian faith to children

–         We want to see children grow up to become life-long followers of Jesus, to continue in the church and be fruitful in God’s kingdom

–         We are interested, therefore, in life long faith formation

 

Returning to our verse from Ecclesiastes, if we imagine for a moment that the cord of three strands represents faith, then we could say that it is the Holy Spirit who weaves or plates the strands together

–         While the three strands represent contributions to faith from three different (but related) sources

–         One cord is what the child herself brings

–         Another cord is the input of the family into the child’s life

–         And the third cord is the input of the church

 

Generally speaking, the Holy Spirit might use each of these three things – the individual’s personality (or spirit), their family and the church to form the cord (or the bond) of faith

–         With these three strands faith is made strong – it is not quickly broken

 

Now someone might ask, what if a child is not raised in a Christian home – does that mean that faith can’t be formed?

–         Of course not. I wasn’t raised in a Christian home and yet God still used my family to form faith in me. Nothing is impossible with God

 

Likewise, someone else might ask, what if a child is not raised going to church – does that mean that faith can’t be formed?

–         Of course not. People can still come to faith later in life without having been to church as children. Nothing is impossible with God.

–         But with one strand missing it may mean their faith is weaker until such time as they start participating in church life

 

In all of this I need to stress that it is the Holy Spirit who weaves the strands together – not us

–         Nevertheless we want to do our part as best we can

 

The focus for our church meeting this Wednesday is on the third strand – the contribution of the church to a child’s faith formation

–         Part of our purpose in developing a theology of children is to do all we can to ensure that the church strand is of the best quality

–         One implication of this is that developing a theology of children needs to involve as much of the congregation as possible

–         This exercise isn’t just for parents with young children – it’s for everyone because everyone has a part to play in the faith formation of everyone else, whatever their age or stage.

– You might wonder how you contribute to a child’s faithformation

Well, it reinforces a child’s faith to see people outside their immediate family worshipping God and practising Christian faith – they come to realise that God is bigger than their little family

Okay then – a brief recap to make sure we are all on the same page

–         We are beginning to develop a theology of children for Tawa Baptist

–         A theology of children is putting into words what we think and believe about God in relation to children

–         We are doing this because we care about the faith formation of children

–         We want to pass on our faith and see children become life-long followers of Jesus

 

Having established what we mean by a theology of children and why we are developing this, the next thing is to figure out how we’re going to approach this

 

How do we plan to develop a theology of children?

There are any number of ways we could develop a theology of children

–         We have decided to start where we are at

 

You sometimes hear the expression, faith is a verb

–         A verb, of course, is a doing word

–         To say that ‘faith is a verb’ means that faith isn’t just something we think about in our head or talk about with our words

–         Faith, if it is genuine, is also something we do

–         Or said another way, faith expresses itself in action

 

As the apostle James says,

–         …what good is it for someone to say that he has faith if his actions do not prove it? Can that faith save him? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you, keep warm and eat well” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith – faith without actions is dead [2]

 

The point is: it’s what we do which truly reveals what we believe, more than what we say

 

On the basis that what we do points to (or reveals) what we really believe then our approach in developing a theology of children is to first examine what we are currently doing with and for children, ask ourselves why we are doing it and work out our actual beliefs from there

–         Further down the track we might choose to critique our current beliefs & practice, but first we need to establish them

 

Let me show you what we mean…

–         Most of what we do with & for children at Tawa Baptist comes under four main headings:

o   Inter-generational

o   Prayer

o   Programmes, and

o   Rites of passage

 

Inter-generational

By inter-generational we mean that here, at Tawa Baptist, we intentionally encourage inter-generational interaction within the church

–         As much as possible we look for opportunities to bring the different ages and generations together

–         For example: we don’t send the kids out to their Sunday school programmes for the whole service

–         We keep them in the service with the adults for the first 20 minutes or so and try to make that part of the service all-age friendly

–         We organise inter-generational events, like the women’s clothes swap, the sports afternoon and shared lunches

–         We have 4 all-age services a year and so on

 

Why do we do this?

–         Well a variety of reasons – let me give you one as a taster

 

In his letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul says…

–         Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts…

–         So then, the eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” Nor can the head say to the feet, “Well, I don’t need you.” On the contrary, we cannot do without the parts of the body that seem to be weaker…”

 

Paul is talking here about the church – basically we need each other

–         The children need the youth and the adults, just as the adults need the children and the youth

 

Holly Catterton Allen, who has written about this inter-generational stuff, gives the example of potty training her first son, David [3]

–         They purchased a book on the subject, created a sticker chart with rewards for when he got it right and started the arduous process

–         Months later they were still slogging through

–         When it came time to potty train their second son, Daniel, they dreaded what was coming

–         But then, one day as Holly walked into the laundry / bathroom with a load of washing, she came upon their elder son (David) demonstrating to a very intent younger brother the basic technique of aiming straight

–         David had pulled up a small stool for his brother to stand on and Daniel was well on his way to proficiency

–         The first child is the most difficult to train – but the second picks it up a bit easier because he can learn from the first and so on

 

It’s similar with learning to walk and learning to talk – kids learn that by watching those (older) around them

 

And it’s like that in church – the older teach the younger

–         But in order for that to happen the older and the younger need to spend time together

–         If we separate the generations then no one learns from anyone – everyone has to figure it out themselves

 

The benefit goes both ways of course. There is a certain energy and sense of hope which the younger give the older, even if the younger aren’t aware of it

 

Gus Row, my mentor at Youth for Christ (years ago), told us how, in the past, farmers used to team up oxen – putting an older ox with a younger ox

–         They did this to pace both animals so they would last through the day

–         The younger ox kept the older ox going and the older ox stopped the younger ox from going too quickly and burning out

 

So, what beliefs does our inter-generational practice point to?

–         For one thing it shows that we believe relationship is important

–         That faith is formed in community with other believers

–         We need each other, our faith cannot survive or grow in isolation

 

Our inter-generational practice points to other beliefs as well – but we can get into that more on Wednesday

 

Prayer

Another thing we do at Tawa Baptist is to make room for prayer

 

We pray with & for children and we give children opportunity to pray themselves

 

Why do you think we pray for children? Anyone? [Wait]

–         Perhaps it is because we believe that our children need God’s help

–         That faith isn’t something we can manufacture by our own efforts

–         That faith formation is essentially the work of the Holy Spirit and we are like midwives to that process

 

And why do you think we give children opportunity to pray? [Wait]

–         Perhaps it is because we believe that people learn best by doing and we want our children to learn to relate with God

–         Perhaps it’s also because we believe that God listens to children and that children are capable of having a relationship with God

 

There’s more we could say about prayer but that can wait till Wednesday

–         What about programmes then…

 

Programmes

At Tawa Baptist we offer a range of age-specific programmes and activities for children, as you can see from the slide there. These include:

–         Cradle Roll, Doves (Creche), The Flock Sunday school, BIG Sunday School, Club Intermed & Blast as well as Youth Group, and so on

–         We use a Bible based curriculum with the kids

–         We put effort into helping the children make the transition from one group to the next

–         And these programmes are run mostly by volunteers

 

In considering why we do this some verses from Deuteronomy come to mind…

–         Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your soul and with all your strength. These commands that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…

 

The point here is to pass on our faith to the children in our care

–         To teach God’s word to our children at every opportunity

–         The church can’t do this 24-7, in quite the same way that parents can

–         Kids are only at church for an hour and a half a week – sometimes less

–         But the church can support parents in the role of teaching their children

–         That’s one reason why we run programmes for the kids

 

Again there is more that could said about our programmes and the beliefs they point to – this is just a taster

 

Rites of Passage

The other main thing the church offers children (and people of all ages for that matter) in their faith formation is rites of passage

–         Rites of passage are public ceremonies or rituals – sort of like milestones marking certain stages in our journey of faith

 

Dedication marks the first milestone, of being born and making it into this world

 

Communion is another milestone along the way, indicating a growing awareness of Jesus & our need for him, as well as our relationships with others in the church

 

Baptism is a milestone signifying (among other things) our life-long commitment to follow Jesus, our forever friend, and…

 

Membership is a personal commitment to the local church – Tawa Baptist

 

If we take dedication as an example – we normally perform dedication ceremonies in the context of a Sunday morning service

–         We involve the whole church because we believe everyone in the church has a role to pay in the faith formation of that child

–         It takes a village to raise a child, as they say

 

There are generally 3 elements to child dedication, including:

–         A thanksgiving for the child’s life

–         A blessing for the child, and

–         A commitment by the parents to raise their child in the Christian faith

 

In performing dedication ceremonies we are mindful of Jesus’ words to his disciples…

–         “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

–         And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them. [4]

 

When we explore the question of why we perform infant dedications we find that we believe a number of things, for example…

–         That children are a gift from God

–         That God welcomes children, and

–         That children are safe with God

–         Meaning that if a child dies before being baptised they won’t go to hell or some other not very nice place – God will look after them

 

I could go on to talk about communion and baptism but this morning’s message is more about posing the questions, rather than providing the answers

–         We want to encourage you to think about the why

 

Conclusion:

Today’s message is designed to help us prepare for the discussion at this Wednesday’s church forum

–         Consequently it comes with homework

–         On the table in the foyer I will leave some notes for you to take away (one per household)

–         These notes summarise what Tawa Baptist does with and for children, under the four headings we have covered this morning

–         Take these notes away – read them before Wednesday and have a think about why we do what we do

–         What underlying beliefs do our actions point to?

 

At the meeting we plan to put aside about 30 minutes to break into small groups to discuss this stuff

 

You will have the option of choosing which of the four headings you want to discuss – whether inter-generational, prayer, programmes or rites of passage

 

I will put a copy of this morning’s message on the church website under Sermons for 2016 & I will put a copy of the forum notes on the web site as well

 

https://soundcloud.com/tawabaptist/20-november-2016-theology-of-children

[1] Ecclesiastes 4:12b

[2] James 2:14-17

[3] Holly Catterton Allen, ‘No Better Place’, a chapter in the book Shaped by God, page 115

[4] Mark 10:14b-16

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