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Pastors: Please, Think of the Children

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4 important ways pastors can support the faith formation of children who will grow into engaged teens and young adults.

Dear Pastors,

As you well know, the church is very anxious about the state of emerging adult and youth ministry. Because of your unique bird's eye view of the life of the congregation you are also aware that our current state of affairs didn’t solely originate with disengaged teens and young adults. 

So, we ask you, please think of the children - these brothers and sisters who are promised our support at every baptism. You are strategically placed to be able to advocate and help facilitate important ministry shifts that will bless the entire congregation. We are not asking that you do all of the work but we do have some suggestions for ways you can support robust faith formation for children and youth.

First, take time to understand how children are formed spiritually. There are a variety of ways to expand your understanding of children’s faith formation. The Spiritual Characteristics of Children is a good place to start and provides an overview of children and youth. 

Also this month, you can take advantage of a wonderful opportunity and learn more about how to support the faith formation of children and their families in an intergenerational setting than what you may have learned in seminary by attending the Children’s Spirituality and Intergenerate conference on May 24-26, 2021. The workshops, presented by both academics and practitioners, will provide the WHY and HOW, enabling your ability to directly impact the faith lives of children and their families. Because this is an online conference (with no travel expenses!), the costs are extremely reasonable, allowing you and your team to attend and have access to all the plenary, workshop, and paper presentations. There’s still time to register. Registration closes May 21.

We also encourage you to keep children in worship. Multiple studies like Sticky Faith have repeatedly reminded us that participation in intergenerational worship is one of the strongest predictors of a child’s lifelong faith. Faith Formation’s Children’s Ministry Catalyzer, Mimi Larson will have more to say on this important topic, but remember not to solely keep children in worship, let them contribute. If you attend the Children’s Spirituality and Intergenerate conference mentioned above, you can hear Mimi talk about how to engage children as active participants in worship. (Her presentation is on Monday, May 24th at 2 p.m. CDT.) 

We encourage you to be highly aware of the children’s Sunday school curriculum you use in ministry. Karen De Boer wrote a very helpful blog about curriculum. Be both aware of how the curriculum matches a Reformed hermeneutic as well as where your preaching can undergird and highlight what children are learning. This also goes for children’s messages in the worship service. Too often they can devolve into entertainment, moralisms or are too complicated for concrete thinkers. 

And lastly, one of the best ways you can support the faith formation in children and youth is to support the parents, grandparents, and caregivers of children. Christian Smith has recently published a new book called Handing Down the Faith reiterating what studies like Sticky Faith and Renegotiating Faith have been telling us for awhile: Parents remain the number one faith influencers in the lives of their children. Parents are key and empowering and supporting faith formation in the home should take precedence over programming. 

If you have questions about curriculum, workshops and other resources, please contact Lesli van Milligen at [email protected], Mimi Larson at [email protected] or Ron deVries at [email protected].

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