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Books offer advice for raising children in the faith

The question seems to come up everywhere: “Isn’t there more to bringing up children in faith than just sending them to Bible class?”
The inevitable follow-up question is, “How do we raise spiritual children?”
These two books take on those issues. They challenge us to answer the questions and guide us through the discovery process.
In a way, each volume presents a vision for what raising children of faith looks like for us as parents, Bible teachers or children’s ministers.
Holly Allen’s “Nurturing Children’s Spirituality” is a collection of materials from a 2006 Children’s Spirituality Conference. The book is divided into three parts: “Definitions, Historical and Theological Issues,” “Best Practices for Nurturing Spiritual Development” and “Facing the Challenges for the Future.”
This book is packed with 400 pages of useful information for those nurturing the spirituality of children.
In the past when I’ve read books on raising children in the faith, I’ve often felt they had a different definition of spirituality than my own. Allen’s volume addresses that issue.
The first part raises the question: What is meant by the phrase “children’s spirituality” from a Christian perspective? The working definition of the 2006 conference was: Children’s spirituality involves a child’s relationship with God through the Holy Spirit and the child’s response to that relationship.
I am a hands-on type person who craves specific examples that I can put into practice and use with my kids in my home and in my classroom at church. The second part of this book feeds that need! Authors from a variety of perspectives bring an incredible collection of reminders, suggestions and practices to the table.
One chapter surveys the research that has already been done on this topic. Another shows how to make the story of the Israelite escape from Egypt come alive. A third shows how varying parenting styles benefit children in different ways. Other chapters discuss the value of prayer and explore the art of storytelling.
One compelling chapter describes the “noisy” world (television, games, computers) in which our children live. The author offers a simple way to nurture faith in your child: Turn down the “noise” and read a simple Bible story. Another author suggests starting children early in service to others because it contributes to their spiritual development.
The third part takes up the church’s challenge to developing spirituality in children. Under the heading of “Doing Things With Our Children,” contributor John H. Westerhoff III notes, “We have to live in the reality of our baptism. Baptism tells us the truth about ourselves; we spend the rest of our lives becoming who we already are.” Instead of baptism being the goal, it is part of the beginning. That formation takes place “in a community that understands itself as being the body of Christ.”
Westerhoff suggests that our children are co-pilgrims on our journey. Instead of considering our children in terms of chronological or developmental stage levels, we should think of childhood as a “characteristic of life.” He goes on to say that by creating a relational model of “equals,” we all have something to offer one another.
Though I may not agree with his choice of the word “equals,” I am able to grasp his overall theme: It is not just what we do to or for our children. To nurture the faith of our children we should do spirituality with our children. I took this to mean that we live spiritual lives that include our children as active participants, not just witnesses. This doesn’t take place only on Sunday in our places of worship, but children are active participants in our day-to-day lifestyle of worship we live as Christians.
Mercer’s book, “Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood” addresses the church’s ambivalence towards children in our culture’s “adults-only” world.
Mercer shares two contrasting responses to her crying child in two restaurants: In a U.S. restaurant a man yelled at her, demanding rights to eat out in a “cry-free zone.” In a second establishment, located in a poor country, patrons and workers sought out ways to help her comfort her child.
I found these stories both sad and eye-opening — sad because I live in a wealthy nation of “spoiled” citizens, eye-opening at the realization that in at least one poor nation, citizens were more likely to respond with God’s transforming love.
In contrast, Mercer notes how Jesus paid attention to children. I loved Chapter 2 where she shows how Mark in his Gospel tells stories where children are healed (possessed boy, a possessed girl).
Mercer argues that every North American congregation should be “frantically seeking” to welcome children
in response to Jesus’ high regard for children.
Mercer notes the church’s ambivalence towards children in today’s “adults-only” worship. She makes this daring statement in response to those adults who complain about noisy or crying children in worship: “Either be quiet or leave!”
As I guessed from a title with the word “theology” in it, the book moves into the more technical area of research on the theology of children. She wanders through the remaining chapters without effectively communicating her theology.
However, I quickly realized that she based her theological reasoning on assumptions made as a feminist liberal.
She issues a harsh criticism of Protestant churches, including accusations of oppression against women and children.
Though Mercer’s concern for the lack of child-friendly worship gatherings seems logical on the surface, I found her feminist theology without solid direction and many of her conclusions odd. She pursues that agenda rather than providing concrete tools that would make a congregation more welcoming to children.
When the question comes up: “Isn’t there more to bringing up children in faith than just sending them to Bible class?” the answer is “Yes.”
The Mercer book serves as a reminder that Christ held up children as examples for the rest of us. Allen’s book joins us in our journey as a rich resource for nurturing the faith of our children.
MELANIE MORALES is a member of Southwest church in Amarillo, Texas, where she helps nurture the faith of children from babies to the fifth grade. She also teaches classes for women and serves as a public speaker.

Filed under: Reviews Staff Reports

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