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Review: Ministry to, for and with our children

Ron Bruner and Dana Kennamar Pemberton bring to light the importance of planning and nurturing our children’s spiritual development in “Along the Way: Conversations About Children & Faith .” 

Bruner, executive director of Westview Boys Home in Hollis, Okla., and Pemberton, chair of teacher education at Abilene Christian University in Texas, open discussions among 10 contributors with a wide range of educational backgrounds and ministry experience. 

In Print | Lacy JanssenBruner begins by looking at the history of theology with regard to children’s spiritual formation — from infant baptism, widely practiced in the United States before the Stone-Campbell movement, to schools of thought that recognize children, even those not yet baptized, as part of our faith fellowship. 

In another essay, Steven Bonner, an associate professor at Lubbock Christian University in Texas, argues that children are spiritual beings who “have the capacity to know God and sense God’s very presence and as such ought to be active participants in the community of faith.” 

The most important place for nurturing children’s faith is not in the church pews, however, but in the home. The editors attest to this by placing the section on spiritual formation at home before sections dealing with church and children’s ministries. 

Parents receive a charge to be active in children’s lives, Bruner writes, echoing the words of Moses in Deuteronomy 6. In another essay, Samjung Kang-Hamilton, who teaches children’s education and Christian education in Abilene Christian’s Graduate School of Theology, writes that sharing Scriptures and praying with children is key to spiritual growth. 

After the home, the church’s overall structure — not just its children’s programs — plays an essential role in shaping children’s faith. Scriptures and studies support intergenerational connection. 

Worshiping, learning and serving together have many benefits, Holly Catterton Allen writes in her essay. Allen, a professor at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn., lays out avenues to accomplish the difficult task of bringing different age groups together.

In an effort to draw children into the community of believers, Nathan Pickard, preaching minister for the Newmarket Church of Christ in Ontario, proposes in his essay that children partake in communion. While I agree that children should be included in worship, the scriptural instruction that the Lord’s Supper should be taken after examining one’s heart is not addressed here. 

In another essay, Jeff Childers, a professor at Abilene Christian, discusses baptism as a public part of the Christian journey — not a starting or ending point.

The final section discusses children’s ministry — the area where I serve. Ministering with children rather than to children is a relatively new perspective, discussed here by Ryan Maloney, children and family minister for the Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene. Maloney proposes including children in serving others and allowing them to teach.

Knowing that children are spiritual beings, Suzetta Nutt, children’s minister for the Highland Church of Christ in Abilene, encourages Bible class teachers to allow children to find their spiritual direction by bringing the text of the Bible to every Bible class and keeping God at the forefront of each story.

“Along the Way” will encourage readers to be intentional in all aspects of children’s faith walk. 

Thoroughly researched and packed full of inspiring thoughts and practices, I put the book down with new insight into my ministry. Investing time to explore these conversations will benefit anyone committed to ministering to, for and with children.

LACY JANSSEN and her family attend the Harpeth Hills Church of Christ in Brentwood, Tenn., where she serves as children’s minister.

Filed under: Reviews

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