Coming to a bookstore near you

Faith Forward Volume 2 will hit the shelves in 4 weeks! Melvin Bray and I are incredibly proud of how this book turned out, and we’re so thankful for all the friends and colleagues who contributed chapters to it. If you liked the first Faith Forward book, you’ll love this one!

FF cover 2014

“David Csinos and Melvin Bray continue to do great work in service to us all by assembling this thought-provoking and insightful collection. I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about their kids and the future of Christianity.”
—JIM WALLIS, New York Times bestselling author of The UnCommon Good, president of Sojourners, and editor-in-chief of Sojourners magazine

“An amazing collection of compelling voices that calls us to the work of transforming the formational experiences of our children to birth life-long and life giving faith.”
—AMY K. BUTLER, Senior Minister, The Riverside Church

“What a treasure this book is for parents, clergy, and educators today! Fresh faith is here and she is beautiful.”
—SAMIR SELMANOVIĆ, author, speaker, and leadership coach

“This book is filled with ingredients for new possibilities, concepts, and imagination for children’s and youth ministry.”
—MIKE KING, President/CEO, Youthfront, author of Presence-Centered Youth Ministry

We Already Have All that We Need

When I speak about faith formation at congregations, retreats, conferences, and schools, I always meet ministry leaders who lament the fact that they can’t get parents in their congregations to take an active role in the spiritual formation of their children. “I’m there to help them in this job,” they say. “But they want me to do it for them.” Of course, I also meet many parents who are dedicated to nurturing faith in their children (just check out John Stonecypher as one example). But why is it that many others struggle to take up the task of spiritual formation with their children?

Maybe one reason is that we treat children’s ministry like violin lessons. When I was about thirteen years old, one of my classmates played the violin at our school’s confirmation ceremony. I fell in love with the instrument and begged my parents to let me start taking lessons. They signed me up for private lessons at a local college and within just a few weeks I had mastered a few scales and drills and I was well on my way to learning my first song—Three Blind Mice. You see, in order for me to play the violin, I needed to take lessons. My parents didn’t know how to play it, so they couldn’t teach me themselves. They had to hire a professional to do the job.

During the last few decades of the twentieth century and even into the twenty-first, children’s ministry has—like violin lessons—become professionalized. Churches hired children’s ministers and Christian education directors in order to ensure that they could provide first-rate faith formation to their children. While this shift told families that churches care about children by having amazing programs with flashy curricula headed up by paid leaders, it also told parents that they don’t have to worry about instilling faith in their kids. After all, we (the professionals) can do it better.

So as much as we may be frustrated by parents who seem to want us to do all the work of forming faith in children, we can’t really blame them. The fault, speaking broadly, is not theirs. They’re just living into a message that’s been blaring from churches for the past few decades: “Send your kids to us to be formed in faith.”

But the problem is that one effect of this shift has been the erosion of the tent, as Phyllis Tickle says. The family tent—that place where faith formation has happened for centuries and centuries—is no longer where children learn to follow Jesus. And since it’s been this way for a few decades, a whole generation of parents have grown up without knowing the value of household faith formation. And even as more and more parents are recognizing this importance, they may be frozen in fear, unsure of where to begin and afraid of the consequences of screwing it up.

The solution, however, is not as difficult as it seems. It’s rooted in the fact that many of us who consider ourselves disciples of Jesus likely grew up in families that followed Jesus (even if they didn’t use this term) . And many of us continue to love the church (universal) and love Jesus. In most cases, I’m guessing this is largely due to the formation we received in our families.

And the same is probably true for many families and parents in our congregations.

All this means that we are living success stories. Our parents may not have had advanced degrees, ordination certificates, or shelves of theological books. But they had the tools they needed to instil faith in us. And the parents in our congregations also have everything they need to do the same for their kids. They have their stories, their questions, and their imaginations.

First, empowering household faith means we help families share the stories that have shaped their spiritual lives—stories of hope and despair, loss and recovery. These stories allow families to witness to the power of God and the challenge of following Jesus by communally recalling the experiences that have been instrumental in their own walks of faith. Young people don’t need their parents to teach them theology—which is a good thing, because a common hangup I hear from parents is that they don’t know enough theology to teach to their kids. What they need are stories. In Faith Forward, volume 2, Sandy Sasso writes that “The first expression of religion is experience. We are people of faith because we had a religious experience. The closest we can get to that experience is story. Then the story is transformed into ritual and liturgy. Then comes reflection on the ritual – theology. Theology is the furthest from the experience. The closest we can get is story. We want our children to get close.”

It’s well known that Anne Lamott once said that the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. This is something that families need to remember. It’s not what we know that matters on our journeys of faith. It’s what we don’t know. It’s what we question and wonder and seek but rarely—if ever—find. So empowering household faith means giving families the freedom to ask questions and, more importantly, share our questions with the children in our lives. It’s okay not to have an answer to every question our kids may ask us. In fact, it’s better that we don’t have all the answers, for it models to young people that faith is less about certainty and more about questions and doubts.

Stories and questions are important parts of  empowering families to walk the road of faith together. They remind us of where we’ve been and help orient us to where we are. But we also need to have a vision for where we’re going. And for this, we need our imaginations. We need to dream new ways of being disciples of Jesus wherever we find ourselves. And perhaps it’s here where parents and other adult family members can step back and allow their children to guide them forward on the journey, allowing their imaginations to forge new trails across terrain and toward horizons that we never thought possible.

Stories, questions, imaginations. We all have them. We all live and die by them. When we place them at the centre of our family tents, we stop passing the baton back and forth between parents and “professional” ministry leaders. Instead, we walk together on the journey of faith, riffing off each other and sharing responsibility for helping young people live as followers of Jesus.

In Australia

If you’re in Australia and looking to re-imagine ministry with children and youth, please join me at one of the many events I’ll be leading or participating in:

April 28-May 1, 2015 – Sydney, Australia
Leaders to Go Conference

May 4, 2015 – Geelong, Australia
Barrabool Hills Baptist Church

May 5, 2015 – Melbourne, Australia
TBA

May 6, 2015 – Ballarat, Australia
Ballarat Central Uniting Church

May 7, 2015 – Mitcham, Australia
Mountview Uniting Church

May 8, 2015 – Melbourne, Australia
Anglican Diocese of Melbourne

We’ve got to do better

It seems like the severe winter weather has hit half of North America this weekend. My home in Nova Scotia is a sheet of ice right now and just across the Northumberland Strait, in PEI, cars are buried under 2 storeys of snow (just check out the image below–it’s like you can walk across the water to PEI).

Now, as a born-and-raised Northern Ontario boy, I love the snow. And winter is my favourite season—always has been, with the skiing, skating, sledding, snowboarding… it’s wonderful. But this weekend has just been too extreme, even for me. Don’t get me wrong—I’m loving the snow right now. But I’m also worried about what it means for the future of the planet. The recent terrible weather is merely one of many symptoms of climate change. And as we all crank up the heat in our homes, we’re merely adding to the problem. We’ve got to do better.

As a leader in children’s and youth ministry, I wonder what the future holds for the young people in our congregations—and those who aren’t part of our churches. I have three nieces and nephews under the age of 2, and it’s likely that all of them will be alive for the turn of the next century. But what will that world look like? What state will the planet be in in 85 years? We’ve got to do better.

10923625_10152595087996175_1322880156228394411_n

My youngest reader

A former student sent me this picture of his adorable daughter. I appreciate that he likes Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus so much that he passes it on to the important people in his life.

IMG_20150206_144917

Good words from John Stonecypher

 I am confident that my great-grandkids, when they play sword-fighting, will make lightsabre “vwing-vwing” noises. But I am less confident that they will know and tell stories about the guy who got eaten by the fish or the guy with the talking donkey. Why? Because my kids know my love for Star Wars is full-throated and uncomplicated, and they share in that love. And because for most of their lives so far, they know my love for the Bible has been, well, complicated. My kids tend to care about the things I love. But the things I’m half-hearted about… those are the things they’ve learned to ignore.

-John Stonecypher

Small but Mighty – Part 3

This post is the third in a series about the formational potential of smaller churches.

Benefit #2: Christian Faith as Creative Faith

As congregations experience numerical growth, organizational structures must be produced, adapted, and implemented in ways that allow for clergy, administrators, and volunteer leaders to efficiently provide goods and services—in the form of sermons, worship music, liturgy, Bible study, and additional activities—to an increasing number of congregants.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with creating programs for congregants. But it becomes problematic when the programs become the reason for the existence of a congregation. When that happens, church can become a marketplace where congregants consume products that meet their needs. And if a particular church doesn’t provide the goods and services that a congregant wants and needs, that person might go shopping for one that does.

AllFaithsChurchMall

It’s old news now that, back in 2007, Willow Creek Community Church courageously released Reveal, a report on a study they conducted in their massive congregation. And while the study revealed (pun intended) many surprising facts, one of the most important was that involvement in programs didn’t lead to growth in faith. For many years, the leaders of Willow Creek operated out of the assumption that the more their members were involved in church activities, the more they’d grow as followers of Jesus. But they actually found that those who were most involved were the most stagnant in their faith journey.

Willow Creek operated out of an assumption of consumptive Christianity—and they’ve discovered this and taken steps to correct it in recent years. But contrast this megachurch with one of countless smaller congregations across North America—and beyond. With so few people in these churches, a much higher percentage of members are likely involved not only in attending activities in the life of the congregation, but in providing leadership and direction of these activities. Smaller churches tend to require the active involvement of a large percentage of their members in order to provide activities, thus moving away from consumption and toward creation. Everyone needs to roll up their sleeves and contribute to the life of the faith community or nothing will get done – there’s no one else to do it!

I’m inclined to believe that having a hand creating such activities—that is, being involved as a leader, a collaborator, and a stakeholder—is more likely to cultivate faith formation. I know first-hand that this is the case, for my childhood and adolescent faith was formed through involvement in creating what it means to be and do church, and not consuming others’ church products. As a child, I regularly helped my parents at activities our church was hosting, such as White Elephant Tables, events for high school students (who seemed so much older and wider than I was at the time), and bazaars. And in my high school years I learned how to play guitar in my church and ended up leading music at the Sunday evening Mass. This happened to be right around 9/11, and I remember making difficult decisions about what it meant to lead the church in singing that Jesus was “Prince of Peace.” I had to do some deep theological reflection with the choir to figure out how to sing about peace and love after this horrific event.

Without these experiences, I wouldn’t have been able to be part of a team that creates what it means to be the church. And I’m not the only one. As I travel across North America teaching and leading workshops and events about ministry with youth and children. I often begin by having each participant identify and share a spiritually formative experience from their younger years. Many people speak of times when they were given the reigns and encouraged to contribute to the life of their congregation—as music leaders, Sunday school teachers, members of a service project committee, or even simply collecting the offering. And when I ask how many people present grew up in a small congregation during these experiences, there aren’t too many hands that aren’t in the air.

All this has to do with enculturation, a vision for faith formation championed most famously by John Westerhoff, with whose words I end this post:

Faith is formed as people of all ages gather together to participate in the life of a community of faith, as they create church together. Through such participation, the ways of life of the community are passed on and recast through engagement in those practices that define the way of life of the community. As congregants gather together for Sunday services, potlucks, service projects, pub nights, and whatever other activities are central to the life of the community of faith, they enculturate one another into members of their faith community who participate together in hearing, responding to, and living out the gospel.

Author, speaker, and researcher of children's spirituality, culture, and faith formation

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 372 other followers

%d bloggers like this: