Whenever Scripture talks about knowing God, the word “know” suggests much more than an intellectual cognition of facts. In the same way, the Christian life is far more than abiding by a set of rules or principles for daily living.
While most of us know these two statements to be true about our own relationship with Jesus, adults are too quick to take the heart out of the gospel for children and replace it with a set of facts to believe and standards by which to live. In Jesus’ day, people who taught this were called Pharisees.
It is critical that we change how we (parents, schools, churches) teach children faith. We must focus on nurturing the child’s spiritual formation.
“What is spiritual formation? Where did we get this language? It is actually very old language and has become new language, because the language we have been using, like Christian education and discipleship and spiritual growth, wore out. I think that happened because we lost touch with the center of spiritual life, which is our constant walk with the Lord” (Dallas Willard).
When we teach children a “Christianity” that is nothing more than a set of cognitive beliefs and behavioral standards, we should not be surprised that they grow up to choose a different set of “facts” and to live by a different set of “principles.” Children need to be personally introduced God, a God who changes everything!
Dallas Willard defines spiritual formation as “shaping the inner person in such a way that the words and deeds of Christ naturally flow from us… It is the inward transformation of the self that makes it easy and natural to do the things that Jesus said.”
Catherine Stonehouse reminds us that “even young children experience that restless desire which leads them to want to know God” (Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey).
Having a relationship with Jesus means far more – at any age – than just having an agreement that one has checked the right boxes and is, therefore, guaranteed to avoid eternal damnation. Knowing God implies first-hand experience, engagement, involvement, and intimacy. It is in reality a true friendship, relationship, and expression of child/parent love.
These truths shape what and how KidZ at Heart trains adults in North America and around the world to teach kids in their homes, churches, and communities. As adults, we cannot lead children to places we have not been ourselves. So KidZ at Heart incorporates spiritual practices into the training program for adults, so that leaders, teachers, and parents are continuing to be spiritually transformed for themselves.
“Our major concern…is our passion for the children. We must believe in such a way that we give hope and meaning to the next generation. If those of us in my generation do nothing more with the rest of our lives than live so that we give hope and meaning to the next generation, we will have accomplished a great deal. That’s what our lives are for: to hand on the mystery (of faith) to those who are coming after us, which means that we have to appropriate the mystery ourselves” (Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs).
Why is this important?
Because children are not only the church of today, they are the leaders of the church of tomorrow. We must ask ourselves the question Henri Nouwen asks in In the Name of Jesus:
“Are the leaders of the future truly men and women of God, people with an ardent desire to dwell in God’s presence, to listen to God’s voice, to look at God’s beauty, to touch God’s incarnate Word and to taste fully God’s infinite goodness?”
If your answer is “no” or “maybe not,” consider joining us to do something to change the future!
Gordon & Becki