Christians Engaged in Faith Formation

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This post is by Traci Smith, pastor of Northwood Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) in San Antonio. She is the author of Faithful Households: Generating Sacred Moments at Residence. (Chalice: 2017).  Faithful Households is a book of faith practices households can use at property to deepen faith and connection. Traci enjoys speaking to groups of pastors, parents, and Christian educators about faith formation and practice. www.traci-smith.com

I went to seminary to get the tools and instruction to aid teach individuals faith, in no way expecting my personal faith would be challenged practically to the point of breaking. And however, like so quite a few other people, that is precisely what occurred. The story of Joshua and the walls of Jericho snuck up on me out of nowhere. Although it was far more than 10 years ago now, I recall it like it was yesterday.

I was in the basement of the Princeton Theological Seminary Library through my initially year of research, and the short article I was reading was discussing how the walls of Jericho may not have existed at all in a literal sense. I do not recall the information, but I recall the short article presenting a case for there getting no archeological proof for these walls. The premise was thoughts-blowing to me. “Not literal walls? What?” My thoughts flashed back to getting a little kid in Sunday College, marching about in a circle, singing “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, Jericho, Jericho. Joshua fought the battle of Jericho, and the walls came a-tumbling down.”

As I replayed that scene of that small girl, marching about the (actual, literal, genuine) walls the concept that there had been no such walls was unbearable to me, and I began to cry huge sloppy tears ideal there in the library. (Lots of individuals cry in seminary and university libraries, but it is typically for the reason that papers are due the subsequent day, not for the reason that crises of faith are commencing.)  The short article about the walls stuck with me for weeks. “If the walls weren’t genuine, what else is not genuine? Have I been sold a bill of goods? What am I performing right here?” The walls began to really feel like a metaphor. My faith was crumbling, just like these walls, which (by the way) weren’t even genuine! I kept my thoughts largely to myself as I trudged on from class to class, mastering and reading and turning in assignments. There’s not an finish to this faith crisis I can point to as effortlessly as I can the starting, but it did go away, sooner or later.

Ultimately I came to a location exactly where I was in a position to say, truthfully, that it didn’t matter to me whether or not the walls of Jericho had been actual, literal walls or whether or not the story about them in the Bible points to a deeper truth about who God is. By the finish of seminary I was in a position to distinguish a theological truth from a scientific truth in a way that produced my faith infinitely stronger. For me, the story turned out just fine, and the wrestling I did in seminary turned out to be an knowledge I would not trade for something. I consider I’m a superior minister for the reason that of it. And however, as I reflect on the my season of doubts and concerns in seminary now as an adult, I wonder how it may have been various if I had been superior ready for it.

When we consider of the most beneficial tools for children’s ministry and faith improvement we normally speak about age proper lessons, craft projects, or inventive techniques of telling the stories of our faith. But what about doubt? Doubt seldom tends to make it on any list of proper “tools” of the faith. And however, we as Christian Educators and Pastors may basically serve our congregations properly if we speak about doubt a bit far more than we do. So normally, doubt is talked about as anything to get by way of or leave behind, rather than anything to sit with for awhile as it marinates in us and transforms us. I agree wholeheartedly with theologian Paul Tillich:

“Doubt is not the opposite of faith it is an element of faith.” 

It tends to make great sense to consider about faith and doubt as two sides of the very same coin. Wrestling with doubt, asking concerns about our faith, and teaching young children to embrace doubts is a way to strengthen faith, not tear it down. Doubt is like a mysterious muscle. The far more we physical exercise it, the stronger our faith can grow to be. How can we flex our doubt muscle tissues and teach young children to do the very same?

Doubters and Questioners in Scripture

Scripture is complete of terrific figures who doubted and wrestled with their faith. In these instances, the doubts and concerns finish up top to a far more mature faith that can withstand storms and trials. When we teach young children about these figures, we would do properly to emphasize their doubts and concerns, not downplay them. Right here are 5 stories of doubters that  can be woven in to discussions about doubt. This list is not exhaustive, but it is a terrific location to start out:

Abraham and Sarah: God promised Abraham that he would be the father of quite a few nations. When Sarah learns of this guarantee, her response is to doubt by laughing. “Yeah ideal,” she says in so quite a few words, “I’m way also old!” But the prophesy comes accurate and Abraham and Sarah do grow to be parents. When do we say “Yeah, ideal!” to God? When do God’s promises look ridiculous to us?

Gideon: Gideon is 1 of the judges in the book of Judges who God chooses to provide the individuals of Israel. Gideon can not think it, and puts God to the test by employing fleece. A single evening he asks God to make the fleece wet and the surrounding ground dry. In the morning, there is so substantially water in the fleece he has to wring it out. But this miracle is not adequate for Gideon. The subsequent evening he reverses the test, asking God to make the fleece dry but the ground surrounding it wet. Once again, God answers the miracle. How do we test God? What does it imply when God answers us in the very same way God answered Gideon? Even far more difficult: What does it imply when God does not answer us?

Thomas: Thomas is the quintessential doubter in the New Testament. When Jesus is raised from the dead he desires proof. He will not think it, he says, unless he can basically see Jesus and touch him. For Thomas seeing is believing and he will accept nothing at all much less. We ought to raise Thomas up, not place him down. “Do you have concerns? Would you like proof? You are just like Thomas, he wanted these items also, and he was 1 of the disciples.”

Jesus: In Jesus’ darkest hour he doubted God and felt abandoned by God. From the cross he cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” When young children or young individuals express doubts we can remind them that no one, not even Jesus, has a faith that can withstand every single trial or every single query.

Do’s and Don’ts for Handling Doubts and Queries in Children’s Ministry

DO: Encourage concerns and doubts. “Tell me far more about that” or “Oh that is intriguing, I in no way believed about it that way,” or “Thank you for sharing that” are all affirming techniques of hearing young children and young individuals expressing their thoughts. Use them liberally. Do not be afraid to adhere to conversations exactly where young children want to take them. I also adore the concept of possessing a query box in the classroom exactly where young children can anonymously create down their thoughts and concerns.

Do not: Teach that faith is not an “all or nothing” game. Some faith systems are so rigid and so fragile that questioning just 1 tiny premise tends to make the complete point fall down like a property of cards. Remind young children that just for the reason that they query or disbelieve in 1 location does not imply they have to give up all of their beliefs. There are quite a few various forms of faithfulness. My faith does not have to appear precisely like yours. The pastor’s faith does not have to appear precisely like yours.

Do not: Give answers when you do not have them. As I say in Faithful Households, the word “mystery” is a terrific 1. I consider the word mystery enables for area for a not being aware of that has self-confidence. “That is such a mystery, is not it?” is a way that I answer a complete wide variety of concerns. An additional answer that inspires self-confidence and trust is this 1: “Nobody knows.” Someplace along the line, specifically in Western culture, we’ve gotten the concept that teachers know the answers and students are the ones who are there to get them. Remind the young children in your care that you are there to study collectively, and speak about mysteries collectively.

DO: Lift up stories of these who had concerns and doubts, which includes your personal story (as you are comfy.) The stories listed earlier in this short article are a terrific location to start out, but there are dozens of characters in the Bible and all through church history who wrestle and doubt. Discover them collectively, and lift up their struggles and challenges as properly as their virtues. Our heroes are complicated. It tends to make them far more intriguing.

DO: Retain a sense of humor, joy, and curiosity when teaching. This is great assistance all the time, not just when functioning with doubts and concerns. Faith is playful, joyful and entertaining. There are so quite a few lighthearted techniques to method ministry collectively with young children and young individuals. Love!

So what about you? How do you deal with doubts and concerns in children’s ministry? Do they look like challenges to overcome, or a amazing and essential aspect of faith improvement?

Note from CEF: If you want to discover meaningful concerns like these, register for Curious.Church, the 2018 CEF Conference. 

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