Along the Way: Jumping in Muddy Puddles

This post is part 3 of a 4-part series on faith formation in children. It features editors and contributors to the newly released book Along the Way: Conversations about Children and Faith. Thanks to Dana Kennamer Pemberton, Ron Bruner, Ryan Maloney, and Suzetta Nutt for sharing some of their insights in this blog series.

Along the WayOne of our twins’ favorite pastimes is jumping with gusto into muddy puddles. They are even beginning to develop their own stylish techniques. Our son leaps into the center, making the biggest single splash possible, while our daughter goes for more of a rapid-fire, manic dance across the entire length. No matter the amount of rain, they long to pull on the galoshes and venture out in search of the thrills provided by God and the latest west Texas cloud burst. Lately, they discovered that if they beg and plead, Mom and Dad might eventually join them in the momentary madness. Yes, that’s right. I’m 6’2” and I jump in muddy puddles.

Among Evangelical churches in America, the trend in recent decades has been for a family to enter the doors of a church building, with the children heading one direction, the parents heading in another, and never the twain shall meet. Children attend separate classes and separate worship and are given separate ministry opportunities, all packaged just for their childlike sensibilities. This philosophy is clean and tidy. Developmental needs seem to be met. Weary parents receive respite care. Children are rarely bored. Everyone knows their place.

The churches of Christ as a whole have been slow to adopt this practice of separating families for worship. Is it simply because we are behind the times as communities of faith? While there have been a few congregations among churches of Christ who adopted the model of separate worship and ministry for children, most of us lagged behind. Is it possible this reluctance is a sign of collective values that differ from the pervasive trend? I’m hopeful this points to an awareness in our churches of the incredible opportunity each and every Sunday to spiritually nurture the entire congregation. Something amazing occurs when the entire body of Christ comes together to worship and minister. Everyone benefits and everyone has the opportunity to grow and mature in the process—from the littlest to the oldest, from the most able to the least. We all need each other. Faith development theorist, John H. Westerhoff concludes that a robust and significant faith community must include a diversity of believers, including children. He goes on to say:

“When the Christian church is divided by race, social, or economic status, nationality or ethnic origin, true Christian community is once again outside our grasp…If our children are to have faith, we need to make sure that the church becomes a significant community of faith…” [1]

Children are blessed when they are present for baptisms, communion, confessions of faith, and encouragement in song. And we need to hear their voices and perspectives. It is impossible to hear their voices without including them, as Donald Ratcliff asserts:

“No adult can think exactly like a child. But perhaps we can recapture a bit of that experience by listening to children, letting them speak freely of their thoughts and actions, without criticizing or condemning. We need to let ourselves try to remember, and try to recall the experience of being a child without the constraints of logic and insight.” [2]

Congregations that consistently exclude part of the body from corporate worship and ministry miss out on the richness and maturity a complete body of believers brings.

Early church leaders encouraged the church to be inclusive with Jew and gentile, young and old together in corporate worship. A worship service tailored to a certain ethnicity or age group segregates our body into parts, rather than allowing the whole body to worship as one. It may be that some young adult seekers do not understand the relevance or value of being a true, interconnected body in corporate worship and ministry together. Can we find ways to lead them into maturity, being concerned for others and authentically celebrating others in corporate worship and ministry, even if they don’t know that’s where they need to be led? Can we stay the course and allow for opportunities for children to experience God with the adults for at least a portion of their time at the church building?

After years of separating our families for worship and ministry, Evangelical churches across our nation are beginning to recognize the benefits of becoming more inclusive and intergenerational. Many blogs, books, and articles are being written about the cutting edge practice of providing opportunities for children to experience God with parents and “spiritual parents” in at least part of the worship assembly each Sunday. The pendulum begins its inevitable swing back in our direction. We are trendy again!

Don’t mistake me. When you throw children into the mix, things get messy. Our services aren’t as tidy and homogenized. Babies cry. Toddlers fidget. Elementary children want the communion “snack.” Teens pass notes. The puddle is huge. But I encourage you to jump in anyway.

Ministry and worship with children may feel awkward and messy at times. But it affords teachable moments with your church family which you would otherwise miss. So my prayer for our churches today is that we will enthusiastically jump in with both feet, embracing all that this way of being with our children can bring us. May you jump together with your church family and experience the blessing and opportunity of true and full community.

[1] Westerhoff III, John H., Will our Children Have Faith? 3rd Revised Edition (New York: Moorehouse Publishing, 2012), 53-54.
[2] Ratcliff, Donald and Brenda Child Faith: Experiencing God with Spiritual Growth with Your Children (Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books, 2010), 71.

Ryan Maloney (MACM, Abilene Christian University) has served as Children and Family Minister for Southern Hills Church of Christ in Abilene, Texas, since 2011. He has also taught a Children and Family Ministry course at Abilene Christian University since 2012. He chairs various community groups for children and Christian education, including the Children’s Ministry Network of Abilene. Ryan is married to his high school sweetheart, Lisa, and they have five-year-old twins, Ellie and Luke.

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Author:  Publish Date: October 8, 2015

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The CHARIS website hosts conversations of and about Churches of Christ. In partnership with the ACU Library and the Siburt Institute for Church Ministry at Abilene Christian University (Abilene, TX), the website is supported and led by the Center for Heritage and Renewal in Spirituality (CHARIS) at ACU. The Center’s mission is to renew Christian spirituality through engagement of Christian heritage, at Abilene Christian University and beyond. The views expressed on the CHARIS website are those of the various authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Abilene Christian University or CHARIS at ACU. Questions or comments about the CHARIS website can be directed to charis @ acu.edu.

2017-18 CHARIS Editorial Board:
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Dr. Jason Fikes
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Mac Ice
Chai Green
Tammy Marcelain
Molly Scherer
Dr. John Weaver

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