Friday, May 22, 2015

Children and Gifts - Excerpt from Unfettered Spirit

Note:  With Pentecost on the horizon, and in light of a conversation with Bruce Epperly earlier this week focusing on the Spirit and Ministry, I wanted to share a few paragraphs from a section of my book dealing with children and gifts. 


When the disciples sought to push the children away, Jesus asked that they be brought to him. To such persons as these, belonged the kingdom of God (Mk 10:13-16; Mt. 19:13-15; Lk. 18:15-17). Children are often spoken of as the future of the church, but they’re more than the future, they’re gifted members of the body whose place in the body needs to be recognized.

Congregations have a responsibility to provide spiritual nurture and care to children, and to pass on to them the traditions of the faith. Churches, whatever the form and timing of their baptismal practices, face the issue of when a child truly becomes a member of the community in their own right and not simply as an extension of their family. Is it at Baptism or Confirmation (depending on tradition)? If so, then children in believer baptism communities find themselves in a different situation than those in infant-baptism communities.

The question of the place of children can be seen in how children are treated at the Lord’s Table. In the Disciple tradition, which practices believer’s baptism, many churches require baptism before admitting children to the table – this was the practice of the church I formerly served – but we faced the question of how to respond to Jesus’ call to include the children in the covenant community. If it’s at the table that we encounter the living presence of Jesus, can the church bar children from coming to it? Disciple pastor Colbert Cartwright has written that “children learn relationships of love
long before they know how to articulate love’s meaning. They can express love before they can formulate its implications.” Therefore “faith grows out of the experience of worship,” which requires from the church a provision of a “common way of including children in worship that will affect what we believe about the church and God”56 It’s possible, therefore, that communion can serve as an
opportunity for children, whether baptized or not, to experience God’s nurturing and reconciling grace.

Even as the family seeks to provide aas the family seeks to provide a child with a place to grow and mature as a physical and emotional being, the church can provide that same child a safe place to mature as a spiritual  being. As members of the body, as branches of the vine, children discover their purpose and their abilities. They discover the love of God in their relationships with other members of the church and they begin to discover their mission as children of God. Delia Halverson suggests that “each of us has a personal mission, and that mission is our commitment to love God and follow Christ in a manner appropriate to our age and situation.”57 Halverson’s point here is important. Children are just as gifted as adults, but it takes time, education, and maturity to discern what these gifts and callings might be. Therefore, it’s important that steps be taken to encourage and nurture potential gifts.

Churches face the difficult question of how to find age appropriate ways of introducing children to Christian faith and ministry. We can do the same thing schools and Scout troops do, we can provide opportunities to serve the community. Within these children there are potentialities that have yet to be realized. They can’t be realized until they get explored and developed. Childhood and adolescence is a time of experimentation, of trying new things in a safe environment.  [Unfettered Spirit: Spiritual Gifts for the New Great Awakening, pp. 71-72]

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