Thinking Theologically With Children
Robert Coles, author of the award winning The Spiritual Life of Children, spent several years talking to and asking children of all ages about God. When Coles asked children to "draw a picture of how you would represent God," the response from many children was that God is "beyond." They found it difficult to draw God, but found it much easier to draw those things or people who represent the characteristics of their understanding of God. We see through their responses that how God is communicated to them is more important than what God "looks like." One way to help children of all ages to think about and to understand God is through our own Wesleyan heritage.
Children love stories.
The primary way that we teach children about God is by telling our story, which comes out of the Bible. We are a people of the story, and we possess a specific type of language. Take time to not only read Scripture to and with children, but give them the opportunity to talk with you about their understanding of what they hear and read. Be open to their thoughts and responses.
Children learn through experience.
They are not born as "empty vessels"; as children grow and develop, they collect experiences that shape who they are as people and as members of the community. As their teachers, it is our responsibility to guide them in living out their lives through Scripture – holy living. Listen to and respect their stories, while helping them to see how their choices and actions reflect upon who they are as children of God.
Rituals speak to children.
Children look forward to and anticipate celebrations like birthdays and life’s other milestones. Teach children about the traditions of our church community. Our forefathers and foremothers of the Christian faith committed to spiritual practices, including gathering as a faith community, offering prayers of thanksgiving and supplication, helping the "least of these," and sharing our stories of faith. Supply children with ongoing and relevant ways to participate in these and other acts of mercy, piety, and means of grace.
Children are naturally curious.
While memorizing Scripture should be respected and expected, we can guide children in interpreting Scripture and the impact it has on their lives as children of God. As Bishop Scott Jones reminds us, reason helps us to see if our interpretations of Scripture "make sense" in everyday life. Take the time to relate Scripture to the real life occurrences that our children experience and to support them in navigating life’s challenges while deepening their connection with God.
Melanie Gordon is Director of Younger Childrens Ministries at the Discipleship Ministries in Nashville, TN
For Further Reading:
At Home With God: Family Devotions for the School Year
by Ann Broyles, Sue Downing, Paul Escamilla, Elizabeth Lind Escamilla, and Marilyn Brown Oden (Upper Room Books, 2002)
United Methodist Doctrine: The Extreme Center
by Scott J. Jones (Abingdon Press, 2002)
The Spiritual Life of Children
by Robert Coles (Houghton Mifflin, 1990)
The Inner Lives of Children
Conversation with Dr. Robert Coles