Reflective Children’s Ministry

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The tagline for this blog is…Reflective Children’s Ministry and since I totally made up that phrase I thought I would take a little time to go into more detail about what that means.

First, let’s take a look at the word reflection

Reflective children's ministry

Reflection can be something outward like the reflection we see in a mirror.  In this sense, it is a copy or a replica of the real thing.  Our reflection in a mirror helps us see things about ourselves that we can’t see on our own.  It helps us see ourselves as others see us.  It can even help us improve our appearance.  A reflection is like the original, but it isn’t the same.  A reflection can’t do anything without a source to reflect.  When you think about it, a mirror in the dark is pretty useless.

But there’s another meaning for reflection that is inward.  Reflection is an activity of the brain where we take a closer look at ourselves, try to see things in a different way, process new information and try to find a place for it in our understanding of the world.  We can reflect about ourselves or we can reflect about others.

Sadly, many people do not fully develop their ability for reflection.  We can choose not to reflect on the things we experience developing what psychologists call an “episodic grasp of reality” (Feuerstein, Rand, Hoffman, & Miller, 1980).

As people who hope to help others grow and develop mature faith, we can easily see that reflection is necessary for children to truly own their faith and not just blindly adopt what they have been taught.

Reflective Children’s Ministry can be seen as a cycle that begins with the view of the child.

Reflective Children's ministry cycle
Reflection drives the cycle at every point. We start with theological reflection not just of who God is, but of who God created children to be. God is the ultimate source for our reflection. We offer children opportunity for experiences that engage them in reflection  Those who lead children reflect on what they have seen and heard driving us toward a fuller view of the child, deeper engagement, and better ministry practice.

Children are image-bearers that reflect the image of God.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Genesis 1:27

One of the concepts that has blown my mind as a Christian is understanding that this image of God thing has so many layers that deepen not only our understanding of who God is, but who he created us to be.  Being human is an impressive thing.  God said we are very good.  In our fallen state, we often distort or lose our sense of what makes for a meaningful human experience, but when we honor God’s intentions for us to reflect his image…well WOW!

Here’s an example.  Understanding that God is in relationship with himself (Father, Son, Spirit), puts a whole different spin on how we are to understand our need for relationship and community when we realize that we were created for community because that is who God is.

Here’s another example.  God is neither male nor female, but he created male and female.  Male and Female were made to complement one another and TOGETHER help us understand God more fully.  Taking this one step further, children have certain characteristics that help deepen our understanding of who God is that as adults we miss out on if we don’t value the particular ways children reflect God’s image.

Read more about how a child uniquely reflects God’s image here.

Is it possible that without the presence of children, our experience of God is incomplete?  If so, Children’s ministry [and parenting] is not only about teaching kids and passing down faith, it is also about listening to and learning from children.

When we hone our skills of listening an observation of children, it’s possible that they bless us more than we bless them!

Children [actually all humans] need time and space for reflection in order to construct meaning and make life application.

Reflection has many enemies in our culture: busyness, consumerism, entitlement, instant gratification, so. much. technology.  We have everything we need at our fingertips.  We don’t have to think about where it comes from and we are encouraged to use it up, throw it away and get something new and shinier.  We feel this pressure to give our kids more, more, more and not just stuff, but experiences too.

But we are beginning to see a tipping point that reveals that our souls our longing for meaning.  Here are few trends that show some people are ready for something different: Minimalism, Tiny houses, meditation, environmental conservation, re-purposed furniture, clean eating, farm to table, and experiential education.  All of these trends require a mindful approach to how we live out our values in daily life.

So here is a big question: Are the people who know that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life leading the way in showing the world where they can find meaning?

Or will people seek spiritual meaning apart from Jesus?  Don’t the people in our churches feel this longing too?  How about our children?

Do the children in our churches experience God in a way that deeply engages them?

More fun, bigger and better programs, and keeping kids busy and excited may elicit a great response from kids and even their parents, but if it isn’t giving kids the tools they need to make meaningful connections about what they are taught about God and the Bible then we need to find better ways to engage children.

Ways that are compelling enough for those who are looking for something that feeds their soul.

If we truly believe that faith in Christ is the source of all meaning in life, and if we want to pass on that faith to the next generation, we need to not only teach children about faith, but ensure that we provide them with opportunities for reflection that push them to make meaningful connections about God, faith, and life experience.

Scottie May and Catherine Stonehouse wrote an amazing book called, Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey. In the book, they coin the term reflective engagement to refer to the process of setting up an environment and facilitating spiritual reflection with children.  The book provides stunning examples of deep spiritual insights from children who were led toward reflection and given opportunity to express that reflection through art and story and other creative endeavors.

The process they encourage respects children deeply, nurtures their spiritual potential, and looks for the ways that God is already at work taking seriously what children have to offer the body of Christ.

The Reflective Role of Teachers and Leaders

When teachers (and by that I mean teachers, small group leaders, parents, children’s ministry professionals) shift their focus to listening and observing children and creating space for them to engage deeply not just passively receive Christian instruction, the role of the teacher changes.

The teacher serves as a guide and a curator of experiences that challenge and provoke learning in children.  They are not the keepers of information.  They aren’t the center of teaching.  Now the focus is not on the content that needs to be communicated, but on the learning that is taking place.

This makes it easier for teachers to respond to real time needs, make curriculum adjustments, and know the individuals they teach on a more personal level. 

Whew…I hope this post didn’t hurt your brain.  It’s pretty obvious from a quick re-read that I worked in higher ed for a loooonnnngggg time.  Even though this post is wordy and a bit too academic for a blog post, I hope you have been able to glean a nugget or two of truth to chew on.

Your Turn…

What are your thoughts?  What part does reflection play in your ministry with children?