Spiritual Formation with Kids and Families
What is spiritual formation? According to Dallas Willard in this article,
Spiritual formation in the tradition of Jesus Christ is the process of transformation of the inmost dimension of the human being, the heart, which is the same as the spirit or will. It is being formed (really, transformed) in such a way that its natural expression comes to be the deeds of Christ done in the power of Christ.
In our ministry with children we tend to put the emphasis on Christian education, teaching kids about God and instructing them in the ways of the church. We have not always intentionally cultivated an environment for kids to experience God and helped them grow in relationship with God. This is where the practice of the spiritual disciplines within our children’s ministry and in equipping families come in. Spiritual disciplines or practices can serve as a foundation for cultivating a culture of spiritual formation with children. Spiritual disciplines are rhythms, like breathing.
When it comes to spiritual formation with children, the most important thing you can do is lead by example: if you want your kids and families to be formed spiritually then you need to be doing those practices and getting closer to Jesus yourself.
Engaging children in spiritual practices allows the opportunity to offer kids a way of training to be like Jesus. It creates a culture, a rhythm for kids to learn more about their faith and ground them firmly in an ever-growing relationship with Jesus. Engaging them when they are young sets them on a firm foundation that they can build upon. It does not have to be complicated.
To most effectively create this culture of spiritual formation takes the whole church, not just kids ministry. Incorporate simple instructive phrases into your Sunday rhythms. Explain what you are doing and why- even those who have been attending for years may rethink something if it’s explained to them in new, simple, ways. We do it with communion why not other aspects of our gatherings!
Remember that Spiritual formation is about the long game. Incorporating it into the discipleship process and culture of your church will bear fruit over the long term. This isn’t just a sermon series, sunday school lesson or one time teaching, it’s how we intentionally live life with Jesus.
Reflection Questions for Consideration:
What are your current spiritual practices? How do you model them in your faith community and in particular with kids and families?
What simples rhythms can you incorporate into your faith community that creates a culture of spiritual formation for children?
What are one or two ways you can begin to incorporate an intentional focus on spiritual formation into the culture of your faith community?
Key Book Resources:
Borgo, Lacy Finn. Spiritual Conversations with Children: Listening to God Together. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2020.
She gives a helpful overview of spiritual formation in children, addresses the three Ps – posture, power and patterns in conversation and gives many practical ideas and tools, including prayers and sample interactive dialogues with children. This book is helpful, not only in learning why adults need to learn to be listening companions to children but also ways they can go about developing their listening skills.
Hess, Valerie E., and Marti Watson Garlett. Habits of a Child’s Heart: Raising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004.
This book covers each of the spiritual disciplines in Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and gives an overview of it, a story from the lives of the authours, and practical, age appropriate suggestions for parents to practice with their kids.
Love, Vernie Schorr. Spiritual Disciplines for Children: a Guide to a Deeper Spiritual Life for You and Your Children. 408 Lone Eagle Pt., Lafayette, Colorado 80026: Character Choice, 2012.
This book, based on 12 spiritual disciplines, has been written to equip adults who want to guide children in practicing the disciplines. It has practical, concrete ideas and reproducible pages.
Smith, Traci. Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home. Ashland: Chalice Press, 2017.
This is a book I often recommend as a gift for parents or for baby dedications. Full of simple, meaningful ideas to weave faith into everyday life. There are a variety of ideas for all different seasons, circumstances, etc. She has also written a book specifically on prayers, one specifically for the season of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany and one for the season of Lent, Easter and Resurrection.
Life with God for Children is a spiritual formation curriculum based on the work of Dallas Willard and Richard Foster. There are volumes for every age from pre-K to grade 6. Read more here and download a sample.
The 2020/2021 CBOQ Next Generation theme was centered on spiritual practices. Each month the focus was on one faith practice. For resources and ideas check out this page.
Good Dirt Ministries is the ministry of Lacy Finn Borgo and full of many great resources. Check out this page for videos for great conversation starters for children and adults. You can also find other great video examples and teaching on her YouTube channel.
Check out this 20 minute video I prepared for a workshop for the CABC NEXT Conference in 2021. In it I share how and why this rhythm can be engaged with children both in a Sunday school or children’s ministry setting, as well as at home.