Jan Ozanne is the National Points Person of Children and Families for the Baptist Churches of New Zealand.

What do you believe about children and their place in our faith communities? Are they gifts of God and a sign of his blessing? Are they sinful with moral agency and in need of training and correction? Or are they developing humans who need to be taught and given instruction to become fully formed adults successfully? Are children fully human, made in God’s image and worthy of respect and dignity? – a view uncommon in Jesus’ day. Another perspective is that children need compassion, justice, protection, and help.

What about children as exemplars of faith? After all, Jesus did say, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3–4). Do you believe children are sources of God’s revelation who have much to teach adults? Several chapters later in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus quotes Psalm 8:2, a verse which says, “You have taught children and infants to tell of your strength, silencing your enemies and all who oppose you.”

These ideas mentioned above, or ‘theologies’ consciously and unconsciously influence the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of our Christian development, or ‘ministry’ with children; therefore, they are important. As Dave Csinos and Ivy Beckworth explain in their book Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus: “truth is in the tension” (page 69). They also say: “Spiritual formation is based on views of children that see them as inherently spiritual beings who are already in relationship with God” (page 57). This is the starting point of a course I would like to tell you about which begins by exploring theologies of childhood (and Dave Csinos is a Guest Lecturer in this course!) Our practice is shaped by what we believe about God, people, and what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, therefore I believe it is important for anyone influencing the faith development of children to be aware of these ideas and tensions.

The course I recommend

In semester two Carey Baptist College is running a block course called ‘Faith Formation in Children,’ a paper previously titled ‘Children’s Ministry’. For some, the name suggested this was learning how to run a Sunday morning children’s programme. The new name more accurately reflects the content of the course, which looks holistically at what forms, nurtures, and shapes the spiritual lives of children. It provides robust foundations to inform our ministry to, for, and with children. Might you be someone who would benefit from what this course offers? Might there be someone in your church who would benefit from some focused learning about faith formation in children? Might you be able to help that person do this course?

A personal experience

"This course was so valuable to me. It grounded me in the work God was already doing in faith formation with tamariki and whānau, from the big picture (history, research and perspectives) to the practical (resources and ideas) to the connections with others engaged in this calling around Āotearoa and the world. From this foundation, God gave me the next steps in my context. He showed me, “This is the way walk in it…” and has continued to be faithful as I’ve stepped out into that. It was also a well-supported introduction back into tertiary and theological studies for the first time." – Tanya Cogan is the Team Leader for Children and Families at Whanganui Central Baptist Church, Te Hāhi Iriiri ō Whanganui.

What this course will do

This course will help participants develop an understanding that lives within the tension of different perspectives. To help our children thrive, our faith communities need to not only resource ministry with children but also seriously consider what they believe about them and their understanding of faith formation in our youngest people. These need to be explored and, in some cases, challenged to help form, nurture and shape the spiritual lives of the children in our faith communities.

Are you interested in going deeper? Come along to the Carey Baptist College Faith Formation in Children block course as either an audit or credit student. The block dates are 9-13 September 2024, 9.30am-4.30pm with other Zoom dates TBD.

If you have any questions feel free to contact Jan Ozanne: [email protected].

More details are on the Carey website.

Photo: Children’s ministry. Supplied by Jan Ozanne with permission.

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