One of my favorite things about being in ministry with children is their questions. At my church, our children are steeped in Godly Play method’s “wondering questions,” so we often phrase our curiosities that way.
“I wonder why it’s hard to love everyone like Jesus taught us.”
“I wonder how people felt when Jesus told them to change their hearts and lives.”
“I wonder how Jesus’ friends and community knew that he was raised to life again.”
These questions can arise while sitting criss-cross-applesauce on a carpet square, at the craft table surrounded by pipe cleaners and glue, or while hugging a heart-shaped pillow in my office after telling me about a hard day at school (I have “Snug: the Hug” pillow from Ikea in my office).
Yet sometimes, all ministry leaders (paid, volunteer or parents) feel poorly-equipped to engage deep theological musings from a shy six-year-old or a precocious tween, regardless of whether we’ve been to seminary or not.
They trust you
But remember, when children ask you questions, they are telling you two things:
1. They feel comfortable enough with you to be vulnerable and share their curiosities with you and
2. They want to wonder WITH you. They are inviting you to accompany them in their questioning, and that is an offer you cannot refuse.
Conversations about theology are often (necessarily?) open-ended. But for some reason, when it’s kids doing the questions, adults clam up and feel like we have to be experts giving 100% confirmed (ok, 98% is fine) facts. And yes, depending on their cognitive developmental stage, some children will want to know if something is “true” or “good” or “wrong.” But in general, the phrase, “I don’t know, let’s find out together,” can be a wonderful tool for leveling the playing field of “expert” and “learner” and lead you into a relationship of exploration and accompanied curiosity.
New Directions for Holy Questions, a new book I co-authored, isn’t about providing answers, but about wondering together. Stories about individuals and groups of people pursuing justice, spiritual practices that help ground bodies in the present moment, and Bible stories with reflection questions encourage cooperative curiosity between children, and between children and adults.
“Anytime we study and read and pray with the Bible and theology, we will run into questions. Sometimes questioning faith is scary or lonely, and it can feel like you’re the only one wondering. Let us say here and now that you are not alone! Asking questions is one way to love God with your mind, by growing deeper in your understanding of Holy Presence in our world.” (New Directions for Holy Questions: Progressive Christian Theology for Families)
Other books that can offer guidance for grownups accompanying children in developing their spiritual lives and Christian theologies include:
- Why Kids Ask Hard Questions: Vol 1 and Vol 2 (Volume 2 published November 2021) edited by Bromleigh McCleneghan and Karen Ware Jackson
- Little Theologians by Dave Csinos
- Bad Things, Good People and God by Bryan Bliss (published Jan 29, 2022)
- Traci Smith’s Faithful Families series, containing conversation starters and activities for engaging the Christian liturgical year at home
Wherever you are in your faith journey, and wherever the children in your life are on theirs, know that you are enough to meet them where they are. As a caring adult dedicated to following Jesus’ way of love and justice in the world, you are prepared to help steward their faith by joining them in their sacred wonderings.
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