“Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore,” said Dorothy to her beloved dog in the movie The Wizard of Oz. As a child we watched that movie every year because my mother and sisters wanted to watch it and there was little else to choose from on television.*
The world was different then. Before the advent of cable TV, there was only a few local channels. We did occasionally get a fourth channel if we slapped the tube television just right. Other than that, we had three channels on the only television in our house without any cable television or internet access. That also kept us from being inundated with twenty-four hour news programing replete with journalists analyzing every story from a dozen different angles.
That’s all changed. Consequently, there has been a shift towards an increased global perspective, especially among the younger generations, with an awareness of different viewpoints when it comes to politics, religion, social-economics, humanitarian crises, and so on. Even the onset of businesses like Barnes and Noble and Amazon Books as well as the web-based Wikipedia provide us with unprecedented access to ideas and thinking. And so we have a paradigm shift in the way Americans are beginning to think about life and the world.
Some would like to be nostalgic about the past, lamenting all of the changes taking place but this will do little, if anything, to help the next generation live among the world with a Christian world view and faith. For our purposes, it is important to recognize that the occurring shift affects how we go about faith development and spiritual formation. For years now churches have had a cognitive approach to faith development and spiritual formation through weekly sermons and Bible studies. This approach seeks to impart information about the Christian faith which is intended to build and develop faith.
There is a place for preaching and teaching within the life of the church, as I believe this is how we form our imaginations with the vision and values of a Christian worldview. But preaching and teaching alone is likely to be insufficient to spiritually form the faith of our children.
How then should we set out to develop faith and spiritual form the next generation among our church? In his book You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church… And Rethinking Faith, David Kinnaman writes, “Many of the deepest truths of Christianity become clear when we put our faith into action; in the doing, believing makes sense” (p. 197). Think about that and think about how Jesus taught his disciples. Jesus certainly spent time preaching and teaching to his disciples but his instruction was not limited to a “Sunday-School” classroom. His preaching and teaching was thoroughly integrated with experience and action by asking his disciples to follow along with him, learning to do as he did.
That is emerging faith. It is faith that develops in the doing of faith. It calls for us to start rethinking the way we develop faith. There is still a place and time for the more traditional Bible class but that must be thoroughly supplemented with “ministry labs” among the world. Such a lab might be as simple as…
- Taking children on a visitation with the sick and shut-in.
- Chaperoning and helping children volunteer serving meals to the homeless.
- Taking a mission trip, domestic or foreign, somewhere out of their normal element.
- And many more ways.
But an important reminder is that the next generation needs to see our faith taken seriously by us. Nominal Christianity has arguably posed a greater threat to spiritual formation than false teaching and the awareness of other religious beliefs. So we must realize that the ministry labs we invite our children to participate in must be the “front-lines of ministry” we live out our faith among.
* This post is an adaptation of an article titled “Emerging Faith” appearing in Connecting, 28 (2012), a biweekly publication of the Columbia Church of Christ.