Modes of Spiritual Formation

The importance of evaluation and assessment were ingrained in me during my two years of public school teaching.  Yet, when the outcome your work desires is the shaping of the hearts of children ultimately into spiritually mature adults it is difficult to assess progress.  Perhaps later I will find a way to take snapshots of a child’s spiritual pulse, but for now a different model presents itself.

I just finished reading the book Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas in which he identifies nine different modes by which individuals connect with God.  The premise of the book is that of the nine identified pathways each person most strongly connects with two or three, and to varying degrees can also be blessed by the others.  I won’t use his pathways for this project, though I may at a later date seek to cross reference his work to the ideas that follow.  What I will do is take an available list of pathways for spiritual growth in childhood and study through each method considering the current and future role it will play in the ministry I participate in with children.

Children’s spirituality researcher Holly Allen has identified fourteen different modes for fostering the spiritual development of children.  In this post I will name and describe these modes, and then in future posts we will explore more deeply each of these modes and how the Kidside ministry is addressing each pathway.  There is no particular order to this list, and future posts will likely not follow this order.

  1. Good Children’s and Young Adult Literature:  The Bible will always be our sacred text, but each generation of Christians bring fresh expression to spiritual truths via the written word.  Children’s books can introduce concepts and open rich dialogue between author and child or reader and child.
  2. Intergenerational experiences: Age level teaching has its place, but we must never forget that while each of us must develop our own faith and relationship with God, the seed is planted, watered, and weeded, in the context of relationship with others who have journeyed before us.
  3. Worship: As we grow in relationship with God and recognize our stature relative to him we must exalt him in our hearts and that is expressed through our worship.  Worship then is a response, but also a formative event.
  4. Wonder:  Too often, we live in an wonder-less adult world of explanation and fact.  Yet, we say we worship a God who is beyond our comprehension.  If God is indeed beyond human expression, then reflection upon him and his ways will sometimes lead us to a state of wonder.
  5. Prayer: Learning to speak to God and to hear him speak is essential for relationship.
  6. Service to others: Do unto others…They shall know you are Christrians by…I will show you my faith by what I do…You get the picture.
  7. Story (the Master Story/Scripture): The Bible is our sacred text, which means we believe it is the collection of the most revealing texts ever written about God.  There will be a lot to cover when we discuss this one.
  8. Sharing our stories: “There is nothing new under the son.”  “No temptation has seized you except that which is common to man.”  “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”
  9. Sharing your congregation/movement’s story:  Every congregation has a history that is a subset first of one (or more) historical movements and ultimately of the larger 2,000 year story of God’s people since Pentecost.  This history of the relationship between God and his people contains many positive and negative examples and is a great source of inspiration.
  10. Memory work:  Placing God’s word in our heart is a lifelong investment.
  11. Body and Spirit: We have wrongly been programmed to see the physical world and our physical self as being in opposition to the spiritual world and self.  In actuality, the physical is a subset of the spiritual, thus providing a pathway for spiritual connection.
  12. Parental Nurture of children: Children look first to their parents to set the scene and blaze the trail to a relationship with God.
  13. Grandparents Nurture of Grandchildren:  Children do connect in a special way with those above them in their family tree.  Subconsciously children recognize the heritage that comes from their grandparents who are often removed from the day to day opportunities and obligations that bless and curse parents.
  14. Godly Play: This special approach to teaching children, rooted in the methods of Montessori and her successors, combines previously mentioned categories such as story, wonder and worship in a unique blend.

I look forward to exploring each of these in the weeks ahead.  Please share any thoughts and reflections you might have.

In Him, Wes

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