If faith is simply about good teaching and proper behaviour, then the church is a sufficient place for children to learn that, but if faith is that plus more—if it is understanding how to live out what we believe in real time, by the power of God’s Spirit over a lifetime, then the family (with spiritually minded parents), would be the best place for that, according to Michelle Anthony in her book Dreaming of More for the Next Generation: Lifetime Faith Ignited by Family Ministry.
In many churches, large numbers of children seem to be graduating from church children’s ministry without a firm faith, and many fall away from attending church entirely, notwithstanding engaging, exciting programs and apparently sound Biblical teaching. The missing element, according to the author, is the failure to recognise that the role of parents, and not children’s ministry teachers, should be primary in the spiritual nurture of children.
The author provides seven core ideas which are foundational for family ministries within the local church:
- Family is primary (parents are the primary nurturers of their children’s faith)
- Spiritual formation is our goal (not just information)
- The Holy Spirit is the teacher (children need to learn to rely on him, not on human teachers)
- Scripture is our authority
- The big God story (children need to hear the redemptive storyline of the whole Bible)
- God is central (the aim of all teaching is to cultivate an actual relationship with God)
- Ministry support (a unified staff and teams of volunteers with a common goal)
Many parents do not know how to talk to their children about matters of faith or how to model a vibrant spirituality. Churches clearly need to do better in supporting parents in this area. However, it seems to me that the author’s ministry model assumes that a children’s ministry is essentially directed towards children of at least nominally Christian parents who bring their children with them to church on Sundays. Although the author gives some examples of non-Christian parents and talks about how other adults in the church community can assume the role of spiritual parents, I am not fully convinced that the model would work for a children’s ministry involving a significant proportion of children from non-Christian families.
Notwithstanding this reservation, I think that the book makes a significant contribution to a topic which is of critical importance for the future of the church, and I commend it to anyone involved in children’s or families ministry.