Lessons in Mission…Families
How do you make Missional Communities and Children work together?
There have been countless studies on how children learn, how they interact with information, and how they grow.
One of the themes of this research is that there are three primary environments in which children learn. These are Classroom, Apprenticeship and Immersion:
1) Classroom: The child is taught something by somebody. They listen and then process the information being shared with them.
2)Apprenticeship: The child is shown something by somebody. The child is involved in, and therefore learning from, a process. Information is engaged with, and processed through, implementation, experimentation and application.
3) Immersion: The child experiences and gathers information from the culture, environment or context within which they live.
Sunday morning church kids work is usually 45 minutes, or an hour at best, in the week of a child’s life. There might be activities, object lessons or games to go along with the bible teaching to help the children think through how to apply what they are hearing. It’s a good environment to share information but it’s still a classroom method.
Missional Community on mission together gives children & young people the environment to learn by being part of a community that lives out its faith. They are given the opportunity to be part of a group that looks to share its faith with others that don’t know Jesus. They don’t just attend an event but learn from many different and varied life experiences. They are encouraged to take more responsibility and to participate; to be part of the community – not just to be talked at, but talked with. In a Missional Community context children are not just waiting for adults to define something but shaping and crafting it themselves. They can be involved in, and contribute to, the life of the community.
Children learn by living out their faith – not just learning about their faith from others. They take hold of it for themselves through apprenticeship and immersion – seeing their parents lead, learning how to study the Bible for themselves and sharing Biblical reflections. A Missional Community context necessitates that young people help with younger children, serving and sharing faith together as family.
There are many different ways communities function as they gather. When thinking about appropriate environments for Missional Communities we’ve found it helpful to think through environments which are already natural and normal to families, regardless of whether or not they are Christian.
Three environments all families interact with are:
1) The Educational environment (i.e school, nursery)
This is where the parents & children are learning together. We encourage families and extended families (Missional Communities) to think about rhythms of family prayer, worship and study. One of our family Missional Communities had gatherings where they took a bible passage and the children & young people came up with a drama, craft and teaching lesson from what they’d learnt and then shared with the adults. Even the non-christians kids loved it!! Lots of applause and good conversations followed.
2) The Coffee Shop environment (i.e. Starbucks, restaurants)
This is an adult environment with children present – tables, papers and coffee with activities in the room. This environment encourages the informal relationships and interactions between children, parents and the extended family. One of our geographic Missional Communities does this as an access point for non-Christians with prayer cards and opportunities for conversations on the tables.
3) The Party dynamic (i.e. birthdays)
This is an environment where parents serve the kids – everything is set up for the kids to have a great time together – noise, mess, chaos, games, fun………sweets!! This is a great way to really help relationships & their faith come alive because if there’s one thing kids can do it’s have fun!! This is also an environment where non-Christian parents and children can engage – enjoying the experience.
The imperative of parents taking the responsibility as primary disciplers of their children, and doing this in the context of a Missional Community, has become foundational at St Thomas’ Church, Philadelphia.
Our different Missional Communities use many of these dynamics as they gather and disciple their children, rather than abdicate to the children’s workers or doing a smaller version of Sunday school in a side room whilst the adults gather. The central Children’s Ministry is set up to resource the communities – in prayer, training, and resources – so that families can express their faith locally in community.
The synergy that comes from both a Sunday celebration (with central ministry resourcing) and a Missional Community lifestyle for discipleship of children is a dynamic that works for both parents & children. They are able to grow not only in relationship with God but also with each other as they learn, together, how to be a family of missional disciples.
What have you done that has worked well with the children in your MC?
Rich Robinson is a Director of 3dm UK and is the Missional Communities Team Leader at Network Church Sheffield where he has been involved in pioneering, planting and leading Missional Communities for over 12 years. He and his wife Anna have 3 wonderful young children.