Sunday, August 28, 2011

Summer Reading Update: Children's Ministry that Fits

I'm slowly getting back into the rhythm of teaching school, so here is a new blog post about some of my summer reading!

Children's Ministry that Fits: Beyond One Size Fits All Approach to Nurturing Children's Spirituality by David Csinos has some good points that make it a worthwhile read for anyone involved in mentoring children on their spiritual journey.  The basic premise cuts right at the heart of what my husband terms the "Big Mac Gospel" approach to spiritual mentorship that has dominated many corners of Christianity in the western world for the last few decades.  That is, Christians have often sought to find a formula, an easily-digestable way to package the Gospel of Jesus Christ and mass distribute it. Despite good intentions, the Big Mac Gospel forces square pegs into round holes and doesn't leave much room for exploration of God outside of the "formula".  This philosophy has also played a large role in children's ministry.  (Lest I sound too judgemental, I have certainly been guilty of it as well!) Csinos' research seeks to show that children as well as adults have different spiritual styles or ways that they encounter God.  When our spiritual mentorship offers only one or two ways to relate to God, we run the risk of isolating children who relate to God in a different way and stunting their spiritual growth.  I also believe this is a reason why many children grow into young adults who then stop attending church.

Through focus groups with 13 children from three different faith communities, Csinos identifies four specific styles of spirituality in children: 1) Word-centered; 2) Emotion-centered; 3) Symbol-centered; and 4) Action-centered.  Many faith communities tend to lean heavily on one particular style and this can cause children (as well as adults) to intuitively sense that something is missing. Of the three churches that Csinos pooled from to do his research, only one of them seemed to have enough variety in its worship styles to be meeting the needs of the children.  This was a Presbyterian church that offered options from all four styles in the general life of the church.  The other churches, one that focused mainly on teaching and another that heavily emphasized contemporary worship music, seemed to leave their children lacking. As spiritual mentors, we are challenged to think beyond what inspires us personally and provide a broader spiritual spectrum to the children we pastor.

Another important point is that children have to be intricately involved in the life of the church and not tucked away into some corner for Sunday services.  For example, a child in one focus group that was action-centered found that her church's free meals to the homeless helped her feel particularly close to God.  Even though she was a child, she had been fully invited to be a part of this activity outside of Sunday morning worship and this made her feel valued as well as allowing her to engage her spiritual style.

My biggest criticism of the book lies in the limited choice of churches for the research.  Though Csinos identifies three dominant traditions in Christianity - sacramental, covenantal, conversional - he does not include children from sacramental traditions (Roman Catholic, Anglican or Orthodox) in his research.  I do not want to be too judgemental since I do not know his reasons for this, but I do wonder how having children from this tradition might have altered his research results.

The book also confirmed for me that concepts like Godly Play and Catechesis of the Good Shepherd are on the right track in providing children with healthy variety in how they help children to know the Father, Son and Holy Spirit without going in the direction of extreme individualism.

Have you read any good books on children's spirituality lately?


  1. I'd guess he didn't include them because he's protestant. That's my best guess. But, I'll have to see if I can find that book because it sounds rather intriguing.

  2. oh wait just read his response, so never mind.

  3. Ticia, It's definitely a thought-provoking book.