What was your experience with Christian spirituality as a child? When I was a kid, I thought having a relationship with Jesus meant sharing the gospel with my friends and never sinning. Once, I decided to not sin the entire day. I was nice and good and didn’t get into trouble once…and then decided it was too much work and never tried it again.
When I got older, I thought having a relationship with Jesus meant learning, using, and sharing the “Christian worldview” (i.e., all the opinions a certain group of Christians have about contemporary issues).
Of course, I knew that’s not what a relationship with Jesus was, and everybody knew that’s not what a relationship was, and we all acted like it was, anyway. I spent my whole life frustrated with the lack of actual spiritual formation in much of Protestantism. “Read your Bible and pray” was the clearest directive, but unhelpful, because nobody clarified what that meant or how that affected your spirituality. Protestant spirituality was a constant battle between head knowledge and emotionalism.
As I’m about to teach a class of kindergartners in a few weeks, I’m thinking hard about how I want to present spirituality to them.
It started with a mediocre Bible curriculum. My biggest complaint with it was that it seemed just like a Sunday school curriculum — the highest of insults. Sunday school curriculum relies on flannel boards and puppets, things I don’t like. They use boring worksheets and stilted storytelling language. You never know whether to read directly out of the curriculum, make it up as you go along, or read it straight out of the King James Bible. What do you want from me, curriculum?
Worst of all, they retell the same stories, with the same lessons, over and over and over again. As a children’s church worker, I always felt compelled to come up with the craziest illustrations and skits to convince the kids Bible lessons weren’t as boring as we all knew them to be — and I wasn’t doing that five days a week for two semesters.
I figured out why these Bible lessons were boring: they all follow the same recipe for disaster. First, interrupt the story at every other sentence to hammer home that the Bible is true and God is good and was Jonah obeying God? Nooo. Second, interrupt the sentence to explain what “Ebenezer” or “saith” means. Third, moralize the story and emphasize obedience.
Voila! You’ve killed the Bible.
Old Testament literature in particular fascinates me, and I felt it intellectually dishonest and spiritually shallow to teach the Bible as if it was one long repetition of, “Obey God, obey your parents, disobedience is sin, so obey.”
The Bible is fabulous literature. It tells an amazing story about God’s faithfulness. For part of the year, I’m ditching the Bible curriculum for Sally Lloyd-Jones’s The Jesus Storybook Bible. We’re going to talk about it like it’s one of our read alouds, not a book of morals or systematic theology.
Basically, I want to introduce students to God and his scheme of redemption, and that grand narrative sweep them up into a relationship with him, rather than an altar call.
But I’m most excited about our Mondays. We’ll learn about a foreign country and the children who live in it, and then we’ll pray all week for a particular child in poverty.
When I taught preschool to my youngest siblings, they loved praying for our Compassion International child, Manda.
“Dear God,” they would pray, eyes squeezed shut, “please help Manda to get a roof and milk.”
It melted my heart to see kids, only two- and four-years-old, excited about praying for someone in need. (We prayed for Grandpa’s bad back and Caroline’s sore thumb and Mr. So and So’s friends friend who needed a job, too. We prayed about everything.) That’s the love of Jesus, right there. That’s loving the least of these. That, more than any Bible knowledge, will keep them on the straight and narrow.
Love, radical love, is the nature of God, and Christian spirituality is about becoming like God. I will encourage love, through prayer and human interaction, as the central tenet in our kindergarten spiritual formation.
How did you learn about Christian spirituality? How would you go about communicating that with kids, your own or the Sunday school crowd?