By Rich Robinson
There have been countless studies on how children learn, how they interact with information and how they grow. There are countless curriculums, books and resources out there to aid us with our parenting and children’s work.
But, as we start to engage with Missional Community life, we start to come up with more questions than answers. And there’s not always a Kids worker on hand to bail us out!
The countless research papers & studies can be very useful though as we embark on this new (and incredibly old and normal) way of missional life. One of the themes of this research is that there are three primary environments in which children learn – classroom, apprenticeship and immersion:
1. Classroom – The child is taught something by somebody. They listen and then process the information being shared with them. This is usually measured through tests, projects or exams.
2. Apprenticeship – The child is shown something by somebody. The child is involved in, and so learns from, a process. Information is engaged with and processed through implementation, experimentation and application.
3. Immersion – The child experiences something by being around somebody. The child gathers information from their experience of the culture, environment or context within which they are found.
Sunday morning kids work is 45 minutes, 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 good sharing of information but it’s still a classroom environment.
Missional community, extended families of 15 to 30 adults (and any number of children!!) on mission together give 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 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, taking care of younger or older members of the community, being given roles & responsibilities that mean they contribute and share Biblical reflections themselves. The community necessitates that young people help with younger children. Children can share with adults their thoughts on a passage, serving and sharing faith together as family.
There are many different ways communities function as they gather but three ways we have found missional communities to ‘work’ well as they gather together has come by thinking about family environments; environments that are normal to families, both Christian & non-Christian.
Three environments all families interact with are:
The Educational environment – is where the parents & children are learning together in a more structured way. This is not the same as classroom! 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. Lots of applause and then good conversations were had afterwards! There needs to be apprenticeship and immersion as children engage.
The Coffee Shop – 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 geographical missional community did this as an access point for non-Christians with prayer cards and opportunities for conversations on the tables.
The Children’s Party environment – (if you haven’t yet got kids there’s a treat in store!!!) 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!! So a missional community can set themselves up for a great child-centred gathering.
You don’t have to have the same environment every time (could you imagine organising a ‘children’s party’ environment every time you met!!) and you can have multiple environments happening at one gathering. The important thing is to take responsible as a community and be intentional and proactive about the feel & framework as you gather.
As part of Rooted, we have a weekly section for kids and young families. It always lots of fun, and includes devotional activities and tools for all ages to spend time together with God, engaged in prayer and worship.