1 Timothy 4:8-16 (NLT)
8 “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” 9 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it. 10 This is why we work hard and continue to struggle,[a] for our hope is in the living God, who is the Saviour of all people and particularly of all believers.
11 Teach these things and insist that everyone learn them. 12 Don’t let anyone think less of you because you are young. Be an example to all believers in what you say, in the way you live, in your love, your faith, and your purity. 13 Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.
14 Do not neglect the spiritual gift you received through the prophecy spoken over you when the elders of the church laid their hands on you. 15 Give your complete attention to these matters. Throw yourself into your tasks so that everyone will see your progress. 16 Keep a close watch on how you live and on your teaching. Stay true to what is right for the sake of your own salvation and the salvation of those who hear you.
Luke 4:14-22 (NLT)
14 Then Jesus returned to Galilee, filled with the Holy Spirit’s power. Reports about him spread quickly through the whole region. 15 He taught regularly in their synagogues and was praised by everyone.
16 When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19 and that the time of the Lord’s favour has come.”
20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”
22 Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”
Growing Faith -a talk by Jen Jenkins, RE and Spirituality Officer for Coventry DBE
Growing Faith is a recent initiative from the Church of England focused on supporting children and young people in developing spiritually, growing faith and becoming all God has made them to be. It is focused on the intersection of schools, churches and households, with children and young people right at the centre. Making use of spiritual encounters, connected communities and imaginative practices, it aims to see children and young people as fellow pilgrims and anticipates a two-way, reciprocal relationship as faith is ‘passed around’ and not passed down.
As fellow pilgrims, our children and young people are of equal value to everybody else in our church communities and congregations. They are regarded as equal partners in the exploration of faith, not recipients of tokenistic efforts. This is not about setting up more groups or launching more ‘Messy’ initiatives. This isn’t about forest church, Lego church or Minecraft Mission, although all those things have their place in building relationships with our fellow pilgrims. Growing Faith is about a culture shift for the whole church community. Everyone is passing faith around. It isn’t just about young, perky youth leaders taking children and young people out of main meetings. It’s about you.
The parable of the sower is often used by CE schools as the foundation of their distinctive Christian vision for education and nurturing of the whole child. My recent resources for Year 6 pupils transitioning from CE primary schools to (often not CE) secondary schools focused on the idea that being in a church primary school will have made a difference to their lives; planting seeds they can then choose to keep growing, long after they have left that school. The soil the seeds fall into matters and we are all called to be gardeners.
There are two key quotes I am fond of using when talking with people about Growing Faith. The first is this:
Do not right off your gardening efforts. You do not know what is going on under the surface. A warm smile, a genuine enquiry of ‘are you alright?’, the passing of a biscuit, the sharing of a story. These things all nurture seeds that have already been sown in schools, churches and homes.
The second quote is:
Growing Faith is intergenerational in nature. We need those who are older in years to share their stories of faith honestly and authentically and to propagate their wisdom for the children and young people growing up in a challenging age. Don’t use clichés and overused Christianese. Tell them honestly about you and your life: what was hard, what brought you to your knees, what made you question your faith, what made you want to shout it from the rooftops.
Questioning together is incredibly powerful. The world is full of questions. We are constantly asking ourselves those deep, ultimate questions and children are no different, but sometimes we focus so much on spoon feeding answers we forget to sit with them in the questions.
Your ways of experiencing the sacred and nurturing your spiritual growth may be the thing a child or young person is craving. Just like adults, children and young people don’t all want loud, energetic worship songs, hot-off-the-press movie/Bible mash ups or catchy slogans. Some of them want to use nature to connect with God, some of them need to learn how to sit quietly to pray and listen, some of them are desperate to find a way to use their hands to connect with the creativity inside them that mirrors the Creator. Just as you all take different spiritual pathways, so there is so much wisdom to share about how to connect with God and grow spiritually. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all thing.
Just being in the presence of an older person who is making room for you to sit alongside them is incredibly powerful. Young people are excellent at sniffing out insincerity. They don’t want or need you to be hip and down with the kids. They need you to see them and to radiate real interest in who they are.
It is about generating real warmth & authenticitytowards children and young people by everybody in the church community. You can help build that vital relationship between churches and schools through volunteering (the sewing club, the art club, a helping hand during DT lessons, tending the school garden with keen young green-fingered pupils, supporting the school choir). Going in to school to help with simple things, becoming a regular familiar face, can build relationships.
The reason we talk about a family tree is because the connections trees make offer such a beautiful model for relationships and connectedness over time. Did you know the branches of different trees barely touch? They maintain holy space for each together whilst living in harmony. Trees protect other trees that are aged or ailing and send nutrients to them. They grow in a way that allows for light to reach those who are closer to the forest floor. It is the perfect botanical illustration of ‘Let the little children come to me’ and for me, this is the reason Jesus chose to describe the Body of Christ as being like the branches connected to the vine. Nurturing, growing, holding holy space, allowing for light to come in, reproducing, holding each other in sacred community.
Now we know we can all play a part in Growing Faith, I have some practical things you can all help with to create that culture shift:
- Get your bees in a row: There are 3 Bs relevant to Growing Faith: Belong, believe, behave. Historically, we have placed the emphasis on believing but with the church set to shrink significantly in the next decades, we need to understand that belonging is by far the most important. Belonging is an inherent need in children & young people. Without it they look to other things- typically these days in social media & sex- for a sense of belonging and these things can be destructive.
Focus on making children and young people feel loved, valued, welcome, included, seen. Model what believing looks like practically and with kindness. Reframe behaving as becoming. Young people need to see purpose in who they are and their lives, they want to have their own uniqueness confirmed as leading them towards something that makes them want to live differently. When they finally grasp the depths of imago dei, made in God’s image, it changes how they want to live, how they want to treat others and the things that they want to spend their time and attention on.
- Key-chain leadership: This is about empowerment. What keys do you hold on your metaphorical key chain? What do they unlock? This might be physical spaces, connections, opportunities, meetings, decision-making, authority.
It is also about intentional trusting; giving them their own set of keys over time. Planning for succession in the things you have nurtured; talents, skills, passions.
Discuss the nature of power with children and young people so that as they grow up they lean naturally towards power with/to others and not power over.
Look to Jesus’ servant leadership. When he said “Go and…” to His disciples it was after three years of ministering to them and with them. Equip and train children and young people to be successful in the opportunities you give them. Share your passions and skills and never underestimate the ability to share how to make a good cup of tea- a good cuppa can soften even the hardest hearts.
- Serving: Serving alongside each other really helps with belonging and becoming. What can you and the children and young people in this area do together? Remember, they are becoming citizens- not only of society and its many issues and ongoing challenges, but also of heaven. Harness that sense of purpose and passion children and young people have. There is such energy there. Take climate change as an example. If our children and young people were all leading on that we would be in a much better position right now globally.
As part of the SIAMS (Statutory Inspection of Anglican and Methodist Schools) inspection schedule, schools are required to nurture ‘courageous advocacy’ in their pupils. They are encouraged to ask themselves ‘How can I serve? How can I help make something that is a struggle for someone else a little better?’ You can get alongside them as they do that- providing education on key issues of social justice, raising awareness of local campaigns and initiatives and helping them to develop the skills they need to do something about injustice. Sometimes you might have a connection with someone who can really further a cause that the children and young people are passionate about addressing, such as a local MP, a company CEO or the manager of a local hospice, care home or hospital ward. Love is practical and we are called to love as He loved us- with hands, voices, food, forgiveness.
- On/Off Ramps: There is a natural ebb and flow to the lives of young people; if they aren’t attending church services or groups or school clubs, don’t judge them or write them off. Remember, don’t confuse attendance with belonging. It is relationships that help you stay connected with them and if you have been working on warmth and authenticity those connections will still be there and they will seek you out if they need help. Provide ways for them to ‘get back on’ to channels of faith through your genuine care and concern.
Periods of transition are especially significant for Growing Faith. If you can support Y6 pupils at school in some way they will always have a connection back to church and somewhere to go when they move to secondary, even if it is a non-CE secondary school. Recent resources provided by Coventry DBE aim to provide an electronic resource space for children and young people to come back to as they move into the next chapter of their lives: https://www.adventureswithgod.life/keep-growing.html
- Pray: In school, pupils are encouraged to create a network hand of trusted adults as part of the ongoing commitment to safeguarding. The idea is that the people whose names are written on the hand are trusted adults they can go to if they do not feel safe. Imagine using a similar approach and having the names of 5 people written on your hand who are committed to pray for & guide you as a child or young person. This would obviously need to be done engaging with parents and embracing all safeguarding guidelines. Imagine the handprints of children and young people on the wall of the church with their names on. Could you fill each hand with prayerful advice, Bible verses, practical wisdom?
Growing faith is in your hands. You have the power to pass faith around. Will you embrace a culture of warmth and authenticity where children and young people are viewed as of equal value, included authentically in decision making, trained, included, embraced with empathy and understanding? If you can do that, you will soon be Growing Faith.
Prayers – written by Sarah Marsden
As a support member of staff at St. Paul’s Primary school I have the privilege to support children and young people to both write their own prayers as well as lead them in prayer and thought. One of the methods I use with our young pupils is the ‘5 finger prayer’ where they can use a cut out shape of their own hand to write or draw their prayers on to each finger. So today as we pray, I will refer to each finger in turn, and as I do, please hold that finger, if you wish to do so.
Dear Lord, we pray for those closest to us. For our family, our friends and for families around the world. We pray you will strengthen us, and continue to support and provide for us. May you comfort us when needed, and encourage us all to live our lives in your service and praise.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Our Index Finger
Dear Lord we pray for all those that educate and guide our children and young people, both in educational settings and those in other roles and areas of their lives. Please grant them, wisdom, patience and understanding as they support, guide and educate the children in their care. We pray especially for those schools in our community; for their head teachers, leadership teams and governing bodies, for the teachers and support staff in their many varied and different roles within the school communities and for all those that allow our children and young people to be able to access their education.
We pray for parents and care givers, who are our children’s first and constant educators through their lives, and ask they nurture, guide and support them with your love.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Our Middle Finger
We pray for all those in authority. Help them to govern and make decisions with integrity, honesty and compassion on behalf of their communities and countries. May they seek to find peace and reconciliation across the world and our neighbours, sharing your love with all.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Our Ring Finger
Dear Lord we pray for all those across the world who are in need or in danger through natural disasters, conflict and war. Please bring them support and aid in their time of need. Help us to open our hearts to their cries and needs and to not turn away from their plight. Show us how we can stand alongside them and bring them comfort and peace. Allow them to know you are there with them and that your love surrounds them.
We prayer for those that are ill in body and mind; those that are sad and lonely. Knowing you are there with them Lord, help them to feel your love, strength, reassurance and encouragement to bring them healing.
We remember all those that have recently died known and unknown to us. Lord, embrace them in your arms and grant them eternal peace with you. Support and comfort those that grieve; bring them comfort in the knowledge their loved one is at peace with you.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Our Little Finger
Lord may we take a moment to pray for yourselves and our own needs. (Pause) Help us to know you are always with us and that your love for us is unconditional. Give us faith and courage to share your love with those we meet in our daily lives. May we continue to praise and rejoice in your love each day.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.