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Children matter! They matter to God. They matter to the church of Jesus Christ. They matter because of who they are: children are complete human beings made in the image of God. The church gathered is bereft without them. In fact, can the church be the church without children present? We have written this book because we love children, and we spend lots of time thinking about the kinds of experiences that churches create for them.
We wonder why ministry with children looks so different in various church traditions. We also wonder why children's ministry has changed so much since we were children. Do you think about these things too? Possibly the differences have to do with perception and assumptions - our perceptions of children and our assumptions about how they learn and how they relate to God. We don't usually use those terms; instead, we talk about such issues using word pictures or metaphors.
What's it like to teach "sponges"? How might it differ from teaching "pilgrims"? The children's ministry at our church seems like a "carnival." Shouldn't it be more like "school"? These words-sponge, pilgrim, school, carnival - are metaphors for situations in children's ministry and can help us begin to identify key differences among our perceptions and assumptions.
If the goal of children's ministry is to help children know God through Jesus Christ and to love, obey, and follow him all their lives, do our responses to the questions about metaphors make a difference? The answer is both yes and no. Yes, because the way we do ministry can affect children as much as what we teach them. Yet no, since God through the Holy Spirit can work in and through any circumstance.
To establish a shared understanding for our conversation throughout this book, this chapter examines common metaphors employed in speaking of ministry with children. But first, let's look more closely at the concept of metaphor.
A metaphor is simply a literary device using analogy or comparison that affects our perception of reality. Metaphors are powerful yet subtle. They shape what we do. Metaphoric platitudes such as "More is better," "We're number one," and "Knowledge is power" influence our thinking. George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Metaphors We Live By identify a metaphor that affects how many live today: "Time is money." This metaphor of time as a commodity has spawned numerous ways of speaking that we rarely question: "How do you spend your time?" "Quit wasting time." "You'll save time if you ..." This economic metaphor affects our attitudes and behavior, even though each day has exactly the same amount of time. Time cannot be saved, wasted, or spent; time simply is.
The significance of metaphor is exemplified in Scripture. Through numerous word pictures, most of which are found in John's Gospel, we better understand the character of our Lord. He is the Good Shepherd, the Vine, Bread of Life, Living Water, the Door or Gate, the Lamb of God, the Alpha and Omega, the Way, Truth, and Life. In reality Jesus is none of those things, yet metaphorically he is all of them.
Lakoff and Johnson recognize the role of metaphor when they state, "What we experience and what we do every day is very much a matter of metaphor. ... We simply think and act more or less automatically along certain lines." If their observation is accurate, not only do metaphors influence our understanding of Jesus but they also influence our ministries.
This chapter considers several aspects of metaphors regarding children's ministry:
metaphors for teaching - some historical and some contemporary - which are "micrometaphors" because they refer to the relationship of an individual teacher with his or her group of children
metaphors for the children's ministry itself, which are "macrometaphors" since they represent the entire ministry
the causes and implications of those metaphors
No metaphor, micro or macro, perfectly represents a ministry setting or its people. Yet helpful insights result when the metaphors of a context are identified, because metaphors matter. They matter a lot.
An Exercise with Metaphors of Teaching
For several years Scottie traveled as an education consultant for churches. She conducted workshops and seminars to equip volunteers in educational ministries. Often she would include an exercise involving micrometaphors - metaphors for the teacher, the learner, and the curriculum or materials. A description of this exercise follows; you may want to try it with your church.
Scottie asks volunteer Sunday school teachers to identify common metaphors for the learner or student. Nearly always, "sponge" is the first metaphor they identify. Following in quick succession are "blank slate," empty cup or vessel, clay, and even wet cement (from the title of a 1981 book, Children Are Wet Cement). From church to church, the responses have been amazingly consistent. She makes a list of these responses on the left side of a chalkboard.
Her next question is, "What do all these things have in common?" Someone says, "They can be shaped." Someone else may add, "They're incomplete," or "They need to be filled." Eventually someone says, "They are all passive objects."
Indeed they are. Not only that, they are inanimate objects. (It is true that at some point a natural sponge is alive, but not when we use it.) These metaphors for learners are common in the historical education literature, and there is a measure of truth in them. But a learner, regardless of age, is much more than a passive, inanimate object.
If Lakoff and Johnson are right about the power of metaphor, what might be the implications for the learning process if teachers in our churches view learners first of all as sponges? Implicit in this view is that learners sit and soak up what is being taught.
Scottie then asks the teachers whether these metaphors are biblical. Upon reflection, they realize that people are not usually imaged in these ways in Scripture. (Admittedly clay is a metaphor from Scripture. But the context is different for this metaphor: we are clay, and God is the potter - Isaiah 64:8. That's very different from picturing a human teacher as a potter.) The Bible uses words such as sheep, plants, seeds, pilgrims - things that are alive, growing, and active. Disciple is not used in Scripture to refer directly to children, but it is implicit throughout the pages of both Testaments that God desires children to follow and obey him - to become disciples. Scripture frequently refers to learners of all ages as children - in other words, people. In the exercise, a list of metaphors such as these - sheep, seeds/plants, pilgrims, disciples, people - goes on the right side of the board.
Then come some questions: Would I teach "pilgrims" the same way I would teach "sponges"? What difference does it make if I envision my learners as passive, inanimate sponges or as active, growing, relational, living beings? What are sponge-like activities? What are pilgrim activities? Does any of this matter?
If we think about what we're trying to do - to help children want to become followers of Jesus - we need to see them as pilgrims, different from sponges. Pilgrims are people on a journey that has a high purpose. Christians' purpose is to be lifelong followers of Jesus. If we view children as sponges, we expect them to sit still with their hands in their lap and their mouths shut while they "absorb" the Bible. If we view them as pilgrims, we will help the children enter into the story and interact with it in any number of ways. These differences matter because not only do we want children to love the Lord Jesus, we also want them to love his story - the Bible.
The same process happens with metaphors for the teacher. The left side of the chalkboard gets filled with words such as expert, authority, boss, controller, evaluator, and funnel holder (pouring lesson contents into the heads of learners). On the right side the words represent a different view of teacher: shepherd, Farmer or gardener, fellow pilgrim, guide, friend.
In what ways is the role of teacher on the left side of the board viewed differently from the role implied on the right? What might be the difference in the relationships between the teacher and the learner in the two columns? What impact might that dynamic have on the learning that takes place?
Metaphor on the left side of the board indicate that the teacher controls or acts on the learner, whereas the metaphors on the right bespeak an interactive relationship that guides rather than controls the learning process. Some of the metaphors indicate a collegial relationship yet acknowledge that the teacher's life experience and maturity has him or her farther along on the journey. The metaphors on the right appear more in accord with biblical accounts of how the Lord Jesus related to his followers.
The Curriculum Resources
The last component of teaching considered in this exercise is the curriculum resources or material to be used. When asked whether curriculum is more like a blueprint or like a roadmap, volunteers are sometimes evenly divided. As they consider the difference between these two metaphors, it soon becomes apparent that blueprint goes in the left column, while roadmap goes in the right. Why is that? A blueprint must be followed precisely, or the finished product will not be what the architect intended. But lesson plans should be used more like a roadmap. A starting point is provided as well as the desired destination, but the teacher has options as to which route to take to reach the destination. The chosen route may be an exact, efficient expressway-like following of the lesson plan. Or it may include excursions along winding country lanes to see new sights - for example, adding creative experiences that may enhance the learners' knowledge and insight. The two columns on the chalkboard end up looking something like figure 1.1 on page 9.
Learning can happen under either set of micrometaphors. No ministry is likely to adhere completely to the model suggested by either of these columns. Sometimes learning should look more like the left column, but most of the time it should look like the right. Ministries usually float somewhere in the middle. The leader of children's ministry must discern when learning experiences should be more passive and when active experiences are better.
Metaphors from Scripture tend to be active and intrinsically link learner and teacher: if learners are viewed as sheep, the teacher is a shepherd; the seed or plant metaphor is linked to the gardener or farmer metaphor; pilgrim links with fellow pilgrim, disciple with guide. Exploring the seed/farmer metaphors yields further significant insights. If the farmer's goal is to produce a crop, what is the role of the farmer in the process? To prepare the soil, fertilize it, water the seeds and plants, and control weeds. Yet the farmer cannot cause the seed to grow. That growth comes from within the seed. The farmer can only prepare the environment in ways that will facilitate growth. This has meaningful parallels with the role of those who minister with children.
As volunteer teachers consider metaphors and their influence, they begin to see implications for their own teaching. Some learning activities - such as fill-in-the-blank workbooks, preformatted crafts, unscrambling memory verses, and Bible crossword puzzles - tend not to encourage children to wrestle with the meaning and application of biblical texts. Wise teachers use such activities sparingly.
When empowered by more active metaphors, teaching provides learners with continual interaction with the learning environment. It recognizes that children learn best through experiences they can make sense of and reflect on, and that they need to feel valued and accepted. We want children to realize that the Bible is a real book about God's involvement in the lives of real people whom he created and loved, who did real things at a real place at a certain time. These concepts are pilgrim-like. Learning in which teachers and learners are fellow pilgrims looks somewhat foreign, however, to most people involved in children's ministry. Chapter 12 further explores these types of learning experiences.
Metaphors and Children's Ministry Models
As we have seen, metaphors for teaching in children's ministry influence the relationship between the teacher, the learner, and the content that is God's Word. But there are also macrometaphors that influence the overall direction of a church's ministry with children. Although often more subtle or implicit, these metaphors tend to shape everything that is done, even without the awareness of the leadership staff. The dominant metaphor tends to become the ministry model.
The wide range of models for children's ministry could be represented by many metaphors. Some currently prominent metaphors or models will be discussed in this section: School, Gold Star/Win a Prize, Carnival, Pilgrims' Journey, and Dance with God. The last two metaphors may be unfamiliar in many churches, but they have qualities that make them worthy of careful consideration.
For more than two hundred years the most widely used metaphor for ministry with children has been school - hence Sunday school. The metaphor became so pervasive that "school" crossed over from being a metaphor to being the reality. The way the Bible is taught in countless churches is synonymous with schooling. The architecture, organization, and practices of many churches' programs are very school-like. This includes an emphasis on learning content - in this case, the Bible. It must be noted that many public schools today offer dynamic, effective teaching and learning for children. However, in churches in which the School metaphor is dominant, the teaching often focuses on learning content without a context.
The educational wing of churches sometimes reflects factory-like efficiency. The area may be divided into classrooms, usually carefully age graded, with teachers and students sitting at tables. At the end of the school year, each grade moves to the next classroom and a new teacher. This process is reminiscent of a slow-moving assembly line as if children were on conveyor belts, to be made into "finished products" by eighth or ninth grade, when the "manufacturing" process is completed.
Carefully designed materials with unified themes and lesson plans were soon developed. They continue to be distributed widely, so that learners of the same age study the same lesson each week even if they live on opposite sides of the country. These materials, based on the Bible, are easy to follow so that even the novice teacher can feel successful. Questions are asked to ensure that "learning" is happening. Rewards often accompany correct answers. Weekly reviews and even quizzes attempt to motivate learning. The intent is to teach children the Bible so that they know it cognitively.
Many churches have no Sunday school during the summer; it is "vacation" time just as in regular school. In some churches Christian education ceases when a person "graduates" from Sunday school - when she or he has learned the Bible lessons in the curricular materials. The age of such termination varies from church to church. In some traditions it corresponds with confirmation.
Excerpted from CHILDREN MATTER by Scottie May Beth Posterski Catherine Stonehouse Linda Cannell Copyright © 2005 by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co..
Excerpted by permission.
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Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
|Introduction : the story of a book|
|1||Metaphors shape ministry||3|
|2||Children in the Bible||26|
|3||Theology and children||47|
|4||The child's development||73|
|5||Historical roots of ministry with children||88|
|6||Children in context||115|
|7||Children in the faith community||126|
|8||Children in the family||150|
|9||Children and story||173|
|10||Children and curriculum||190|
|12||In learning and teaching||246|
|13||In specialized ministries||282|
|14||All children matter||311|
|A postlude - our prayer||353|