Faith Formation in Children

I have been purging, going through our storage room and closets and drawers, tossing, labeling, and recycling the piles of stuff that we have accumulated over our almost 50 years together. I came across an article I wrote at one time for our local Catholic newspaper. It seems to me to be as relevant today as it was when I wrote it and it applies to any Christian education, not must Catholic. I don’t know how to scan, so I had to write it out for you. It is a little long, but I wanted to share:

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Are we doing a good job of youth faith formation?

What happens outside the classroom too often undermines good programs

By Judy Jeub

                Faith formation of youth has come a long way since my own children were in Catholic schools and CCD. Today we see goals and objectives being articulated, methods are accommodating various learning styles, and we are appealing to both mind and heart as we seek to transmit doctrine and foster faith experiences.

However, we need to look beyond the classroom and into the daily lives of our children and teens. Are they receiving from the church community the tools (Paul would call it armor) to deal with issues confronting them, or to make wise Christian decisions?

When I look at the question of faith formation from this perspective, I would have to say “no”, we as church are not doing an effective job for our youth.

Jesus’ parable of the farmer sowing seed in various kinds of soil speaks about faith formation. The seed, Jesus said, is the Word of God and the church need make no apology for speaking God’s word “to this troubled, confused world”. The “Good News” of Jesus is just as relevant as it was 2,000 years ago and, as stated above, we are getting better at presenting the Word.

But what of the soil? Any good farmer can tell you that in order for the seed to germinate, one must tend the soil.

Soil is the environment that makes one receptive or resistant to the Word. Many voices are expressing concern about the environment of youth today. There is concern for the safety of children in our schools and neighborhoods, for children left alone, for children in dysfunctional households, for children living in poverty, and children having too much money to spend. The media is being challenged for their messages concerning sex and violence and the seduction of children and teens by advertisers.

Economic and social pressures eat away at quality family time. Most notable is the demise of the family meal, the basis of understanding the Eucharist for the domestic church. Parents are often rushed or absent, so teachable moments come and go unnoticed and words of wisdom that comfort or build character go unspoken.

How are children coping? Researchers and psychologists tell us that children are stressed, afraid or guilt-ridden, and too many turn to violence, drug abuse, or unhealthy sexual relationships. Not rich soil to receive the Word of God.

The church needs to re-image itself into Jesus’ parable and set about the task of tilling soil. Families need special help to become communities of faith, first of all. This means attention to marriages, not just at the beginning, but through all stages by offering programs that address real issues and on-going relational support. Parents need skills to create healthy families in which the faith of children can flourish.

The adult community needs education and nurturing to become the body of Chris that embraces children into holiness by love and example.

Church leadership needs to inform itself and then the people about social systems and ideologies that counter Christian values. We need to collaborate with other social systems to improve schools and neighborhoods to make them safe and life-affirming places for youth.

                Scattering seed is easy. Tilling the soil is dirty, sweaty, and exhausting. But it is, I believe, the task at hand if faith formation of youth is to be effective.

The last few paragraphs summarize what I wanted my job description to look like under the title “Family Minister”.  It never happened, I am afraid to say. The church wasn’t ready and I moved on and became a parent educator, which turned out to be a wonderful opportunity to say what was deeply imbedded in my heart.

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2 Responses to Faith Formation in Children

  1. Elizabeth McBride says:

    Your words are still very applicable today. We haven’t come very far, sad to say.

    • Judy says:

      Thank you for writing. Since I wrote that, I have come to a place where I am not sure that it matters whether young people stay in the religious community of their parents. There is something within a person that calls out to for expression and I think that, while parents offer their children a faith tradition to grow in, they also need to allow them to go the way God leads them individually. This may or may not be within the parents’ religious commity.

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