By Caroline Park
We hosted a Parents’ Gathering a few weeks ago on “Nurturing the Spiritual Journeys of Children and Youth." We shared the visions and methods behind the RiverKids and RiverYouth programs. A few parents who couldn’t make the gathering asked me how they could make up, so I’ve decided to write a summary.
Parents’ Gathering: Nurturing the Spiritual Journeys of Children and Youth
Let’s try a simple exercise. Take a few minutes to think about what you want for your child. How would you fill in the blanks: “When my child is 25, I want her/him to be ________, ________, and ________.”
The words you fill in the blanks with are your vision for your children and family. They can help guide us through the confusing mazes of decisions that parents seem to face constantly. They can help us find our way back when we get lost in the daily grind.
RiverKids and Youth also have a vision. We take what we do seriously and think not only about teaching and nurturing kids here and now, but also about preparing and equipping them for the future we want them to have. And that vision is to "raise up Connected People."
Connected People are people who are connected to themselves, to Jesus, and to others and the world around them. Let me elaborate.
A person who is connected to self:
A person who is connected to Jesus:
A person who is connected to others and the world around them:
What is great about these connections is that a genuine connection deepens other connections. When we have a God-discovery, it almost always leads to self-discovery and vice-versa. When we have a deep God-discovery or self-discovery, it deepens our love and appreciation for others as well.
Personally, I feel strongly about the importance of the connection to self, because I think the church has traditionally neglected its value and often overridden it in favor of the connection to God or the connection to the faith community. I often hear the stories of people who felt that they were put in the position to choose between being true to who they are and their loyalty to the church or to God (or certain interpretations of God). I think that though there will come different seasons where our children will focus on different parts of these three connections, in the long run, life-giving connections only nurture other life-giving connections. For parents (especially of teenagers!), this needs faith in God and our children’s God-given capacity and desire to connect with both God and their true selves.
This leads to my next point that it is ultimately the children who are in charge of their spiritual journeys not us parents. They need to learn to explore, connect, and love themselves. We cannot make the connections on their behalf and expect that to be meaningful for them. What we can do, though, is to give them the space to explore, ask helpful questions, show them how we lead our own spiritual journeys, and equip them to experience and connect with the God who is always for them. We can teach them the importance and the joy of deep connections and nurture their capacity to connect. And I would know that I’ve done my part as a parent and a kids' pastor, if our kids arrive at the age of 25 with the ability to connect deeply and authentically with themselves, God, and others. I would feel that they have the best chance at continuing their journeys into rich and fulfilled lives, whichever paths they may take.
So then, how do we nurture deep connections at RiverKids and RiverYouth? I want to introduce two different ways today.
Especially for older kids in Elementary school and the Youth Group, we talk about connections, a lot. Curriculum topics often include self-awareness, self-affirmation, connecting to dreams and passions, embracing and including others, relationships, understanding others’ perspectives, as well as getting to know and experience God.
Story and Discussion
Another main way that we invite kids to explore these connections is through Story and Discussion.
Storytelling at RiverKids Is:
Story time always ends with Wondering Questions. Wondering question is a term that we borrowed from Godly Play curriculum. They're called wondering questions because they often start with "I wonder if…" or "I wonder why…" They are open-ended questions with no right or wrong answers that invite the kids into deeper engagement with the story.
Story of the Week:
After the Preschool and Elementary school group sessions each Sunday, we have the Story of the Week available on the River app. There you'll find the story that we shared with the kids that week and some of the Wondering Questions that we used for discussion. This has two purposes. First, to keep parents informed about what’s happening at RiverKids. And equally important, to give parents a way to continue the conversation that might have started at the church at home and process together.
I have some suggestions on what you might want to do with it:
Some tricky conversations might arise from these moments. Your child might ask a tough question, or say something that sounds wrong or offensive. Here are some tips for navigating those conversations.
Some Tips for Navigating a Tricky Conversation:
For me personally, the first step is the hardest. 😓 Even if you react before you catch yourself--which happens to me all the time--you can still reel it in and start over. Don’t be afraid of apologizing for reacting and jumping into conclusion. Start over and say, “Tell me more.”
There are others ways that we at RiverKids and RiverYouth nurture connections. We look forward to sharing them with you next time!