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/ 14 January 2013

How can we spot a spiritual child?

I was very challenged by something that I heard the other day when I was at a meeting discussing how we could assess a child’s spiritual development.

I thinks its suffices to say that there wasn’t much agreement in the room. The main spilt was between those who basically said that spirituality is un-measurable as it’s an internal process of ‘meaning making’ and therefore it would be impossible to externally asses and those who felt that spiritual development was linked to a developing Christian maturity and therefore any spiritual development would be revealed in more ‘Christian behaviour’.

My suspicion is that one of the reasons the conversation got so tricky was that what most of us were saying is that we thought that both of these statements were true and all we were really debating was the finer points of nuance between the two positions! I’ve not made this meeting sound amazing have I?

One thing that struck me was a comment that Ro Willoughby made, who is the children’s worker at St Pauls Finchley. She said that when she looked at her group she could clearly see their faith developing you just needed to look carefully. She observed it in a greater enthusiasm towards Christian things, a desire to pray out loud in meetings and most brilliantly, by taking less biscuits than usual so that people at the end of the biscuit line might actually get one! To me this was a very insightful look into what part of the spiritual development of a child might look like. I must stress however that not everyone in the room agreed to some it didn’t show enough evidence of choosing to live God’s way while to others it was too external and missed the greater depth of the child finding a spiritual meaning in their lives.

There is a difficult balance to be struck between assuming that nothing is measurable and everything is internal and therefore just trusting God that the children in our groups are doing ok and the other extreme of wanting to asses everything so that we normally ending up discovering which children have learnt to conform to the culture of the church and which ones have the strongest need to please leaders in the group. Neither of these options is entirely satisfactory and so we need a compromise where children are not pressured to perform externally for the sake of encouraging us as leaders but equally we balance that with the fact that there is more to a life of faith than uncovering a deeper sense on meaning for our lives; following Jesus means living differently and that should have outcomes that are observable.

This is why I like Ro’s comment about biscuits; it seems to me it strikes a lovely balance. It understands a child as a child and doesn’t place expectations that are too high and inappropriate but equally is looking for the children to live in a different way because of their faith. So let me finish this rather rambling piece with an encouragement to you, keep looking for what God is doing in the lives of the children in your group but look for the mustard seeds, look for the tiny evidences of God’s work that show the beginnings of something bigger than you realise!

About Sam Donoghue

Sam Donoghue is Head of Children and Youth for the Diocese of London, a keen cyclist and a supporter of Everton FC.

Read more from Sam Donoghue

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