The Alumnx Council of PSR meets bi-monthly. As a practice, they take turns sharing “This I Believe.” We’ll post these inspiring testimonials as they are created.
This month’s post is from Jacob Perez (MTS 2021).
I believe that one of the most important responsibilities of spiritual leaders is nurturing the theological formation of our children and our youth.
At my church in Concord, I am the youth education coordinator, which means I have the privilege each Sunday of leading a small class for elementary and middle-school aged children. It’s usually about 30-40 minutes in length and follows a simple structure: we start with our “peaks” and “valleys” of the week; that is, I invite the youth to share their favorite moments of the week and their least favorite. We then read the assigned scripture from the curriculum for the week, have a few discussion questions, and throw in a craft activity or a game as time permits.
The youth bring a diverse range of experience with church and subtle differences to what they believe. Doctrinal formulas and academic theories are not in the lexicon here in this pre-performative space of Worship and Wonder (which in fact was what we used to call the class at one point). No, instead the children wrestle with subjects of fairness, what it might feel like to be one of the characters in the stories we read (even the ones that are not meant to be read favorably), and more literal concerns of faith such as whether God really does watch us 24/7. Admittedly, the children are a bit put off out by that notion… and, admittedly, I think that’s good that they react with that unsettledness. Why? Because I want them to eventually come to understand God not as some invasive force, but rather as an indwelling and interconnecting presence.
At PSR, we often discussed pedagogy—again, another word that is experienced with the youth even if it is never mentioned—and I will always appreciate how one professor described their understanding of teaching as being a “co-learner” with us students. How all of us were equally “co-educators” and sharing this journey of discovery together.
I believe that pastors, leaders, business owners, parents, teachers, and anyone else that finds themselves on some elevated step of a hierarchy would do well to absorb that pedagogical strategy.
I believe that our best teaching comes from not stating facts but asking questions. Often in my class, we do that by using statements or questions that begin with the two words, “I wonder…”
This I wonder…
How different our world would be if us adults allowed ourselves to be governed by a children’s understanding and boundless appreciation of fairness and play and creativity?
This I wonder…
How our approach to sacred texts might change if we read them from the perspective of the supporting characters or even the “villains” in the story rather than from the perspective of the main hero’s, the intended audience, or even our image of “god”?
This I wonder…
What the invitation to receive the kingdom of God like a child says about the nature of God and the nature of faith?
This, I believe, is fertile ground for spiritual creativity. Like that of a child.