Asking the big, hard questions of faith with children is beautiful and challenging work. Even as we hope to nurture their curiosity about faith and God, we often feel pressure to protect them from doubt or worry, and we might not always know the right things to say. But when we remember that children are full members of the body of Christ and are accompanied by the Holy Spirit, we can fully take our place as facilitators, nurturers, and accompanists in their faith formation. How can we share child-centered and liberatory pedagogy to join the children around us in their process of encountering God and asking hard and holy questions?
Remember that all Christians can ask big questions.
Theology is not limited to the work of professional theologians. All Christians of all ages are theologians when they ask big questions about God, life, and the practice of our faith. While pastors and professional ministers are trained resources, all adults engaged in raising and caring for children can also be theologians alongside the children in our lives. Beyond the church sanctuary or in Sunday school, faith formation also happens at home, in the car, and on the playground. Embrace the good news that God is with us all the time and everywhere we go. We can learn about God anywhere, throughout our whole lives.
Let love lead the way.
The most important thing for children to know about God is that they are God’s beloved. This is communicated to them through the love of the adults in their lives. Your listening ear and willingness to wonder with them is an expression of divine love. Whatever a kid wonders, lead with openness and affirmation of all identities and belonging in community. Communities of faith should be safe, loving places where children (and grownups) can find belonging and authentic, accountable relationships. It is far more important to be present, to listen, and to affirm loving connection than to have a perfect and precise answer to a question.
Follow the lead of nontraditional approaches.
Liberatory pedagogy, or education that is focused on the work of liberation of people from systems of oppression, is exemplified in the work of Paulo Freire and bell hooks. Freire and hooks were proponents of popular education, a mutual model in which educators follow the lead of the learners. This approach nurtures students’ critical thinking and reflective skills to consider systems of power as well as the educational content. Kids’ theological questions are informed by their observations of the world around them, their experiences as they grow and learn, and the theology shared by trusted adults in their lives.
Let theology and spiritual practices dance together.
Practice, prayer, and worship are parts of our identities as Christians and our lived theology. When wondering together, see if there are connections between theological questions and the faith practices of your family and community. Spiritual practice is not an obligation to God, but an opportunity to be with God. In prayer and worship, our beliefs are formed. Liturgical seasons and feast days are symbol-rich, imaginative guides for our questions, and the sacraments and prayers might offer images or phrases to ground theological reflection.
Don’t shy away from theological ethics.
The field of theological ethics is the study of how our faith and belief influence our responsibility to care for one another, the earth, and ourselves. How do we make decisions, behave, and relate to each other? As children grow, their sense of moral fairness sharpens with prophetic clarity. They notice injustice in the world and begin seeking to connect ethical questions to their faith. This can feel intimidating if kids are curious about complex moral issues that we haven’t fully sorted out for ourselves. But as listeners and fellow travelers, there is space to wonder, grieve, and find hope. Let kids’ concerns find space in your wondering together. What questions of justice and peace most impact kids? What are their calls to action?
Befriend the mystery.
To meet children and walk with them into meaningful theological reflection, we have to share in their orientation toward wonder, be familiar with our doubt, and be willing to play and stay open-hearted. This is part of faith in community that invites us to befriend the mysteries of faith, not explain them away. Before we can truly accompany the youngest members of our families and communities into their beautiful, big God questions, we are called to sit with the mystery and grow our willingness to wonder.
You are not alone on this precious journey.
Many parents, guardians, grandparents, ministers, and lay leaders are questioning alongside children in their lives. Your questioning makes you the perfect conversation partner, one who can create a safe, loving and curious space for deepening children’s relationships with the Holy. Stay grounded in your love for the kids in your life, theirs for you, and God’s for every beloved child. Think outside the box. Connect to practice and prayer. Talk about how we are called to care for each other and the world. Wonder at the mystery.
For more on this topic from Claire Brown and Anita Peebles, check out their website where you can listen to their podcast and purchase their book, New Directions for Holy Questions: Progressive Christian Theology for Families.
With accessible language, Bible stories, and connections to daily life, New Directions for Holy Questions: Progressive Christian Theology for Families guides children and the adults who love them through the core teachings of Christianity. Kids have big questions about God and faith, and, while many of those questions don’t have one clear answer, Christians throughout the ages have given us helpful ways to think and talk about what we believe. Each chapter includes simple spiritual practices and questions for reflection, either in solitary reading or through conversation between children and caregivers or ministers. It is oriented towards anti-racism, gender equality, economic justice, care of the environment, affirmation of LGBTQ+ folks, trauma-informed practice, and global citizenship.