Does it really matter if we come to church regularly for worship, programs or activities? This is a question I have often thought needed to be answered. I have spent some time researching and I am delighted to tell you I have an answer. It is a resounding “YES”, it matters a great deal.
I love analogies and their ability to clarify an abstract concept, so here is one that I feel applies. Do you engage in a regular exercise discipline? Maybe you go to the gym or run or bike or walk. What happens if you only exercise every once in awhile? How about if you exercise regularly, but never push yourself? What are the results? There is no doubt that in order to get stronger and continue to improve in physical fitness, it requires commitment. So, let’s apply the same concept to your faith; is it something you will get around to later, an every once in a while effort, or something you are committed to strengthening and improving?
In the book Stages of Faith by James Fowler, faith is defined as holding a profound and ultimate meaning in the world and in our own life, whereas beliefs are ideas and concepts that we express through religion. Fowler sees faith as developmental, based on a framework of cognitive developmental theory by Piaget, psychosocial developmental theory by Erikson, and moral developmental theory by Kohlberg. I am taking liberties here to oversimplify and highlight faith development which begins in young children, who are powerfully and permanently influenced by parental examples and faith stories. Their capacity for fantasy and imagination allows them to accept a great deal that adults cannot. As they progress into school age, they begin to adopt and make their own the values important to the community where they belong. They are beginning to draw meaning from the community around them. Later, as a child becomes an adolescent, they hunger for being known and accepted for who they are. They resist taking responsibility for beliefs and values, but will defend them and are emotionally invested in them. Then young adults go through the difficult transition to objectively evaluate values and beliefs and develop independent ones, and they begin to see people as individuals, not as part of a group, and they begin to rely on their own internal authority. The transition to this faith stage is usually quite difficult and can create a sense of loss, guilt, isolation, or grief. The later this transition occurs in life the greater the struggle, due to more established adult structure and relationships. From mid-life on, faith deepens and becomes much more complex, worldly, and multidimensional. There are six stages of faith, the sixth being quite rare – think Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi.
My extremely brief overview of faith development was to give you the general progression. According to Fowler, it is quite normal for adult faith to be arrested in the school age or adolescent level of faith as opposed to functioning in the higher adult stages. I also suspect that the college kids who leave the church and never come back fall somewhere in the transition between adolescence and young adult stages without the support to guide them through that very difficult transition.
Karen, Bill and I acknowledge that children and teens are being evaluated, judged and measured in almost everything that they do. We make an effort not to do that here. We make an effort to create an environment of acceptance and love where they can freely explore their faith. Year after year, St. Michael’s provides programs and activities for adults, children and youth. The themes and curriculum change, but you can always count on programs and activities. We learn and grow as Christians through worship, Bible study and in relationship with God and with other Christians. Each offers different, but valuable experiences to help us on our journey. Church is a community where we develop relationships necessary to guide us through our faith development.
The children that are regularly involved in children’s programs they have families who support and encourage their faith and have strong friendships with other kids that are based on Christian principles of love and acceptance. As these kids move on to become teenagers they are confident, comfortable with their faith, and have developed solid peer relationships. They are ready for tackling the challenges they will face as teenagers. They have the foundation they need that will help them grow in their faith.
Teenagers who are actively involved at church find that much desired acceptance for who they are and begin to evaluate their values and beliefs in an environment of acceptance and love. This is done intentionally in Confirmation. These kids also tend to have higher expectations of those they are in relationship with. They also have more resources and support available to them as they approach the difficult transition to young adult faith.
What messages are you sending to your family about the importance of faith? As parents, modeling is the primary way we teach children. Being committed to a faith community, sharing and engaging with kids, and encouraging children to share their opinions, concerns, knowledge and experiences are ways we model to our children that faith is important to us. Children and youth need meaning in their lives, just like we do.
So, does it really matter if we are involved in church regularly for worship, programs or activities? Yes, it matters a great deal.
Sue Mason, Director of Children’s Ministry
Editors note: This article was also published in the most recent edition of St. Michael’s The Family Connection newsletter. To read it and find out everything going on with the Nursery, Children, and Youth, visit the newsletter archives page on our web site or pick a copy up at the church. www.stmaa.net/?q=content/newsletters