Date of Award

2018

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (Christian Studies) - MA (CSt)

Department

Theology

First Advisor/Committee Member

Brian Bantum, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Theology

Second Advisor/Committee Member

Robert Drovdahl, Ph.D., Professor of Educational Ministry

Keywords

Christian education of children—History; Church work with children; Belonging (Social psychology) in children; Christian children; Image of God; Faith development; Spiritual formation; Mentoring in Christian education; Christian life; Group identity; —Race identity; Church work with minorities; Race—Religious aspects—Christianity; Racism—Religious aspects—Christianity; Multiculturalism—Religious aspects—Christianity; Ethnicity—Religious aspects—Christianity; Cultural pluralism; Critical theory

Abstract

As the Church in the United States grapples with challenging issues of race and racism that permeate our world, children’s ministry is also impacted by these very same issues and lived experiences for a diverse community of people. This thesis seeks to help the church acknowledge that all children have particular racial and cultural identity that is formed within family and social system contexts; and it seeks to affirm the belief that children are God’s good creation and made in the image of God. With these truths in place, connections can be drawn between a child’s cultural and racial identity and its impact on their faith formation.

This thesis will examine the way that faith is shaped by a journey of formation as racialized individuals in particular communities, and formed by experiences (or lack thereof) of Christ in community. It is broken up into three main parts beginning with 1) the history of children’s ministry in the United States, 2) essential aspects of a new framework for children’s ministry built upon an awareness of cultural identity, belonging and theological mainstays for a new ministry model, and 3) implications of the model for children’s identity, formation and discipleship in the church. There is a resource desert for contextualized, multi-cultural, theologically rich curricula and ministry philosophy for children’s ministry. Exploring critical race theory and current children’s ministry models of spiritual formation, I suggest a new model of ministry to children and families that is informed by three main concepts of Belong, Become and Believe, or the B3 Model of Children’s Ministry leading toward discipleship and diversity in a multi-ethnic world.

Cultural identity and belonging intersect one’s understanding of being a disciple of Jesus and belonging to the family of God. Identity and belonging are continually and dynamically forming in and around self in relationship to others, God and the church. Through participation in the church, through spiritual parenting, or through mentorship by other adults, children learn who God is, who they are as image bearers of God, and who they are called to become as faithful followers of Jesus. This thesis seeks to address the gap or lack of theological depth in children’s curriculum while creating environments that are warm, welcoming, and inclusive of all types of children. This includes building healthy relationships and empowering children and families to participate with God in God’s mission in the world in order to experience transformation in their personal and community-based spiritual lives.

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