Child in Christ, binds himself to live

Child development is complex and faith formation can seem mysterious. However there are theories which can be explored to give definitive explanations of faith development.James Fowler’s theory expressed faith as a developmental process defined by stages including Chaotic stages of infancy and later Reflective stages. Each stage has unique characteristics for example the chaotic stage is characterised by imagination and imitation. It is claimed higher stages are attained by few people who live to serve without any earthly desires. Fowler claims many do not pass the Synthetic Conventional stage where people feel a sense of belonging but do not claim ownership over their beliefs because of ambiguity. Gordon Allport supports this idea by theorising people stumble when they face uncertainty. Some overcome this developing a mature faith whereas others allow doubts to rule their beliefs and become atheist. Conversely John Westerhoff saw faith as a holistic process rather than defined stages believing faith grew like rings of a tree with each one increasing knowledge. Westerhoff outlined Experienced Faith wherein infants learn through experiences. This is vital as children often learn about faith through spiritual experience rather than acquired knowledge. Searching Faith begins during adolescence where discovery becomes appealing and pulls youth away from Church to explore alternative beliefs. This is a pivotal time as some leave Church and regrettably never return, however it can encourage stronger faith if doubts are overcome. Finally Owned Faith is where someone accepts Christ into their lives causing them to live more like Jesus. This is supported by scripture “Whoever claims to be dwelling in Christ, binds himself to live as Christ lived” (1 John 2:6). However, there is evidence that faith is an intrinsic concept as Jesse Bering used puppets to test children’s understanding of death. The children believed that physical needs ceased when somebody died but psychological functioning continued. This points towards the idea that humans have a natural inclination towards spirituality rather than learned faith. The current generation of children are growing up in a world dominated by change. Scientific advances occur frequently, political turmoil rages and technology has become our primary mode of communication. Navigating society can be arduous for young people and it can affect faith development in various ways. One factor that encourages spiritual development is the sense of community that faith can produce. James Fowler states that the Church is a body wherein each person has their own unique role. This is supported by scripture in 1 Corinthians which states “As it is, there are many parts, but one body”. Furthermore the effects of community were explored by Joseph Bulbulia and Andrew Mahoney. In psychological studies Christians in New Zealand were found to be more generous when compared to non believers.They concluded that religious identity can bond people far more powerfully than secular connections thus supporting the idea that community positively impacts a child’s faith development. An element of contemporary society that can hinder faith development is technology’s prevalence. According to recent surveys more than 51% of children access social media more than once a day and on average children are twelve when they receive their first mobile device. Whilst technology can be useful in a child’s learning and education it can have a detrimental effect on spirituality. Cyber bullying has become a norm amongst young people with 52% reporting being bullied online. These interactions can cause a child to feel unloved and consequently isolate themselves. These barriers children put up to protect themselves can also hinder their relationship with God. The abuse can cause their heart to become hard and unresponsive to the Gospel thus causing them to drift from their faith.Western culture can be destructive due to its encouragement of self reliance wherein young people are taught to aim for individual success over interdependence. Culture completely inverts the ideals of the Kingdom by promoting greed and selfishness rather than meekness and selflessness. Young people’s minds are so malleable and vulnerable which makes it too easy for them to adhere to the individualistic ideals that western culture encourages.There are many issues a children’s worker needs to consider when leading a child to Christ. All children have different backgrounds and experiences and this can affect their individual personality and how they may respond to the Gospel and Church. The first concept to consider is the age of the child. Legally a child is recognised as a “human being below the age of 18”. However this age group are at varying stages emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. Therefore age must be something that the leader needs to consider as you need to minister appropriately to each age group. For example a child of seven may respond more positively to physical activity like drama or creative tasks, whereas a teenager may be more interested in a more mature and focused bible class or mentoring session. Another component that has to be considered is the child’s cultural background. Youth groups can be culturally diverse, especially when working in big towns and cities. This is important as different cultures have distinct customs and belief systems so being sensitive to those  is important when trying to lead a child to faith. For example when mentoring a young person whose first language is not English it is important to to avoid using Christian jargon or complex language. Furthermore patience is needed in these situations as a Christian leader should not push too hard when a child of a different culture is beginning a faith journey. For example when a child comes from a Muslim background they are used to praying five times a day with specific phrases and movements. As a child is transitioning to a Christian way of life it is essential that youth workers are patient and supportive of their changing faith whilst remaining loving and non judgemental of their previous religious beliefs.These theories demonstrate that consistent support is required for children’s faith to flourish in a highly secular society which resists any presence of spiritual beliefs.