Spiritual Formation In Children Pt. 2
In our last newsletter/podcast, we talked about spiritual formation in ages 5-12 and highlighted the idea known as the age of accountability. Up until this point, any “spiritual formation” is better defined as character development (yes, there is a difference). Our philosophy is to develop this “launching pad” so that, when they do reach the age of accountability and truly understand what Jesus did for them, they can be justified by the Lord’s grace, and be better suited to go through “sanctification” (or spiritual formation) which can only truly be done when the Holy Spirit dwells within us (which we’ll discuss later in this newsletter).
Our primary recommendation, in regard to this launching pad, is a curriculum of chronological Bible reading that reinforces Bible characters and stories, Israel’s history, and the story arc of God from beginning to end. However, other things have also been shown to form the character of an individual that we want to highlight in this newsletter to support future conversations on the topic of how to train boys to be competent men with Christ-like character. We’ve categorized them in 3 unique ways:
Character Development: The 3 C’s
Character is the QUALITIES or distinguishing features of an individual - usually the specific moral qualities of someone. Our character matters because it drives what we do and the results that we get in our life. Brett Ledbetter, a sports consultant, explains this well in a TedTalk he gave a few years ago (Start at 11:15):
He separates character into two categories: Performance and Moral.
He believes these character traits drive our behaviors (our process) which in turn shape the results that we get in sports and in life. But, we think that the three C’s are inputs that form our character traits.
“Oh be careful little eyes what you see. Oh, be careful little ears what you hear. Oh, be careful little feet where you go. For the father up above is looking down in love…” - Christian Children’s Song
What you consume, shapes your thoughts, self-talk, perception, beliefs, body, and ultimately influences your decisions. “You are what you consume”. This is partly why information warfare is so powerful. All the things around you are data that your brain uses to shape the stories of what you believe about the world and yourself. What you are consuming through books, music, tv shows, movies, social media, news, and even food, shapes your body and your mind, and has a major impact on your character.
“You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” - John Maxwell
Who we are around has a massive impact on who we are. This is what many psychologists would call the “social influence” that drives the things that we do and believe. The Bible has hundreds of passages directed to being careful about who you surround yourself with as they can bring you up or tear you down.
“You are what you repeatedly do...” - Aristotle
Its thought that character is built only during times of crisis, but it is really built in the routine acts of common life where we are being made every minute. Character comes from a chisel where you are the sculptor, and with every decision, you are re-shaping and re-forming for better or for worse. Each decision, when made a few times over, can become a habit - a formative power that the body puts on autopilot.
Although there is a lot of truth to this process as helping to improve character, the Bible has a very different take on what TRUE character development requires….
True Spiritual Formation
Spiritual formation is the process of being conformed into the “image of Christ”. The most perfect man to walk this Earth. The Bible says that this is not possible with your current form or character. YOU HAVE TO BE LITERALLY TRANSFORMED INTO A NEW CREATURE. Something that only God can do through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the primary difference between the world;s approach to character development and the Bible’s. The new you starts with a new belief and worldview which shapes your heart driving changes in all other aspects of the self. So what else can we say about how to help someone go through this “sanctification” process?
I’ve referenced Dallas Willard’s work in “The Divine Conspiracy” over and over. He has a whole chapter devoted to what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. But what does it mean to be LIKE Jesus Christ? If we are indeed trying to produce Godly men, then the goal is the character of Christ. Who has defined those SPECIFIC characteristics? What are we aiming for? We certainly can’t hope to be perfect like Jesus. Perfection is NOT our goal. Like the list above, we must decide on a way to frame this question so that we can consequently codify our learning objectives.
With the world of information at our fingertips, it’s easy to search the world wide web for answers. The problem is that there are no definitive answers. One list has seven things. Another list has ten. 100. 25. Again, we want a list that is measurable and manageable, if not comprehensive. One might thing that the fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5: 22-23 would provide a good framework. It might. But, we had an idea that might be unique. Here’s our rationale:
In Renovation of the Heart, Willard discusses the process of spiritual transformation. He includes a diagram called “Triangle of Transformation”.
The process includes the action of the Holy Spirit, Ordinary Events of Life, and Planned Disciplines. What are these “Planned Disciplines”? They are the part of the triangle that YOU control. They are spiritual disciplines that posture you in a position to partner with God on the work of being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. When I use language like ‘transformed Into the image of Jesus Christ’, I’m not referring to looks. We are referring to precisely the thing we are most interested in here: the character of Christ. Remember God does not change us without us. We must be part of the process and that’s why I like Willard’s language of “PLANNED” disciplines”.
Here was another frame that I used:
Richard Foster’s seminal work “Celebration of the Disciplines” lists 12 spiritual disciplines:
If these are the ‘practices’ that can help form the character of Christ in us, would they also point us to the ‘characteristics’ of Christ that we want to emulate in our spiritual journey?
Meditation and Prayer/Peace
Fasting/Self-Controlled or Disciplined
Study/Teachable or Curious
Simplicity and Solitude/Humble
Service/ Selfless or Sacrificial
Of this list, might we agree on seven that we feel best exemplify that character of Jesus? It would be a place to start for now. And so here are the seven virtues we agree to begin with as move towards spiritual transformation:
I share that because I wanted you to see the process we practiced in framing our list. However, in the end, at least for now, we ended up with a list that was a hybrid of my son’s football team’s code of ethics. Integrity; Selflessness, Respect, Honor, and Courage. I felt like Responsibility and Perseverance were key to our model. I began to suggest an acronym that would help solidify our idea. Now, I’m very good at Scrabble. So we started playing around with the letters and doing a little wordsmithing!
Courage Honor Responsibility Integrity Selflessness Tenacity.
Do you see it? C-H-R-I-S-T. These then are the attributes of Christ that we promote at Treign Up. Cool?
As our mission is to “train boys to be competent men with Christ-Like character” we felt it important to take two newsletters to work out some of our philosophy behind the second half of the mission statement. Although there is more work and thought to do on this topic, this seems like a good start.
In summary -
Based on Jean Piaget’s model, it is hard for a child to have the mental capacity to understand Why they really need Jesus as a savior. It’s when they realize sin is not what they do but who they are that the age of accountability is realized.
HOWEVER, it is important that we do everything we can to point them to Jesus as a child and help them take the next step with him. In many ways, a lot of exercises and practices conducted during this time are more closely aligned with a philosophy of character development to form a “launching pad”.
This launching pad consists of the 3 C’s and, specifically, a curriculum of chronological Bible reading that reinforces Bible characters and stories, Israel’s history, and the story arc of God from beginning to end.
It is not until the holy spirit enters into a person that spiritual formation can occur and there are things that we do in coordination with the spirit that allows us to go through the sanctification process.
The byproduct of this process is Christ-like character. For our training purposes, we think the C-H-R-I-S-T characteristics outlined above are a good few to focus on for our “launching pad” curriculum.
In the next newsletter, we still must go through the same process in selecting the competency components of our godly men. We’ll let Ben take the lead on that.