Steph Wood is the Children & Family Ministry Coach for the Upper South Baptist Association and is part of Ilam Baptist Church in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

Ka whāngaia, ka tupu, ka puāwai  
That which is nurtured will grow then blossom

We understand from Scripture that God formed each of us in the womb (Psalm 139:13). Experience teaches us that this is a process that takes time rather than something that happens instantly. We do not run before we can walk. Like physical growth and development, our spiritual growth and development is a process which takes time.  

Even Jesus, taking on a human body, submitted himself to a process of growth. We see in Luke 2:52 that during his adolescence, Jesus “grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and people”. These markers of maturity demonstrated by Christ show us that growth should not only be about head knowledge but also be grounded in relationships with God and others.

The Old Testament provides us with a picture of children who were integrated into the life of their faith community, actively participating in faith practices such as festivals and celebrations (for example, Passover). The youngest child played a significant role in the Jewish Passover ceremony by asking, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” 

Jesus himself actively asked questions of the teachers of the Law in his younger years (Luke 2:46). Later, in his ministry, he encouraged his disciples to “let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matt 19:14).  

Rachel Turner from Parenting for Faith challenges us to focus on the relational aspects of faith development. Rather than raising ‘God-smart’ children who have learned to recite the “right answers”, she asserts that the end goal is for children to be ‘God-connected’ so that they experience an authentic and living relationship with God. How, then, should we train children in the way that they should go?  

Over the years, Educational Theorists have tried to explain the learning and development process in different ways. In the 1600s, John Locke proposed that the mind is a ‘blank slate’ (tabula rasa) waiting to be filled with knowledge. Later, Piaget (1936) developed a theory of cognitive development to explain the different stages of development in children as they grow. Vygotsky and Cole (1978) emphasised how social relationships and culture influence learning and development. James Fowler (1981) adapted Piaget’s work to form a developmental process for human faith. Knowing where a child is developmentally can assist us in providing the right environment or level of challenge to assist their growth.

Genuine faith is outworked holistically in all areas of life. Diane Chandler (2014) identifies seven aspects of life where Christian love can be outworked to bring about ethical living. These are in our spirit, emotions, relationships, intellect, physical health and wellness, resource stewardship and vocation. In our context here in Aotearoa, it is interesting to observe parallels between these areas she identifies and the walls of ‘te whare tapa whā’, a health model developed by Sir Mason Durie. Let’s continue to be curious and equip ourselves to pass on not only knowledge but genuine faith to the next generation.  

Take action...

In semester two, Carey Baptist College is running a block course called ‘Faith Formation in Children.’ This course looks holistically at what forms, nurtures, and shapes the spiritual lives of children. It provides robust foundations to inform our ministry for, to, and with children. 

“This course is such a valuable investment for anyone involved in children’s faith nurture. I wish I could send all my volunteers, parents and whānau to glean the gold that is offered. Everyone will leave with a deeper understanding and appreciation for faith formation; they’ll be more equipped and inspired and have connections with others who serve across the country. It’s so worth the investment!” – Mel Keith from Northpoint Baptist Church in New Plymouth

Are you interested in going deeper? Come along to the Carey Baptist College Faith Formation in Children block course as either an audit or credit student. 

More details about this course are on the Carey website.

Other articles:

Equipping families to disciple their children outside of church children’s programmes in Raewyn Moodie’s article, Parents at the centre of faith formation.

Ideas influencing the 'what' and 'how' of children's faith in Jan Ozanne's article, Faith formation in children.


Chandler, D. J. (2014). Christian spiritual formation: An integrated approach for personal and relational wholeness. InterVarsity Press.

Fowler, J. (1981). The psychology of human development and the quest for meaning. HarperCollins.

Piaget, J. (1936). Le Bureau international d'éducation en 19351936: Rapport du directeur à la septième réunion du Conseil. Bureau international d'éducation.

Vygotsky, L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society: Development of higher psychological processes. Harvard University Press. 

Photo: Supplied by Jan Ozanne

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