Coming of Age In Faith

By Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning

I finally got around to watching a movie on Netflix that’s been on the “to watch” list. The movie was “House of D.” In the movie a thirteen-year-old comes of age through loss, grief, and escape. As an adult, and a father, he returns to the place of his childhood in order to reconnect and move on.

Coming of age stories touch on powerful issues related to identity, self, and emotional process. At around age 10 something shifts developmentally within us. For the first time we become self-aware in new ways, and, we become more keenly aware of the emotional process at play in our families and relationships. The genre can be very effective as a vehicle for teaching about self, identity, and family emotional process.

Here’s a list of some coming-of-age stories, in books and films. How many do you know?

During the coming-of-age years children’s spirituality and faith-orientation also develop in new ways. James Fowler described this development as moving from “Stage 2 Mythic-Literal Faith,” in which faith is captured in the stories that children hear and tell about God, and the meanings that their literal but logical interpretations teach about human relations and with God, toward a “Stage 3 Synthetic-Conventional Faith.” In this later elementary school age faith stage children’s faith is encompassed in an uncritical, tacit acceptance of the conventional religious values taught by significant persons in their lives (parents, church, etc.) and is centered on feelings of what is right and wrong, especially in interpersonal relationships.

Ways To Help Children Come of Age in Faith

Thompson and Randall offer the following way to foster positive ways for children’s faith development:

  1. Respect for the ways that spiritual reflection changes with age and growth in thinking, judgment, and personality. This means that the ways that children interpret religious matters are accepted as suitable for their age.
  2. Provide opportunities to participate in religious observances that are calibrated to a child’s capacities for understanding and involvement. This means that children have roles that are meaningful to them and respected and recognized by adults within the community.
  3. Provide opportunities for intergenerational involvement in religious activity, as well as activities that are oriented to the interests and needs of children alone.
  4. Provide for the growth and maintenance of meaningful formative relationships – particularly within the family – that inspire trust, security, and empathic human understanding.
  5. Respect children’s individuality in spiritual understanding and its development. This means that pathways for growth of faith are individualized based on life experience, individual personality, and how persons interpret their own spirituality.
  6. Provide support during periods of difficulty or crisis, personal despair, or transition during which familiar beliefs may be tested and reconsidered.
  7. Offer acceptance of personal searching as part of the process of spiritual development. This means a willingness by others to engage constructively with the child in questioning and exploring more deeply the fundamental beliefs that are socialized by parents and others in the majority culture, without inspiring fear of rejection, denigration, or expulsion from the family or community.

Consider:

What are some of your favorite coming-of-age stories?
What was life like for you as a ten-year-old?
What helped shape and sustain your faith when you were coming of age?

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary. Formerly, he was Dean at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans and to the Digital Flipchart blog.

Thompson, R. A. & Randall, B. (1999). A standard of living adequate for children’s spiritual development. In A. B. Andrews & N. Kaufman, (Eds.). Implementing the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child. A standard.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Top