children at ctf: Forming Priests, Kings, & Prophets
It could be argued (rightly I think) that the main reason for the outstanding decline (physical, spiritual, relational) in the American evangelical church is how we have wholly “dismissed” children, and all for horribly wrong “ends.” We dismiss them from our presence because they are a burden and make it difficult to pay attention. We dismiss them from rigorous learning because it takes so much time and they don’t listen. We dismiss them in order to be entertained because it is so easy and we are exhausted and need a break. We dismiss them from being held accountable to obey, respect, and serve because we don't like to obey, respect, and serve anyone ourselves.
Unfortunately, in adopting this culture of flesh, our kids never grow up. And so, as should be expected, when our kids “leave home” (and their pop-entertainment youth groups) they have no experience, stamina, understanding, or love for the mature things of God: worshiping God rightly, studying His Word faithfully, living with and loving people unlike themselves, and submitting to and serving those God has placed in their paths.
In response to this, we believe that we are called to form our kids rather than dismiss them; called to grow kids up exactly within the Body of Christ, as full members of the Body now being formed into even fuller members. In this, we place great value on challenging catechesis and full congregational inclusion as we teach them to live the Story of God forever. Put another way, by the grace of God, we believe that kids that have been united with Christ are capable of so very much and should thusly be formed into responsible mature godly leaders ready to serve their communities in adulthood.
Below is our children's "program" here at CTF. Our children meet for Sunday School each week at 3:15pm.
1.0 a vision
Mature leaders in Christ and for the life of the world
To honor God and proclaim (in word and deed) His Kingdom for the life of the world by forming children into mature adults that are legitimately prepared to worship and lead in the communities they are called. To believe that our children are more glorious than we could have ever imagined, and to then lead and form them into becoming even more glorious, and all unto the glory of God.
1.1 the trivium
A Classical-Biblical Understanding of Education: Faith, Hope and Love
Long ago, the thought of there being no God was absurd. Man knew of his limits and could never be so arrogant as to believe that he was himself the end (god). In such a world, the purpose of education was outward-facing: to create responsible mature citizens to serve others and the common good of all humanity. This naturally oriented all learning and its application towards the other: towards communication, relationship, and service.
We believe that this classical form of education, highly developed within the church in medieval times (and with Christ as its foundation), offers a very useful method of forming mature adults.
Put another way, we denounce the belief of our current culture: that our kids are cogs in a machine, and that what best serves them is to intentionally stunt their growth in the grammar stage (“teach em how to score high on tests!”), and all in an effort to get a high-paying job that grants them some conception of power... "world" in which they are the god. Rather, we believe that God has given us minds and bodies as amazing gifts to learn and grow, and all that we might worship him, love our neighbors truly, and in so doing to then steward this His good creation with great wisdom and intention.
In response to this, we find great merit in the ideas of the classical trivium (grammar, logic, rhetoric), a model of education whose soul purpose is to form wise men who see others and care about their their relationship to and with all of creation.
In addition, we see great correlation between the Biblical understanding of maturation and the trivium’s process of development; a process that could easily be categorized as one from faith to hope to love… the greatest of these, of course, being love.
2.0 priests, kings, and prophets
The Biblical Story’s 3 Stages of Maturation
The Biblical Story is the Story of God, despite man’s sin, faithfully maturing man up into glorified humanity and god-likeness. This maturation intentionally moves from that of priests (Adam/Moses) to kings (David/Solomon) to prophets (Elijah/Isaiah), and all, of course, culminating in the true high priest, eternal king, and immortal prophet Jesus Christ. But Christ has not accomplished all things to simply then do away with God’s original plan of maturation, but, rather, so that this eternal plan can finally be fully realized in Christ and His Church.
At CTF, we believe that, in this, the Church is called to effect this work of formation and (new) creation through the power of the Spirit. And we believe (as those before us) that this story of God still calls mankind to naturally but intentionally progress through a certain developmental cycle: a call to become fully human in Christ as he/she matures from being priest to king to prophet.*
The 1st Stage - Priests
In the Bible, priests represent an office of child-like and simple (immature) faith. Priests are given explicit instructions on how to act without the need for much deviance or innovation. Priests are given simple places (gardens, physical temples) with simple tasks (steward, defend, conduct, obey). Much like children in their youth, priests were called to trust and to obey, God graciously removing undue responsibility from them until that time when they would be ready to take on more. The Mosaic Covenant itself was just like this: a focus on laws, trust, and simplicity. And though we go through this cycle (priests to kings to prophets) in many different ways on many different levels, we believe that our small children are called first to this “priesthood”: to learn, to obey, and to believe (faith).
The 2nd Stage - Kings
As God progresses his story of redemption, He calls mankind to kingship: to an office of greater responsibility, space, and maturity. No longer left to simply hear and obey, David is called to administrate justice and conquer kingdoms, Solomon required to judge ethically and strategize wisely. Similar to those adults in the workplace, man must now grow up and meet his growing responsibilities, the call no longer one to gardens and buildings but to kingdoms and foreign nations. To do this well, a faithful king, having been formed completely in the Law, must now analyze and apply what he knows to be true; a call to make wise decisions and Godly judgments as he seeks to build and conquer in Christ’s Name. This maturity does not simply trust, but it hopes with great assurance.
The 3rd Stage - Prophets
The culmination of God’s Story of Creation and New Creation is fulfilled in the office of the prophet (Christ being the eternal true Prophet). Much as an elderly man of faith and peace, gone are the toilsome days of stress and war, and in its place a joyful call (and more importantly, ability!) to love and create… to proclaim Christ without a hint of fear or uncertainty. The beauty and awesomeness of this call calls one, not to gardens or foreign nations, but to the entire cosmos itself, prophets called to reign in the heavens and earth with astounding creative power, with fully matured wisdom and faith, certain knowledge, and life-creating authority and proclamation. Having now learned and trusted, applied and hoped, the office of prophet is about the eschatological realization of God’s goodness; about operating completely in (and enjoying!) the self-giving love that God has called us to speak into all of creation with.
*We must give thanks to Jim Jordan and Peter Leithart as the source of much of our theological understanding in this; specifically with regard to the Biblical-theological conceptions of progress and maturity found in the models and Story of priest-king-prophet and as likewise paralleled with faith-hope-love in the call on the believer.
2.1 making priests of God
Faith and Grammar (4-7yr olds)
At CTF, we will begin the priest (grammar-faith) stage at the age of four years old.
In the priest stage of development, the focus of the curriculum and development will be that of simply teaching our children the Story of God. However, the focus on this will be, not to teach them random moral anecdotes, but rather to teach them the Big Story of God, who He is, and what He has done from creation through today (and what he has now promised to do for all time). In addition, the children will learn formational faith concepts such as the godly virtues, bible memorization, and very simple beginning catechetical questions; all without the burden of responsibility and with the call to just trust and believe, to obey and profess faith.
In this stage, your children will walk through quality children’s stories (The Jesus Storybook Bible, The Big Story Picture Bible, etc.), sing fun songs, watch helpful videos, gain a basic understanding of the liturgies of the church, memorize basic collects and recite memory verses.
2.2 crowning kings of god
Hope and Logic (8-12yr olds)
At CTF, we will begin the king (logic-hope) stage at the age of eight years old.
In the king stage of development, the focus will be to build upon what has now been learned and memorized, moving the kids from a place of obedience to a place of analysis and application. In this stage, the children will interact with biblical theology, broad biblical concepts, and a deeper journey into the church catechism as kids are called to begin to really understand who this God is… and subsequently what the implications of their faith are as they begin to look around them on a day-to-day basis.
In this stage, children will review what they have already learned, but then study and understand broad Biblical concepts such as sacrifice and temple, baptism and kingdom. In addition, the catechism questions will push our kids to ask questions and give reasons for the answers they are given. A deeper look into Biblical virtues, stories and this God we serve will present an opportunity for kids to make wise choices and righteous judgements when presented with ethical dilemmas and challenges to their faith.
2.3 the time to lead
Confirmation: Becoming an Adult (turning 13yrs old)
The sacramental act of Confirmation by the Bishop in Christ’s Holy Church is a wonderful gift of encouragement and mobilization. Our own bishop has used the helpful explanation of “Confirmation as Lay Ordination,” an understanding that we believe fits (normatively speaking) quite beautifully between our priest and prophet stages, the ideal that of a student being Confirmed close after his/her 13th birthday, even a marking-off of the transition from child to adult in God’s polis.
This transition and “coming of age” will be marked by a myriad of encouraging truths:
- On his/her day of Confirmation, the student will possess the ability to stand on their own two feet, and with their own mature confident voice, profess faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, the sign of becoming truly human.
- On his/her day of Confirmation, the student will be called by the bishop to lead and serve in Christ’s Church from that day forward.
- On his/he day of Confirmation, the student will be encouraged by the Church that they are on the right path and that God is extremely proud of them. In all of this, they will have the assurance that they have been counted and seen, and are now being called to keep walking this path of constantly maturing faith.
Note: It is quite conceivable and understandable that many different circumstances and scenarios could require adjustment or variance with regard to a child and Confirmation in Christ’s Church. We believe it wise to operate according to ideals and what will be normative, and then rest easily in any varying circumstances. But as in all things, there will be a defense against legalism and/or rigidity as it pertains to the formation of our children.
2.4 calling prophets of god
Love and Rhetoric (our 13-17yr olds)
At CTF, we will begin the prophet (rhetoric-love) stage at the age of thirteen years old.
In the prophet stage of development, we will mostly move from a didactic and classroom setting (in which the kids take and receive, listen and apply) into an apprenticeship type program with the end goal being the mature “prophet” taking on an area of leadership or ministry all by his/herself.
The focus on this stage will then be to be the adult God has now called them to be. A far cry from the pop-entertainment youth groups of the American Church, we intend to go in an exactly opposite direction, requiring each teenager to learn from a mentor, slowly moving from a “shadowing” phase to a “co-leading” phase until ready to take on full leadership over an ongoing task or ministry in the community.
To be clear, the prophet stage is all about treating kids as co-sisters and brothers now called to leadership for Christ. This is about more involvement and inclusion, not less. And the goal is that when our kids go off to college, that they will immediately engage in their local community of faith, arriving not to ask, “What can you do for me?” but rather by joyfully proclaiming, “I am here to serve. How can I help?”
Coupled with attending adult Sunday School classes and events, the church leadership will work in conjunction with the student to now identify gifts/passions/call as well as picking a mentor and long-term“project” to pursue. This may at times vary and look quite different than others, but the intended setup of the stage will be three parts: 1) shadowing/learning, 2) helping/co-leading, and 3) leading/delegating.
It is most probable (and quite desirable) that the mentor and student begin by walking and learning a vast number of church practices and procedures (ministries, roles, etc.) before settling on what God has called the “prophet” to pursue leadership in.
3.0 life in the story: The Liturgical Year of the Church
As Christians, we want to be shaped by the Story of God. Each Sunday we participate in the divine drama with God. We ascend to His House, are struck by His beauty and cut by His Word; we repent and are forgiven; we are re-created and washed in the water of His word; we give Him our tribute and He gives us Himself; we share a meal. Our lives are shaped by this Story.
What we do weekly, we also do throughout the calendar year: As we walk through the Story of Jesus and the Church, we are living the Story of God. In Advent we renew the wonder of the world as it waited for the coming of its Deliverer. In Christmas we celebrate the terrible mystery of the Deliverer who came in a way we hadn’t expected. In Epiphany we celebrate the unveiling of the life of the Christ, the unlikely King. In Lent we journey with God’s people as He wages war on fallen flesh and prepares to lead us through Death and into the Resurrection. In Easter we feast with the risen Lord, remembering that in Christ we have already-but-not-yet come to mount Zion, the city of the living God. And from Pentecost through the rest of Ordinary time we journey together in this life beautifully mundane life of faith. This is the story that shapes our Sundays, bleeds into our weeks, and organizes our years.
This is the same Story we want to form the lives of our children. State, federal, and cultural holidays are great, but we want something more for our children than to have their “holy-days” dictated to them by the operating hours of the local bank.
So with our children, we will journey together through Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost (Ordinary time). The children of course love this. They get so excited to observe the four weeks of waiting before Christmas. They all committedly join together in observing Lent. They are often the loudest on Easter Sunday. For children need no explanation for the liturgical seasons. They get it. It’s God’s Story. Who wouldn’t want to enter-in and be a part of living in this kingdom, ruled by this king, observing these holy-days?
4.0 formation at home
We are truly excited about everything that has been mentioned thus far. But we must be clear: the formation of our children begins and ends at home. And while it is true that it is our community’s great value (and goal) to spend an unusual amount of time together, parents must rightfully assume leadership in their children’s spiritual formation. So we will make a deal with parents: we will commit to provide a foundation and ongoing support for the spiritual formation of your child. But you must support Christ’s Church by living in God’s Story from Sunday through Saturday, by building off what is started at church, and by proclaiming Christ in all things. For Christ is everything. And if we make him less, we must expect less.
Some Exhortations and/or Suggestions
- Eat together as a family. Sit around the table and eat together. Pray, talk, sing, laugh, and feast. All the time. Every night. Never stop.
- Show up. You first. And your kid with you. Be faithful.
- Serve, worship, and give. Your kids want to be like you: the people that God has put in their lives to image His love and sacrifice. So get involved and serve. Sing and worship loudly. And give your heart, time, and wealth to God.
- Train and discipline your children in love. Teach them to respect God and others. Train them how to kneel, pray, sing (loudly!), shout, and sit quietly listening. And then teach them the life-giving reasons for all of these things: how they honor and love both God and others. Excite them about growing up to love and serve; excited to see others.
- Ask what you can do during the week and use the tools that are provided. We will do our best to provide take-home materials of pertinent questions, songs, worksheets. Practice them together. Have discussions about them around the dinner table.
- Encourage our leaders and help us to grow in our leadership. Share fun ideas, helpful critiques, and/or life-giving stories of progress.
5.0 children in the worship service
Our Sunday Service “Program”
*The following was heavily adopted from Trinity Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, AL.
We passionately welcome children into our worship service. We know that small children often make noise. Children were no different in Jesus' day, and yet he invited them to himself, without regard for the distractions they might present (Mt. 18-19). While we ask parents to be considerate and sensitive to others, as a congregation, we have a high tolerance for the presence of children in worship and greatly value whole families learning to worship together, parent and child alike.
This invitation is quite intentional.
In this, we do encourage you to train and discipline your children to not simply sit still through the service (though there are times for this), but to engage the service as much as possible. That's one of the advantages of liturgical worship -- there is enough repetition within that even small children can be taught how to participate and in fact quickly and joyfully learn when to stand, kneel, sit quietly, raise their hands, and shout "Amen!"
With this said, we recognize that parents have the authority to determine the best way to integrate their children into the life and worship of the community. Therefore, we offer both nursery services and a cry-room (both in audio-fed library downstairs) for infants and young children, noting that even this space’s primary purpose is for parents to have a quiet space to hear the service while training small children. Please let us know your preference so we may best support and assist you.