Life Stages Ministry

Christian Spiritual Formation From Birth to Grave

Christian Spiritual formation is the process of “Christ being formed” in us (Gal. 4:19). Spiritual growth involves both “information” and “formation.” In this respect, spiritual formation is about connecting our knowledge of God with our experience of God. Spirituality is “theology in walking shoes.” What we believe about our relationship with God needs to be lived out in relationship experiences with God. Genuine spiritual formation is not neat, tidy, and linear. It is often “messy.” It takes time, and it continues over a lifetime. Additionally, the dynamics of formation adjust and shift through the various stages of human life.

Toddlers - Pre-school

Validate and encourage the child’s innate wonder and awe of creation and of the Creator God. Encourage them to listen to God and validate what they hear. Help them learn to pray simple prayers of sharing their thoughts and feelings and concerns with God. Research shows that children are prone to mystical experience if they are not subjected to narrow religious indoctrination that squelches their sense of wonder and awe. The temptation is for parents to explain everything to children about God in ways that overpower their natural sense of wonder and awe.

Elementary Age Children

Spiritual formation of children is not mainly preparing them for a future decision for Christ and their Christian life as an adult.  Children have spiritual, mental and emotional needs that need to be met in the present. They have many questions about God, life and death. They have an innate longing to be loved and understood. They also have a conscience and are bothered when they have done wrong and therefore need to experience God’s and others’ forgiveness and forgiving others. Children need to experience God’s love and blessing.

The challenge is to tell biblical stories and truths in ways that continue to invite the child to a growing relationship of freely coming to God and Jesus with all of life. Biblical stories can be used to help children understand God’s character with the underlying foundation that weaves throughout the whole biblical story being that of God’s love and desire for relationship with those He has created. When this foundation message does not come through loud and clear, the teachings become focused on ethical or moral behavior. When we try to teach children the life of discipleship divorced from emphasis on this being connected to Jesus living within them, we ask something of them that becomes more like the law rather than grace and their image of God is skewed.

Youth

The process of integrating faith into all of life begins consciously during adolescence. The church needs to help young people to develop a relationship with Christ (experientially, not just cerebral knowledge). Youth need to understand and embrace their identity in Christ and understand the life values that grow out of that identity. A growing faith identity includes being able to live in trusting relationship with God and the people of God as well as putting faith into action in daily life. Youth need to have an understanding of sin and God’s grace and be encouraged to make a conscious decision of faith commitment to Christ in an invitational manner. At the same time, youth need space to develop faith and relationship in their own time.

If you are involved with youth ministry in any way in LMC, join other youth workers on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 8 a.m. at the Lyndon Diner for breakfast, prayer, encouragement and to share ideas. Please RSVP on the LMC Youth Workers Facebook page if you are planning to come.

Young Adults

The young adult years are a time of searching for independence, searching for identity, questioning a faith that has been taught, and searching for a faith of one’s own.

The church needs to give them space while challenging them at the same time to discover Jesus for themselves. Young adults need mentors who can give them a safe place to do their searching and questioning. Singleness as well as marriage needs affirmation.

Mid-life Adults

Often mid-life adults find themselves in situations where the faith they have felt comfortable with all these years seems insufficient for the complexity of the new situation. They may go through a dark time spiritually where God does not seem to speak or act like they’ve known Him to respond previously in life. The challenge for them is to learn to trust God in the absence of experiencing God through the senses. Spiritual growth for the mid-life adult comes through the process of ever deepening cycles of self-awareness, surrender and union with God. These persons come to have faith, hope and love, not through their own strength, but through the deeper power of the Holy Spirit within them. Mid-life adults begin to sense their mortality with more urgency and wrestle with questions about life and death and temptations. They have learned that nothing is perfect and discover that areas in their faith journey need further exploration and deepening relationship with God.

Elderly

Older adults may experience a loss of meaning in the shift to retirement and a sense of isolation and loneliness. The task of the older adult is to achieve integrity, to pull life together into a whole. Growing old is primarily a spiritual pilgrimage. They become engaged in a life review with the challenge of finding healing for bitter memories, lost opportunities, and experiences of loss from injustice.

Elderly persons who no longer are able to do service for God in ways they’ve always known struggle to re-embrace their identity in Christ in being unconditionally loved and accepted as God’s beloved whether they “do” anything for God or not. It is almost a return to the spiritual formation task of young children in recognizing and appreciating both the small pleasures and the frequently overlooked opportunities for service that are embedded in their everyday lives. They can be encouraged to develop further the disciplines of prayer, meditation and solitude in deepening their relationship with Christ.

Older adults need to develop a satisfying philosophy of life against the backdrop of a shortening life span and diminished physical strength. They need to develop a theology of suffering that helps them remain joyful in spite of unpleasant circumstances. Death comes to be seen as a meaningful event, a graduation on to a greater season of life, and therefore they accept mortality while being good stewards of health.

Their faith calls them to renewed courage to live out life that is able to deal with unpleasant realities without illusion. They come to make peace with life’s incongruities and learn to continue to trust in God. They can continue to learn and grow and come to a gracious acceptance of one’s life, even one’s limitations, through the strength of God’s grace and love. They need to be encouraged as well to pass on words of hope and wisdom to the younger generation.

For more information on Life Stages Ministry

contact Marcia Mylin at 717-293-5246 ext. 114 or mmylin@lancasterconference.org