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Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey

Guidance for Those Who Teach and Nurture

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"A much-needed call to the church and families to actively listen to children's reflections on their spiritual lives and faith journeys. . . . This book is invaluable for graduate studies in Christian education, pastoral ministry, child development, and other related fields."--Desiree Segura-April, Asbury Journal
There is growing interest in the study of children's spirituality within the academy and the church. How do children experience and understand God? How can ministry leaders, parents, and teachers help children develop their life of faith?
Throughout more than a decade of field research, Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May listened to children talk about their relationships with God, observed children and their parents in learning and worship settings, and interviewed adults about their childhood faith experiences. This accessible resource weaves together their findings to offer a glimpse of the spiritual responsiveness and potential of children. Through case studies, it provides insight into children's perceptions of God and explores how they process their faith. In addition, Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey suggests how adults can more effectively relate to and work with children and pre-adolescents to nurture their faith, offering a compelling picture of adults and children on the spiritual journey together. The book will be of immense value to professors and students in children's spirituality, Christian education, spiritual formation, and ministry courses and will benefit those who minister to children in churches.
1. Why Listen to Children?
2. Knowing God in Childhood
3. Experiencing God in Everyday Life
4. Children Experiencing God at Church
5. The Formative Power of God's Story
6. Let the Children Come: Loving, Knowing, and Following Jesus
7. Celebrating Compassion
8. The Church Partnering with Parents
Appendix A: The Research Designs
Appendix B: Resources and Ideas


"Stonehouse and May have given us a work that is enlightening, challenging, and encouraging all at the same time. It provides a long-needed look into the actual spiritual life experience of children and helps us consider how what we do in our homes and families can better encourage a growing vital faith in Christ. The book is organized well and addresses several major areas we all care about as we work with our children (e.g., worship, Scripture, prayer, salvation, compassion). It is both moving and convicting to read, and if we will give attention to what the children say, it will cause us to change some of what we do in our ministries with children and with young parents."--Kevin E. Lawson, director, PhD and EdD programs in educational studies, Talbot School of Theology; editor, Christian Education Journal

"This book is an important addition to recent literature and research on the spiritual formation of children. The fine work by these authors, long committed to the spiritual nurture of children, should lay to rest any doubts about the capacity of children to know, love, worship, and experience God in ways that put to shame many adults."--Ivy Beckwith, minister to children and families, Congregational Church of New Canaan, Connecticut; author, Formational Children's Ministry

"Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May have listened carefully to children, using interviews and interpreting their art, and they have listened to parents. Their conclusion is not a set of norms for what children should know or a theory of children's spirituality. Their conclusion is that setting the stage for children to wonder together about God, guided by a wise and skillful mentor in a carefully prepared environment, enables them to know God well and to express what they know by making room for the Holy Spirit to be their most important teacher. The primary implication of their conclusion for both children and adults is that we need to listen with better-tuned ears to hear what Jesus had to say about becoming like a child to enter the kingdom."--Jerome W. Berryman, senior fellow, Center for the Theology of Childhood, Denver, Colorado; founder, Godly Play

"Listening to Children in the Spiritual Journey is an outstanding resource for those who lead ministries with children and families. Pastors who care about the spiritual development of the youngest in the flock will appreciate the implications for ministry not only with children but with all the people of God, even--perhaps especially--adults."--Diana Garland, dean, Baylor University School of Social Work

The Authors

  1. Catherine Stonehouse

    Catherine Stonehouse

    Catherine Stonehouse (PhD, Michigan State University), prior to her retirement, served as the Orlean Bullard Beeson Professor of Christian Discipleship and dean of the School of Practical Theology at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. She...

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  2. Scottie May

    Scottie May

    Scottie May (PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is associate professor of Christian formation and ministry at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, and coeditor of Children Matter: Celebrating Their Place in the Church, Family, and Community. She...

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"This book has the potential to radically change the church. I believe every adult in the church should read it--particularly those who are in leadership positions, who are parents, or who seek to nurture children in their faith. This is an easy-to-read book that explores how we might better serve and minister with our young people and with their parents. . . . If you have any interest in being the best church that we can be, if you have anything to do with children and the church, and have done little recent reading or learning about children and their faith development, then this is a book that is probably worth putting at the top of your list."--Jon Humphries, Insights

"As a Certified Church Educator who has worked in children's ministry for many years and taught leaders in the field, I find this book most helpful because it keeps before the reader the importance of the spiritual journeys of all of God's children, even the little ones. It gives evidence of ways to be attentive when children tell us about how God may be speaking to them and helps those who need to hear those small voices give credence to their message. Pastors, church educators, and parents who are concerned about their children's spiritual growth would benefit from reading this book and by becoming those persons who listen to and affirm the ideas the children share from their hearts about their beginnings of faith. . . . This book is an outstanding resource for those who lead ministries with children and families."--Mary Lou Ferris Nash, Sharing the Practice

"Catherine Stonehouse and Scottie May give voice to the genuine spiritual experience of children. . . . Christian educators, parents, and anyone else with a heart for the spiritual formation of children will find this a helpful read. Questions scattered throughout the book encourage the reader to listen, to consider, to evaluate, and to reflect on their own experiences and on the experiences of the children around them in light of the ideas presented by the authors."--Rhonda Pittman Gingrich, Brethren Life & Thought

"Stonehouse and May provide a much-needed call to the church and families to actively listen to children's reflections on their spiritual lives and faith journeys. The book is equally valuable for children's and family pastors, parents, church members, seminary students, and parachurch groups. Stonehouse and May have artfully translated academic research into a helpful resource for all of these audiences. It is rare to find a book that includes so much data from primary research with children yet also gives practical suggestions for ministry based on the research implications. This book is invaluable for graduate studies in Christian education, pastoral ministry, child development, and other related fields."--Desiree Segura-April, Asbury Journal

"The book weaves together the authors' research findings in a manner that illumes children's spiritual journeys and summons one to evaluate his ministry to children. . . . Listening to Children on the Spiritual Journey is an insightful work that will challenge one to see the spiritual nurture of children and by extension the spiritual nurture of adults from a fresh perspective."--Darwin Glassford, Calvin Theological Journal

"[Stonehouse and May] have devoted much of their scholarship to the areas of child theology and spirituality. Their current publication shares important insights into the scope and depth of children's spiritual lives and invites the reader to respectfully engage with children on a spiritual level as Christ followers on the spiritual journey."--Susan Hayes Greener, Trinity Journal