Book Review: Children’s Spirituality, What it is and Why it Matters by Rebecca Nye
Written by Janene Lewers, Children's Ministry, Youthworks Training
Overview of the book
The author of "Children's Spirituality", Rebecca Nye, was originally a psychologist holding research posts in the UK but is now a consultant and lecturer in children’s spirituality.
In the introduction Nye says ‘it is not easy to pinpoint what spirituality means, especially in view of all the different phases of childhood'. So this book offers an introductory guide to its main features.
The book opens with the question ‘Children’s spirituality: what is it?’ and with suggestions from a rabbi, several theologians, some educators and a couple of psychologists, Nye then goes on to offer three perspectives on children’s spirituality:
- God’s way of being with children and children’s way of being with God.
- Children’s spirituality is an initially natural capacity for awareness of the sacred quality to life experiences.
- Or she suggests a definition by analogy – ‘Children’s spirituality is like a child’(p6)
Nye discusses how important children’s spirituality is; how to encounter children’s spirituality and then how to nurture children’s spirituality. Within the chapter on nurturing children’s spirituality, Nye helpfully gives six criteria for ensuring spiritual foundations that can apply in any ministry context with children including the family. They are:
Nye seeks to get the reader to think carefully about how we engage with children. She asks questions such as:
"Do we give children time in our programs/ministry to process the information we share with them whether we provide an appropriate space (physical, emotional and auditory) for them?"
"Where is the place of the imagination in children’s ministry?"
"Do we offer authentic models of relationship in our ministries?"
In my opinion this section is the strength of the book. It raises lots of questions for children’s ministry workers to discuss and think deeply about.
The value of Sunday School
Something that was personally helpful was remembering back to my own spiritual experience as a child. Being sent to Sunday School by non churched parents and understanding, the stories in the Bible and reading a small Bible for myself were all wonderful experiences to reflect back on to see the work of God in my life. This is a good exercise for all those who are working with children. A friend once shared with me how upset she was when she heard her son give his testimony as to the work of God in his life. In his mind it all happened when he got to university. He did not understand that being brought up in a loving Christian family where they read the Bible, prayed and sought to live christianly was all part of the process that God was using to bring him to Himself. It is important to look back and see the ways that God has worked in your own life including in childhood. It is also helpful to get into the mind of a child and to see things from their perspective. Nye gives the reader the opportunity to explore this aspect of children’s spirituality.
Would I recommend this book?
The book is easy to read and each chapter is interspersed with ‘Think and discuss’ sections which seek to get the reader engaging with the topic. The best way to read it would be with others who are interested in the topic so that you can interact with them and critically reflect on the ideas.
The greatest concern with Nye's work is that she does not use the Bible as her core means to define spirituality. Without this sure footing at the outset she leaves herself and her reader open to error.
Her lack of reference to the Bible throughout the book (there are 5 pages in total and the odd reference) indicates she seems to separate word and experience and majors on experience. The book appears to be more self focused than God focused.
Michael Raiter says in Stirrings of the Soul 'The Christian’s experience of God is one that fundamentally comes to us through the word of God'. He quotes an example of John Piper and then makes this comment about spirituality ‘it is listening to the voice of God in Christ, as it is mediated to us by the Holy Spirit in the word, which draws us back to Jesus that he might deepen our fellowship with him, so that we might be his people in the world.’ (p235)
If I was defining children’s spirituality it would be similar to this: God by his Spirit working in children as they encounter Jesus in God’s word so that they can live with Him.
I would recommend this book for the discerning reader. Nye asks lots of questions about how we minister to children that need to be discussed by children’s ministry workers. Often we just do things because we have always done it that way with no thought for why or what does it mean. This book, when read by astute readers, will provide an opportunity to ‘rattle the cage’ of children’s ministry workers as they think about ministry in light of children’s spirituality.