Stonehouse, Catherine (1998). Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey: Nurturing a Life of Faith. Michigan: Baker Books. 237 pp.
The book is a declaration of the spiritual rights of children. Spiritual formation begins at childhood and not to be concerned about the " spiritual formation during childhood is to ignore the very foundations of the spiritual life" (p. 21) and its impact on the child's Christian faith pilgrimage in his or her adolescent and adult years. Dr Stonehouse's credentials as a Professor of Christian education, curriculum writer coupled with her passion and expertise in Children's ministry make the message of the book an essential reference for understanding and facilitating the formative years of child spirituality.
The author believes that the "goal of spiritual formation is a maturing faith and a deepening relationship with Jesus Christ, through which we become more like Christ in the living of our everyday lives in the world" (p. 21) and the child's conversion experience marks the beginning of that process. The effort of forming the experience and the environment to prepare the child to respond to God's gift of salvation and to live the Christian faith is the calling for Christian parents, teachers and workers of children's ministries. They are the Christian educators. To participate in the forming can be defined as the "act" of facilitating the spiritual development of children. The facilitation requires an understanding of "how the spiritual life of the child forms" (p. 22) to be effective in teaching children and to make an impact on the whole personality of the child to reflect his or her relationship to God.
The understanding must begin with the authority of the Scripture. In chapter one, the readers are invited to explore with the author on how children learned the Christian faith and participated in the Christian community both in the Old and New Testament times. In contrast, she has observed that Children's ministry in the church tends to be "simply entertaining them." (p. 41). Instead, children ought to experience a sense of belonging and active participation in the life and events of the church. Intergenerational learning is strongly recommended. However, questions on the extent to which it can be implemented are not discussed knowing that children do not share similar developmental characteristics and needs as teenagers and adults.
Another source of information which readers can gain insights into the spiritual formation of children comes from human development research on the psychosocial, intellectual, moral and faith development of children (Chapters 3-5,7). Each theory is presented with clarity and implications are drawn for forming the spirituality of children. The weakness of the presentation is the lack of assessment on the different theories from Biblical perspective.
The chapter on "Knowing God in Childhood" is convinced that children can "think deeply about God" (p.133) and they are "sensitive and responsive to God" even at a tender age of two or three years of age (p.128). Consequently, their images of God are "powerful" and can "influence them throughout a lifetime" (p. 128). Based on her firm beliefs expounded in the book, chapter eight demonstrates how Dr Catherine Stonehouse puts principles and theories into practice to instruct and to bring up children in the Christian faith.
In conclusion, the author invites parents, workers of children's ministries and members of the church community to walk the spiritual journey with children to form within them the pursuit of knowing the Christian God. The invitation should prompt the church to ask at least two questions for self examination, "Are the educational ministries of the church built to enhance opportunities for children to know God and to continue the pursuit in their teenage and adult years to come?" and "Is the nurture of parents a special concern of the church?"
(Review by Dr Ng Peh Cheng)