Faith Foreword

No cell phones

Photo from Stock.Xchng

By Michael Schwartzentruber

Question: When is a church school not like an iPhone?

The question reminds me of one of those “surrealist” jokes I used to tell when I was about 12 years old. (Oh come on, don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about… Okay, maybe you don’t, but there was a time when surrealism held a certain appeal, for me at least.)

Really, though, it’s a good question, because your approach to church school probably has more in common with your iPhone than you think. According to Andrew Root, author of The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, both are grounded in the paradigm of “technology.”

For the iPhone that’s kind of obvious. It is, after all, a piece of technological wizardry par excellence. But how does a paradigm of “technology” apply to church school? (Let me give you a hint here; it doesn’t involve an argument, either pro or con, about integrating technology into the “classroom,” however you might define that term in your context.)

In Root’s understanding, technology frames or describes everything, all experience, in terms of “problems” and “functional solutions.” In other words, technology is the science of solving problems by providing functional solutions, usually involving a new “form,” which will in turn lead to exponential growth.

Again with the iPhone that’s pretty obvious. Here’s a device that solves all kinds of problems (voice and video communications, text communications, photography, scheduling, gaming, etc.) with functional solutions. And, as a result, its growth in sales has been exponential.

So here’s a classic “problem,” or several, that those in ministry with children and youth often face: “the kids aren’t interested in the Bible,” “the kids don’t really want to be here,” “the kids think church is irrelevant to their lives, not to mention that it’s all a bit lame.”

In a technological paradigm, one of our first inclinations would probably be to build a better curriculum (I almost typed “mouse trap,” read “kid trap”). Ditch whatever we’re using and try a new program, a new “form.” If we do this, we reason, kids will be excited again and come back, and our numbers will “grow” (maybe not exponentially, but hey, any growth is better than no growth, right?)!

That’s the paradigm of technology applied to faith formation and it probably sounds a wee bit familiar.

“And the alternative…?” I hear you ask. Given the above, you wouldn’t expect Root to provide a clear answer or “solution” (which might not be what’s needed anyway), but here’s another idea to play with.

We don’t need to turn away from theology, as the title of his book might suggest; rather, we need to turn “theology” itself, by which he seems to mean we need to start or orient our theology somewhere else – as in NOT in abstract reasoning about God. Instead, we need to start our theology in the concrete: specifically, the lived reality of our kids.

An hour or so later (at the conference), Joyce Sasso said something remarkably similar when she remarked, “The furthest you can get from experience is theology. The closest you can get to experience is story.”

But back to Root. Kids’ experience is very concrete, very here-and-now. Whether it’s a pet that has died, or a girl who pays no notice to a love-struck boy, or… you name it: those are the experiences that touch kids deeply and that naturally lead to bigger questions, such as “What happens after death?” or “Will anybody ever love me?”

So here’s a tip. Listen to the “stories” kids tell you about what’s going on in their lives. Embedded within them will be theology and questions aplenty – enough and of a sort to humble even the wisest of practitioners.

So, question: When is a church school not like an iPhone? Perhaps when it’s not fixated on “solutions” to “problems,” but instead fixated on listening – and responding with compassion and care – to the real-life stories (and theological questing) of the kids in our lives.

Michael is an editor for Wood Lake Publishing. He was the compiler/editor of The Emerging Christian Way: Thoughts, Stories, and Wisdom for a Faith of Transformation  and co-author of  The Spirituality of Sex. He has spent much of his adult life reflecting on the connection between sex and spirituality, and has edited several books on sexual health and childhood sexual health education. He lives in Okanagan Centre, British Columbia, with his wife, Margaret.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Categories: Christian Life, Featured, Mike Schwartzentruber, People, Prayer, Spiritual Growth, Technology

Author:Wood Lake Publishing

At Wood Lake Publishing we are passionate about supporting and encouraging an emerging form of Christianity, which is rooted in ancient wisdom and attentive to the movement of spirit in our day. Visit us online at


Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: