Good stories not only stay with us, they shape us. They shape our choices, thoughts and beliefs. If we want to shape our kids’ faith beliefs, we are better off not telling them what to believe but giving them language for their beliefs.

Jerome Berryman, founder of Godly Play, agrees. He recommends “leading children into a form of deep play that leads to wonder, encourages them to ponder the source of the wonder, allows for their insights to emerge … and shows children how to speak Christian.”

Instead of relaying doctrine, Berryman’s Godly Play method equips children with Christian language to use when making sense of what they believe. The difference is huge, and the benefits for families are significant.

Parents don’t need to be Bible experts to employ Godly Play at home—“speaking Christian” includes using the word “wonder” often. For example, ascension is a big Christian word and concept behind Jesus being resurrected and somehow lifted into heaven. While discussing his ascension with my children, I definitely needed to rely on wondering. My 11-year-old said, “I wonder since Jesus is part human too if he just couldn’t stay around forever.” This made us all think.

Berryman’s Godly Play method equips children with Christian language to use when making sense of what they believe.

By encouraging our kids to wonder, we give room for the mystery of God. Lutherans embrace this mystery when Martin Luther described communion as Jesus being present somehow “in, with and under the bread and wine.” “I wonder how Jesus is in the bread?” would be a faithful question to explore, and with the Godly Play method it would be key to not give an answer.

Godly Play enables parents to share their faith through stories and wonder, and it helps kids think through their faith with guidance while delighting in God’s mystery.

A few days after my children and I explored the ascension story, my 8-year-old out of nowhere said at dinner that perhaps Jesus was “right here.” He was pointing to his heart.

Practices

  • Challenge yourself to use wondering questions in everyday life. For example, when your child stubs a toe, after caring for the immediate need you might mention, “I wonder if when Jesus had a friend with a stubbed toe, if he gave it a kiss or hugged the friend, or both?”
  • Watch one of the free videos demonstrating Godly Play storytelling and try it at home.
  • Read “Godly play” from our June/July issue and consider introducing the concept to leaders in your congregation.
Janelle Rozek Hooper
Janelle Rozek Hooper is the program director for the Children's Ministry of the ELCA and the author of Heaven on Earth: Studies in Matthew, published by Augsburg Fortress Press. Hooper lives with her husband and two children in Texas. Her headshot is by Amanda Faucett.

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