27 May, 2015
What affect is the loss of "story" having on our children?
Daron has a soap box moment
We need to recover the lost art of testimony in our churches. Our children's spiritual formation depends on it.
The loss of "story" in our church has also led to a loss of identity and could well be a reason why the slow bleed of our children from our pews continues unabated....
Let me explain. In the early Adventist Church there were no settled pastors over our churches. Sermons were reserved for special occasions like a visiting evangelist or for camp meeting. The history of our movement tells us that instead of a 3 hymns, a prayer, a sermon (and don't forget the offering) by a pastor/professional ministry leaders, the "worship hour" consisted of hymns and spiritual songs as well as testimony and experience sharing. All were involved and all had opportunity to share, learn and grow. According to our founders, "This sharing time had a more profound impact upon Christian growth than a sermon ever could." This common sharing, not of doctrinal truths but of Christian experience, was a vital part of early Adventism…. Somewhere, somehow, we lost it!
by the 1950's the Adventist Church had moved to settled pastors over churches. Pastors are now expected do the care, bible studies, preaching and evangelism. Ministry was now professionalised. Along with this the worship in many cases has become more formalised and staid filled with choreographed worship and preaching. We have moved more to an entrainment/consumeristic mentality rather than mutual sharing, participation and growth. The idea of a time of testimony is now often strained and foreign. It is too dangerous in case some dear old lady takes the mike and turns a testimony into a sermon. In this professionalised mentality the youth and children are not seen as ready to share or "professional" enough to be part of our "real" (sic) worship. Many do not know the churches story or their story and this loss of identity leads to a loss of any real reason or significance to remain in the church.
I remember growing up in the church in the 1970's a remnant of testimony sharing still remained. I remember sitting in church enthralled as a member would share what God had done for them during the week or we would hear a story of mission or a story of what God meant. Both young and old alike shared together. As I listened and shared it became clearer to me what God's story was and what my story was and more importantly what my part in God's story was and was to become. Through this mutual sharing, what it meant to be a Seventh-day Adventist Christian was as plain as anything to us children. Testimony sharing was spontaneous, real and un choreographed. During the 1980's and 90's this regular time of testimony gave way to more ordered and professional worship.
Somewhere along the way we have to a large extent lost our collective and individual stories….lost I believe to our detriment.
Amanda Hontz Drury in her new groundbreaking book "Saying is Believing" (2015) says that "the role and function of testimony plays an integral part in the spiritual formation of our adolescents." She says that it was not until later in her life that she realised that the stories she heard as an eight year old were actually forming our present and future selves. "Those who testified were doing more than describing, they were constructing"
Amanda Hontz Drury says that "The fullest expression of Christian living is found in the acknowledgement and articulation of where a person sees Jesus Christ at work in his or her life" "This is a daunting task for anyone let alone a teenager but we need to remember that the teenager is not working alone. True testimony requires a community. You cannot have a testimony without a community."
When spiritual formation of our youth and children is discussed we often over look or undervalue the importance that spoken and heard testimony plays - yet it is in testimony and story that spiritual identity is formed.
So then! We need to move from formalised, choreographed, professionalised worship to a less formalised, raw and real structure where all, from the youngest to the oldest can speak their story, hear others stories and learn what it means to articulate their spiritual identity. Maybe this is an integral key to both keeping our youth and growing our churches, Maybe it is the key to closing our back door and opening our front doors.
Daron gets off his soap box, hands it around and makes room for all to share their testimony.