When did the Phase Project begin for me?
Maybe it started when my grandmother got a degree in education and raised four children (including my father) while working every day in the local school.
Maybe it started when my mother trained for motherhood by teaching kindergarten and second grade, or when she later used the same books and classroom activities to engage my interests at home.
Maybe it started when I first volunteered in youth ministry as an eighteen-year-old (because volunteering was the only way they would let me stay) or when I graduated with a degree in education and taught high school while still volunteering in youth ministry (because apparently after so long they stop trying to kick you out).
Sometimes it’s impossible to name when and where a passion begins. When I look back now I just know there have been many influential moments along the way.
One of those moments happened six years ago as I sat in a late night Christian Education class. It was the end of spring semester my final year of seminary, and I was pregnant with my first child, Sawyer. At Orange we were getting ready for Conference 2009, Every Generation Needs a New Revolution, and finishing the first edition of Think Orange.
What I remember about that particular night was the conversation I overheard between four students—all in their twenties—sharing their frustrations toward the churches they had grown up in. The conversation sounded something like this . . .
“When I grew up in church, we never talked about . . . “
“I can’t believe my youth pastor never told me . . .”
“I remember learning in ____ in VBS. I can’t believe my children’s pastor lied to me.”
Class was starting in five minutes, so I held back my confusion and resisted the urge to turn around and ask some questions. But in my mind, I couldn’t help but wonder:
“What did you expect? Do you remember what you were like as a second grader? Or were you just that much more mature than I was because I think I remember me as a second grader . . . and I mostly wanted to take communion because I liked grape juice.”
Those comments probably wouldn’t have been very constructive at the time. But one thing I wish I could have said then is this:
It’s not the job of a children’s pastor or youth pastor or even a parent to teach a kid everything there is to know about God.
There are many reasons I believe that’s true. Here are two:
1. You can’t teach it—because you are a person. You can’t teach something you don’t understand. So, it’s impossible to teach anyone everything there is to know about God. If you could, you would be teaching about a really small god.
2. They can’t understand it —because they are a kid. Kids understand God—like kids—because they are kids. They think like a kid. They reason like a kid. They have the life experience of a kid. The same is true for teenagers. The way they relate to God will grow and change just as they grow and change.
Since that conversation, there have been many more influential moments in my journey with Phase. For me personally, it’s been the collision of my experience in education and ministry along with the opportunity to work for Orange that has fueled my passion to continually ask questions like . . .
What does it mean to lay a foundation for authentic faith that will grow and thrive at every life stage?
What are essential truths that are most personally relevant for every life stage?
How can leaders and parents communicate what matters most in a way that sticks?
I’m not sure that I have definitive answers for any of these questions, but I’ve met some smart people who have more experience and knowledge than myself. And I hope that by sharing some of our collective thoughts, we can broaden the conversation to include anyone who wants to get better at investing in the faith of the next generation.