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Fall 2002 · Vol. 31 No. 2 · pp. 168–75 

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

Sharon Johnson

At first I thought they were a group of picketers. It turned out to be a ragtag bunch of children lining the street, waving hastily-made cardboard signs, a Canadian flag, and a Toronto Maple Leafs flag, shouting, “Go, Leafs, Go!” to everyone passing by. Why weren’t they inside, watching the Stanley Cup playoff game?

Later, as I returned from my errand, the children were still there, raucously inviting the community to share in their fervor. And they were! Drivers of motorcycles to minivans were responding by waving, joining the cheer, and honking their horns as they whizzed by, spurring the group on to greater zeal.

A matrix of resources has been developed to equip the church in regard to baptism and communion.

I was deeply moved to see children inviting the rest of their world to join them in cheering on their heroes. They took the initiative. They were optimistic that there would be a positive reception. They led the community in being more of a real community! And the rest of the too-busy world slowed down enough to be drawn in. {169}


Ten years ago the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches began to recognize a changing understanding and practice of the Lord’s Supper. The 1978 Confession of Faith article stated, “Those who have peace with God, live in peace with their fellowmen, and have been baptized are invited to partake in the Lord’s Supper.” 1 The 1999 revision reads, “All those who understand its meaning, confess Jesus Christ in word and life, are accountable to their congregation and are living in right relationship with God and others are invited to participate in the Lord’s Supper.” 2 This subtle but significant change launched debate, discomfort, relief, and a whole slate of new questions about who was qualified to participate in the Lord’s Supper.

Many of these queries were directed to the Board of Christian Education (CE) Ministries (Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches), particularly as it applied to a child’s potential involvement in taking communion. At the board’s directive, Lorraine Dick—the board chair at that time, also a children’s pastor and curriculum writer—began to address this issue. A tool was created to help parents, pastors, and teachers explain the meaning and importance of communion to children. Due to discomfort expressed by Canadian Board of Faith and Life (BFL) members, that project was dropped. Questions continued to come: from parents, from pastors, from churches. Is it okay for children to take communion? If so, how do we prepare them? How can we help our church process a decision/potential change regarding who can participate? At the same time, questions regarding baptism and children also began to surface.


In the spring of 2000, CE Ministries once again resurrected this project, this time in partnership with the Canadian BFL. A team of specialists, 3 with practitioner experience, theological training, and publishing expertise, gathered to dream about addressing church needs in these areas. As they met, a common desire to influence church culture was discovered. How could the celebrations of the Lord’s Supper and baptism further stimulate congregations toward passionate discipleship? Recognizing the significant faith-shaping role of the community, what resources would equip them to faithfully nurture each other and particularly the spiritual journeys of children?

What evolved was a matrix of resources around baptism and communion: {170}

  1. Baptism, Communion (written by Laura Kalmar, published by Kindred Productions, 2002). Two four-week curriculum electives for all models of children’s ministry, geared to ages six to twelve.
  2. Do You Think? Conversation starters to help parents/adults create and capitalize on teachable moments to talk about significant faith issues, specifically baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
  3. A Swim and a Snack? A resource pack bursting with ideas to assist pastors and worship leaders in planning communion and baptism services for all ages.
  4. Communion and Children. A BFL pamphlet assisting parents and church leaders in addressing readiness issues.

The Communion and Children pamphlet, Do You Think? and A Swim and a Snack? were created as complements to the two curriculum pieces to help congregations prepare for, and include children in, these important faith celebrations. If it is decided that a child is ready to take communion, assistance is provided to help parents meaningfully include the child in the context of family relationships. While not intended to actively promote this practice, these works provide teaching materials for those who desire to move in this direction so that children might celebrate with integrity. The choice was made to trudge through these potentially murky theological waters without getting bogged down in order to benefit the children in our congregations. The teaching and support materials created were designed to uphold and complement the Confession of Faith.


Several factors drove this exciting, monumental task:

  1. Mainline curricula write to the lowest common denominator in order to market their product as broadly as possible. Baptism and communion practices and theology divide denominations, so these subjects are not significantly addressed.
  2. The Jubilee curriculum does a limited but exemplary job of teaching children about these ordinances. Its use, however, is rapidly diminishing in our churches. 4
  3. A survey of other curricula revealed educational approaches that fail to accomplish their goals. 5
  4. An Anabaptist distinctive is the significance we place on the celebration of baptism and the Lord’s Supper by believers in a covenant community. Who better to make a meaningful contribution to the rest of the evangelical world? {171}
  5. A compelling motivation was to join the movement that is looking to meaningfully involve all generations as the celebrating community. 6


The following philosophical and theological values guided the creative team’s efforts.

Children Are Naturally Able to Experience God 7

As Asbury scholar Catherine Stonehouse explains,

When we give children opportunity to meet God, we are not attempting to force something unnatural on them. Children are born with the potential for spiritual experience, and God is the one who stimulates the activation of that potential. We have the privilege of becoming partners with God by assisting children in finding what they long for—experience with God. 8

God is the one currently at work, transforming a child’s life. The leader, then, serves as a travel guide, sharing the journey and cooperating with what the Holy Spirit is already accomplishing (Phil. 2:13; Eph. 3:20).

The Importance of Sacred Stories

Christian faith is expressed by and communicated through sacred stories. 9 Rather than using the story as a jumping-off point, the entire session is centered around the spiritual reality communicated through the story. Citing James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, 10 Catherine Stonehouse asserts,

Stories are at the heart of faith development for children; stories capture and communicate theology for them. When adults try to explain God to children in abstract characteristics, even using simple, everyday language, the teaching does not carry meaning for them. But children can know God from stories and can experience God in stories. 11

Each of the lessons is based on scriptural narratives of baptisms and occasions where the Lord’s Supper was shared.

In Baptism and Communion, leaders and children alike are encouraged to share their faith stories as a means of unwrapping God’s reality {172} to each other. As John Westerhoff declares, “Children are not only of worth in and of themselves, but they also have something to contribute to the faith of mature adults.” 12 Children will readily perceive and blossom where there is an atmosphere of receptivity to God speaking through them.

Individuals Differ in Their Learning Styles

The curriculum invites children to explore and discover truth in a variety of ways that account for different learning styles. Howard Gardner’s theory of “multiple intelligences” has been influential in this regard. 13

Foundational Concepts

Concepts essential to both baptism and communion are explored so that children can grasp the inherent gospel drama. In order to help children understand the significance of communion, concepts such as remembering, anticipation, celebration, thankfulness, and God’s unseen presence are taught. Baptism helps children discover that this celebration is about making a choice, symbolizing new life, following Jesus’ example, and publicly witnessing through “show and tell.”

Celebration with Understanding

While not preparing children to explicitly take part in these ordinances, the materials help children to actively celebrate with understanding in their congregation. Children do not need to be experiencing baptism themselves or partaking in communion in order to participate in these acts of faith. In a baptismal service, a few are baptized while the rest of the congregation joins in the celebration.

The Lord’s Supper is a dramatic presentation of the gospel. Children respond to drama more than anything else. The celebrative tone, the eating and drinking, the words spoken spark the imagination. 14

Family and the Faith Community

The significance of both the family and the faith community in shaping faith is recognized and enabled. Walter Brueggemann suggests that adults need to be a “saturation witness” to their children. They need to be involved in an ongoing and constant conversation in the home that all of life is to be devoted to trust in God alone. 15 Eleanor Snyder adds, {173}

Corporate worship provides a second important setting for such saturation witness. Children and adults are to become immersed in the celebration of God’s invitation to an intimate relationship with a community that includes all generations and ensures that the Christian story is rehearsed and passed on. 16


Author Pam Erwin laments that we lose kids during their teenage years because they have no natural connectedness to the church family. Mark DeVries calls the church an “orphaning agency,” stating that there are two institutions left in our society that could bring age groups together: television and the church. 17 Sociologist Margaret Mead instructs us that it takes three generations of connectedness for a culture to survive. 18 Such words are wake-up calls for the church. Yet, Stonehouse adjures,

I am not speaking of deciding to include the children with no consideration of their presence. Jesus says, Let the children come to me. Do not stop them with boredom. Welcome them in Jesus’ name. Make adjustments that will serve them, knowing that adults benefit from what helps children learn. And do not look down on their faith; it is real, beautifully simple, and alive. 19

Rather than asking overwhelmed church leaders to jump on yet another bandwagon, the resources we have created can be easily integrated into the ministry they are already doing, with great effect! Intentionally inserting a four-week elective into the curriculum already used by a children’s ministry program enables them to address a significant area of faith development from an Anabaptist perspective. Giving Communion and Children pamphlets to parents and hosting a discovery session equips parents to assist their children in determining if or when they will take communion, along with empowering them to participate as a family.

Using the worship resources to insert a story, a song, a litany into a baptism or communion service that will welcome children opens the door to meaningful involvement for the entire faith community. Instead of focusing on connecting individuals, look for ways to connect family members with each other, families with families, and the whole faith family, regardless of generation, ethnicity, or denominational heritage. {174}

Who knows? Our children may lead us into a deeper commitment and experience as we become the people of God!

The materials described in this article may be ordered online from Kindred Productions. Or, call Kindred Productions at 800 545-7322.


  1. Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, Confession of Faith (Winnipeg, MB, and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 1976), 18. Emphasis added.
  2. Board of Faith and Life, Confession of Faith: Commentary and Pastoral Application (Winnipeg, MB, and Hillsboro, KS: Kindred, 2000), 97.
  3. The team consisted of Lorraine Dick, David Esau, Darlaine Jantzen, Sharon Johnson, Laura Kalmar, Wanda Nickel, Bob Rempel, Nikki Siemens, John Vooys, and Gabrielle Wiebe.
  4. Six Anabaptist denominations cooperated to originally develop and publish Jubilee (1994): Brethren in Christ Church, Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Brethren Church, and Mennonite Church. The planned rewrite and update of Jubilee unfortunately has not taken place according to schedule, resulting in a disheartening loss of customers and influence. Those familiar with Jubilee curriculum will see a similarity of guiding philosophies in the materials we are producing.
  5. Children learn through experience, through exploration, through their senses, through story, and through relationships with role models and peers. By comparison, the “didactic” approach assumes that children learn by transferring information from a teacher’s head to the student’s head, that propositional truth is what they need to learn. All the curricula we surveyed, published or not, did not meet our educational/theological criteria for reaching children in a postmodern era.
  6. Catherine Stonehouse, Ivy Beckwith, John Westerhoff III, Beth Posterski, Larry Richards, Pam Erwin, Ben Freudenberg, Jerome Berryman, Reggie Joiner, and Julie Wilson are leaders who are creating a movement in which all ages participate in shared worship/learning experiences. See Ben Freudenberg’s The Family {175} Friendly Church (Loveland, CO: Group, 1998) for one full-scale sample of where this movement could take a church.
  7. Robert Coles, The Spiritual Life of Children (Boston, MD: Houghton Mifflin, 1990), 168-69; Sophia Cavalletti, The Religious Potential of the Child: The Description of an Experience with Children from Ages Three to Six (New York, NY: Paulist, 1983), 31-32.
  8. Catherine Stonehouse, Joining Children on the Spiritual Journey (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 181.
  9. David Wiebe, “Children and Communion in the Mennonite Brethren Church” (Senior Seminar Paper, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, March 1989), 22.
  10. James Fowler, Stages of Faith (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1981).
  11. Stonehouse, 161.
  12. John Westerhoff III, Bringing Up Children in the Christian Faith (Minneapolis, MN: Winston, 1980), 19.
  13. Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice (New York: Basic, 1993). Gardner, professor of education at Harvard Graduate School of Education, defines eight intelligences: Linguistic, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalist.
  14. Wiebe, 24.
  15. Walter Brueggemann, Biblical Perspectives on Evangelism: Living in a Three-Storied Universe (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1993), 103.
  16. Eleanor Snyder, “How Can Children Worship?” The Messenger, 28 February 2001, 4.
  17. Pamela J. Erwin, “Family Ministry Seminar,” Emmanuel Bible College, May 2002; idem, The Family-Powered Church (Loveland, CO: Group, 2000).
  18. Margaret Mead, Culture and Commitment (Garden City, NY: Doubleday/Anchor, 1978), 14.
  19. Stonehouse, 40-41.
Sharon Johnson is Executive Director of Christian Education Ministries for the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches. She has a B.A. and B.Ed. from Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario, and an M.A. from Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, Fresno, California. Her ministry experience includes eighteen years as a pastor’s wife, three years as children’s pastor at Glencairn MB Church in Kitchener, Ontario, and nine years on the national Christian Education Ministries Board, the last two as the Director. Sharon is the Project Manager for the Baptism/Communion Curriculum Project.

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