First Third Conversations

The Child

By Dr. Terri Martinson Elton, Director of the Center for First Third Ministry at Luther Seminary

 My niece is a lively, energetic preschooler. She is curious and asks lots of questions. And she has opinions, and isn’t afraid of sharing them. I love my time with her, as I introduce her to new things and she invites me to enjoy life’s ordinary moments.

Last Thursday night in class we wrestled with the question…what is the call of childhood? And what does faith formation entail? There are so many places to go for direction, but one helpful place is a collection of essays on The Child in the Bible. Written by various biblical scholars, I commend it to you as a rich read. Today I offer wisdom from one of my colleagues, Terrence Fretheim.

  • Children, like all humans, are created in God’s image. And “Everything that the image of God is, every child is.” (4) And children, like all of us, are becoming, continually creating and relating each day. They have the power to impact, to wonder, to relate, to learn, and to forgive.
  • Children are the focus of God’s promises. We see this in God’s promises to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (6) Children play an integral part in God’s promises on earth. Without children being born and growing into adulthood the promises of God would not come true. Children hold the promise of faith continuing from generation to generation. (7)
  • Adults are teachers of children. Adults have a role in children’s lives…they are to interpret the faith tradition in view of the new times being encountered. (9) They are not only to teach the God story to each generation, but also to help make meaning of it in light of present realities.
  • Children are vulnerable. In the Bible there is no illusion regarding children’s place in society. (9) And the community of faith is to play its part in protecting children, helping them attend to their becoming, as they attend to their own.

As I see pictures of my niece dancing along the beach, it’s easy for me to remember she is created in God’s image and delights in God’s creation. How might her present help me pause and see God revealed, embodied, in her? My niece is the youngest of my extended family and as I envision the emerging of this next generation I can’t see it without her. She not only extends the promises her mom and dad made, but also the promises of faith made at her baptism. As her godparent, I made promises and, as one of many adults in her life, have the opportunity to teach her, protect her, and help her know her identity as a child of God.

So today spend time with a child. Pray for them. See God in them. And invest in their future!

- Terri

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Terri Elton is passionate about young people and their families, and loves the church. No really! She's our Associate Professor and teaches with an eye toward developing leaders and leading change.

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