Disciple-making by Worshipful Play
by Troy Cady
In the Scriptures we find the Story of a People formed by experiencing God. Because of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, the experience of God continues…and the Story goes on. Thus, the action of God in history (both past and present) gives shape to a community that provides a grounding for the individual.
Throughout history the acts of God were relived as the stories of God and God’s People were retold—and the stories were told in a way children could understand so that the faith was handed down from generation to generation. That is a key component of classical faith formation: to declare the person and work of God to the next generation (that is, to children). When disciple-making occurs by placing a child in our midst, we discover there an inexhaustible supply of wonder for the adult, too.
Therefore, disciple-making as worshipful play is centered on the story of God as we experience it in childhood—whether it be our first (biological) childhood or our second (new-birth) childhood. One needn’t have children or be a child to approach disciple-making in this way. Disciple-making by play is a method that responds to the story and movement of God by cultivating the qualities of childhood: wonder, imagination, freedom and relationship. Discipleship by play is both personal and communal—personal because people are formed as the Spirit speaks to each individual and communal because our formation occurs in the context of a “circle of relationships”.
Thanks to the pioneering work of Sofia Cavalletti, Jerome Berryman and Sonja Stewart we have a discernable pattern we can follow should we endeavor to practice disciple-making by play. It is derived from the movements of a “grown-up” worship service but it is adapted so the child (or childlike) can enter into God’s presence in a way that quickens their spiritual sensibilities.
As is the case in “adult” worship, the pattern of discipleship by play boils down to a simple dialectic: hearing and response. We hear the Word of God and we respond to it. That said, it takes intentionality to fully hear and respond so the process includes a time of preparation prior to hearing as well as an array of responses, both “gathered” and “scattered”. Here are the stages in fuller form:
1. Turning our attention to God’s Presence.
-We cross the threshold
-We form the circle
-We focus our hearing
-We focus our sight
-We practice silence
We call this “Getting Ready” or “Call to Worship”
2. Listening to God’s Presence.
-We tell each story in the midst of the whole Story.
-We tell the story simply.
-We tell the story slowly.
-We tell the story visually.
-We unfold the story in the center of the circle.
We call this “Hearing the Story”
3. Wondering in God’s Presence.
-We consider questions that quicken the imagination.
-We see the surprise of God in the story.
-We place ourselves in the story.
-We learn from each other.
-We reflect on aspects of the story that provide consolation or desolation.
-We discover continuity with other stories.
We call this “Wondering”
4. Responding to God’s Presence.
-We are free to respond as God prompts.
-We may respond with art.
-We may respond with reading.
-We may respond with writing.
-We may respond with telling a story to another.
-We may respond with singing.
-We may respond with focused prayer.
We call this “Responding”
5. Fellowshipping in God’s Presence.
-We share food together.
-We serve one another.
-We share joys and sorrows together.
-We pray for one another and give thanks together.
-We sing together.
-We practice generosity.
We call this “Feasting”
6. Going in God’s Presence.
-We remember we are the light of the world.
-We give and receive a blessing to “go with God.”
-We go, looking for where God is already at work in the world.
-We resolve to join God in God’s work in the world.
We call this “Blessing” or “Benediction”
This method of making disciples follows a weekly rhythm, but it could also be modified for practice on a daily basis. Further, it is presented in a larger annual rhythm since the stories can interface with the church calendar, if one so desires.
There are three main genres: stories that present historical narratives, stories that are parables and stories that orient worshippers to practices (liturgical actions) such as Advent and Lent, baptism and communion. The main stories that propel the action of Scripture forward are considered first and then as the disciple grows older the supporting stories round out the narrative. Texts that are propositional in nature are considered in the light of the story in which they came.
Though this method was designed for use with children, I wonder…in what ways could adults benefit from it, too? How might it be adapted for use with adults?
PlayFull provides training in children’s ministry and seeks to establish PlayGroups whereby young and old can grow via playful methods. Write Troy to inquire how PlayFull can help you and your ministry. To read a description of a training sequence we provide, click here. Thank you for reading.