Pentecost, which falls on May 28 this year, is an ideal time to teach children about faith. It’s all about coming together, being ignited by the Holy Spirit and feeling called to share the Word. For youth of all ages, Pentecost is both a chance to celebrate being a Christian – and an opportunity to learn more about ways to serve.
Rev. Becca Newcomb, Pastor of Family Ministries at Wharton FUMC, explained that Pentecost is the only holiday that does not have a secular tie-in, like Santa Claus in Christmas or an egg hunt for Easter.
“Lots of people can celebrate without religious buy-in,” she said. “Pentecost is only about the church.”
Mandy Jones, Director of Family Ministry at First Methodist Houston Westchase said that Pentecost does not always receive the attention it deserves.
“For children and youth, it’s important to see how the whole story connects,” she said. “The entire Bible is one big story. We can be more intentional about how it is all connected. Through Jesus’s death, we not only gain salvation but also access to the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.”
Jones said that children need to learn how the Disciples carried Jesus’ message forward, how the early church formed and even more importantly how the Holy Spirit can carry us.
She explained that the messages of Pentecost can be difficult to understand – and that is why having conversations about faith, the church and the Holy Spirit are so critical. The discussions can be adjusted to fit age – but let’s keep the conversation going.
At First Methodist Houston, Jones explained that not only does Pentecost factor into their family ministry. They also want to equip parents to continue faith formation at home.
“We try to offer tools,” she said. “We want to help them incorporate what we’re talking about Sunday in conversations during the week.”
Newcomb agreed that helping children articulate faith is a key part of discipleship. “We want our kids to have an authentic faith,” she said.
As Pentecost leads to “Ordinary Time,” Newcomb added that youth can learn how God is at work always. “The ordinary and holy go together,” she said. “Where do you see God in the middle of your life? That’s an important theological conversation that you can have with a 2-year old or a 102-year old.”
Here are some of their suggestions to help highlight the importance of Pentecost with your family:
- Share the Pentecost story and get in the spirit of celebration.
Teens and older children can read Acts 2:1-42 – and younger children can pick up a storybook.
“Pentecost really is the birthday of the Christian church,” Jones said.“And it’s a great time to talk about the way the church spread, just by word of mouth. People were sharing faith, sharing their stories, being so moved and transformed.”
She suggests talking to children about what the first churches were like – and how that compares to our church today. What does it mean to be a church? Why are we called to worship together?
“It’s also a good time to take inventory,” Jones added. “Are we following in the example of Jesus and His Disciples?”
Ask youth: How do they act towards one another? How often do you share a meal together? How are they serving? Where are you using your gifts? How can you express your faith in a way that is contagious? Are you being kind and showing love?
Newcomb suggests building excitement for Sunday worship, by encouraging children to wear red or orange to church, the color of fire. Afterwards, make a birthday cake or cupcakes and light a candle.
Older children might help prepare and share a nice meal as a family. Newcomb said to light candles and take a moment for prayer, thanking God for the church and for being with us.
- Explore unity and learn about what Christians have in common.
Since Pentecost is the birth of the Christian church, it becomes an opportunity to explore what commonalities that exist among various denominations, Jones explained. “For those of us who proclaim Jesus as Lord, this is a unifying time of year,” she said. “It’s important for us to talk about what we have in common.”
That spirit can extend to other Abrahamic faiths too, Jones suggests. For instance, at FUMC Houston, the confirmation class attends three different services, which in the past have included a Catholic Mass, a Jewish shabbat, Easter Orthodox service and Muslim prayer.
“It’s great to talk to children about how they worship the same God as their Jewish friends,” Jones said. “You are both living your life following God’s commandments. There’s something beautiful and connected about that.”
- Think of “50” in a new way.
Pentecost marks 50 days after Jesus’ resurrection – and Eddie Erwin, Director of Student Ministries at Wildwood UMC, suggests using the number as inspiration.
He also serves as President of the nonprofit Methodist Youth Ministry Alliance (MyMA), which is working to empower the next generation of church leaders. The organization is using 50 as a marker for new ways to connect.
For instance, in the next 50 days, MyMA members will connect with other United Methodists at Youth 2023 in Daytona Beach, Florida and will attend the first Annual Conference with Bishop Harvey. “We are finalizing a schedule for youth delegates as a means to inform and connect,” Erwin said. “We are also offering an opportunity to introduce youth groups to Annual Conference, enjoy food and fellowship together – and worship at the service for commissioning and ordination.”
MyMA is also looking to the next 50 months, when 6th graders will enter high school and freshmen will become seniors. MyMA is planning an event in November for the current 6th graders to welcome them into youth ministries in the UMC and will host a student leadership retreat for current high school freshman.
Finally, MyMA is considering the year 2050, when Erwin explained, “Generation Z will work on becoming empty nesters, Generation Alpha will be completing school and the following generation should at least have a name.” MyMA and holding monthly online meetings with ministries that serve young people. MyMA will also host an Immersive Spiritual Learning Experience in the fall for adults who serve youth.
- Be inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The power of the Holy Spirit is the center of the story at Pentecost. Jones said that at FUMC Houston, the younger children learn about the Holy Spirit by talking about superheroes.
“For those of us who follow Jesus, the Holy Spirit is our super power,” she tells them. “It’s a power that resides in us and we can tap into. Each one of us has the power of the Holy Spirit to do great things.”
Newcomb suggests that families can celebrate Pentecost by practicing random acts of kindness. Children can also start a tradition of writing down what the church means to them on Pentecost – and keeping the letters over the years. “It would be so cool to see how your child’s faith is evolving over the years,” she said. “Of course, if you ask them to do it – then you should do it too.”
For older children, Pentecost offers an opportunity to start talking about vocation and mission. It’s a lesson in divine empowerment – and an ideal time to talk about the importance of letting God guide us.
Jones suggests asking, “How are you living out your faith? Do we put God in a box? He wants to use us for so much more.”
She often talks to teens about how the Holy Spirit is already moving in their lives. “God doesn’t wait until we are a certain age,” she tells them. “How in tune we are with the Holy Spirit. How willing are we to step out in faith?”
Jones asks teens how they make choices. Do they feel called or are they simply doing what their friends say? “It’s easy to go with the flow and feel powerless,” she explained.
She hopes to empower students to make smart decisions by teaching them the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – John Wesley’s formula of turning to scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
Jones sees Pentecost as a growth opportunity to ask youth, “How do you choose to use the gifts you have – and how will you let the Holy Spirit work with you?”
She suggests that parents share their own faith stories, describing times they have encountered the Holy Spirit. “You can talk about the difference God has made in your life,” she said. And that will encourage youth to look for God’s presence on their own.