Teaching Your Kids While Deconstructing Christianity – Sarah Swartzendruber


What if I still want to pass on faith to my children, but I’m not sure what I believe? What do kids need to be learning about Christianity at different stages? What do kids have to teach us about holding uncertainty. We talk with Sarah Swartzendruber, a pastor passionate about empowering parents in deconstruction to create spiritual practices for their kids.


Nate: Well, hi, friends. Welcome back to almost heretical. And welcome to part two of our Parenting and Deconstruction series.

Shelby: Today we’re going to have a conversation with Sarah Swartzendruber. She is a pastor at Cascade Church in Portland, Oregon, where Nate and I have had the privilege of going the past few months. And she also heads up the kids department downstairs. And the way that she’s pioneering Sunday school curriculum for families that are experiencing faith shift and deconstruction, it has really fascinated me. I got coffee with her a couple of months ago, and it was just so cool to hear the intentionality that she puts into what she’s doing with the children of adults who are shifting in their faith. She has a background in teaching and education as well as an MDiv. And so we’re really excited to hear what she has to share with us today.

Nate: Yeah. And if you’re thinking like, okay, I’m not at that place. I don’t want to go to church. I don’t really care about teaching my kids this stuff right now. Don’t worry. That’s exactly what we’re going to talk about. We get there. We get to that. And this is totally for you, too. This series is supposed to hit everyone on this whole spectrum of people that are kind of done with the whole thing to people that are still trying to make it work. Right. So this is for you, and this conversation was really with you in mind.

Shelby: If you want to know more about Sarah or get some more of her resources. She actually heads up a cohort where you can join with other parents at her website, which is called Parentingafterdeconstruction.com, and that’ll get you connected to a lot more of the resources she has to offer. So here’s our conversation with Sarah. Okay. Hi, Sarah. Thank you so much for joining us. It is an honor to have you. Nate and I started going to Cascade, where Sarah is a co pastor just a few months ago, and I immediately was really drawn to Sarah and really interested in what she’s doing with the kids at Cascade. I mean, she’s not just a children’s pastor. They’re intentional about that at Cascade, but she has passion and interest there, and so yeah. Sarah, thanks for being here.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Thanks. It’s so fun to hang out in real life or in Zoom. Feels fun to be with friends.

Shelby: Okay, awesome. Could we start with just talking about you telling us a little bit of your story, how you grew up in Faith and kind of how you ended up where you are now and everything in between.

Sarah Swartzendruber: So I got raised in a super Christian family, so the kind of family that goes to church every single Sunday, but I wasn’t necessarily raised in, I think, what we would describe as stereotypical evangelical households. So that being said, the longer I do what I do, I think that there was a little bit of evangelical in everything. So I don’t know. I think that’s a complicated statement, but in terms of being in nondenominational settings, I was in traditional church settings, which had church history and kind of that background and basis. And I got raised in a family that my dad was a professor, my mom did insurance. But education was a really high priority in our household and asking questions was a really high priority. So I wasn’t raised in an environment where it was like a literal, this is what the Bible says and this is how we’re going to interpret it. I was raised in an environment where I have really early memories of talking about it not being a literal seven day creation and kind of thinking through science and God and all those things. So I think the important thing to know about me is that I saw two things held hand in hand, right? So I saw really strong values of certain rules. And those rules would have been like, you go to church every Sunday, you’re really invested in humanity and community. That was something that got really modeled to me. And on the other side, my family voted a way that doesn’t match, I guess, like, the stereotypes. Like I had a pretty liberal family. I was in Oregon for middle school, high school. And that was just kind of a part of the narrative and definitely like socially justice oriented, like progressive in that side. So I’m kind of this weird mix, this weird hybrid. So I walk into evangelical spaces a lot later. I go to college at an evangelical school and I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea. And I was drawn there because people seemed to love Jesus as much as I felt like I loved Jesus. And I assumed that meant something very different than what it meant once I showed up there. And so I was shocked by kind of the theology and the rules and all of that. So my introduction to evangelical Christianity, I would say, is at, like, 18, I get super depressed in that environment because it’s really stressful and stressful in terms of, like, I have a roommate come out and that’s not okay on that campus. And I have a worldview that says that is okay and that Jesus is present in that. So those start to clash really quick. And so I’m in Bible classes and I’m thriving and excited about them and I’m on a campus with people who love Jesus in a way that’s very invigorating. But again, kind of this other side of me never matched and so I basically feel that rub kind of all the way through college, I didn’t really have language for it yet of what was happening. And I think what I would have said to you is just that I’m not very good at the Bible. I must not be as good as a Christian as everybody else so I was never intending to go be a pastor. I went to school to be a teacher. My minor is in Spanish. I just took all the Bible classes because it was fun. I then become a youth pastor in Portland and kind of out of that, so that’s, again, like a nondenominational space that church shows all the ugly sides to what can happen, and out of that is where we plant cascade and I go to seminary. So my journey to pastoral ministry, it took a long time. I feel confident today saying I’m a pastor, but that took me a really long time to feel comfortable and confident in that space. Just kind of on that, do these two worlds match that whole dynamic?

Shelby: Wow.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah.

Nate: I wanted to zoom back real quick back to your childhood because you mentioned, and I love this, that you had a family and you had parents and support system that allowed questioning and allowed questions, which I think is so valuable. Right. And especially in these formative years right. Where you’re shaping everything you think about the world, your whole worldview, who you’re going to be and what you’re going to do to be able to ask questions. So I guess I’m just curious, practically, especially as you got a little bit older and those questions became deeper and you kind of can remember those what actually happened when there was a question or there was a discussion about something. How did you see modeled parents in a support system that allowed that to be okay? What did that actually look like for it to be okay to ask questions?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah. Well, I mean, you’re going to hear it. This is like my entire, basically thesis later in seminary is like critical thinking. How do we encourage critical thinking with kids? That’s like all my basis for everything. So that’s 100% modeled by my mom and dad. And I think for me, the thing was that they were always asking questions back and forth, that we were listening to sermons. My dad was a natural teacher. My mom was as well. And so they were engaging asking questions, and it was a dialogue back and forth. It wasn’t like this power structure of I have all the answers and I’m going to solve this for you. I felt like I had permission to be on the journey and even later in college, I think there are formative moments where I push back at some of the stuff my mom and dad thought, and they listened and respond. And to me, it wasn’t just that they let me ask questions. It was then I saw when I pointed out something different, that they weren’t just thinking, like, I’m right and you’re wrong. Does that make sense? So kind of that differentiation of power, they actually accepted and listened and cared about my worldview and my thoughts and then were kind of letting me journey. So the example I often give in my cohort is that I have this vivid memory in middle school of driving home and having this realization for the first time that in the Bible we talk about a seven day creation and at home we talk about evolution. And that those never clashed to me because they just kind of went together. And me saying in the car to my parents and my older sister like, oh, do you not believe day by day with God? And my parents were like, I don’t know. What do you think? It wasn’t just like, no, we actually kind of lean more towards this. We can see this bridging. They were actively helping me bridge those conversations. So? Yeah. I don’t know. Yeah, but to me it gives you in real time why I think what I think I think we can do critical thinking with kids really young. And my question is kind of at what point can you do that and what point do you need to give a little more boxes to kind of the thought and the conversations that come up? So more on that.

Shelby: Well, speaking of questions and asking questions, I think this maybe ties in. When we were talking about what we want to talk about on this episode, you mentioned that you were passionate about not wanting to create fundamental progressives. And I was wondering if you could dive into a little bit what you mean by that and how do we avoid that?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, I co pastor a church. It’s called Cascades in Portland, Oregon. I think something helpful to know about Portland is that while we are a progressive city, we don’t necessarily have progressive churches. And so that’s kind of an interesting place to find a church because I think normally when people talk to me about Portland, they’re like, yeah, you can get away with anything because you live in Portland. But like, no, actually it’s more complicated than that. So within that, something that I found over and over is that when a parent goes through this journey of saying, like, I’m faith shifting, I don’t want to think what I thought previously. I think we naturally go into this zone which is healthy and appropriate of this kind of unraveling if we use Kathy Escobar’s faith shift language. So you’re unraveling. You’re seeing kind of some of the problems that has the built faith practices. And eventually I think you need to go into kind of a severing zone. Right. So some of the severing means that you’ve left a church space. You get permission to leave church space. Sometimes you can stay in the system depending on who you’re around and how that’s functioning. But within that time and that period, I think what happens is that as a parent, it’s easy for us to project onto our kid that we don’t want them to get the narratives we got. And so whatever is the thing that kind of started that unraveling journey, there’s projection, projection, projection, which is great. I think that’s a natural part of the process. But what I’ve noticed in being around cascade spaces is that it can mean that we create this kind of fundamental viewpoint, but we’re just putting it in a different realm. So it’s like instead of being like, I don’t know, a fundamental conservative I don’t really even know what that means anymore, but I think these it’s like we’re swinging the pendulum to the other side. It’s almost like fundamental, progressive, Christian, post evangelical, whatever word we want to use, we’ve just swung the same model into a different thing. And for me, what we want to create is critical thinkers. Like, we want critical thinkers and kids that can engage within faith experiences and faith practices that can evolve and grow and we can be equally evolving and growing with them. But I think what happens so often is we’re so nervous about what gets handed to a kid that it’s almost like a reactionary faith system that we’re building it off of. So I don’t know if that’s helpful, but yes, that’s the pendulum swing that I’ve noticed kind of over and over.

Shelby: Yeah. Okay. That’s excellent. I was wondering I coined this term a while back, trans fundamentalism, which, I mean, it’s probably never going to take off as a term because you just assume that has something to do with transgenderism, which it doesn’t. It’s just that idea of shifting from one to the other and moving from one type of fundamentalist to another type of fundamentalist. So I completely agree with you that that’s not going to solve our problems at all. And we’ll just end up having to do the same exact pendulum swing 50 years down the road or something.

Sarah Swartzendruber: And with kids, I think that’s specifically really stressful, right? Because I think we’re just handing the same model that we received, which is not the goal. Like, I don’t want to pass off what happened when I was a kid, even though I think a lot of it was really good, right. But we’ve moved and grown as a culture and a society and to me, as a faith. And so I want to be updating and handing and passing off those new thought processes which requires me to learn and listen from the kids that are in front of me, I think, because I think God can speak through kids, so take it or leave it.

Nate: Which is really interesting because that seems to me to be the difference between being conservative and being progressive, right? Like this idea of we talk about this on the show a lot, but conserving holding on, right? Even what you just said there, you’re talking about progress, right? I don’t think people realize just how radical one of the lines you just said is, which is like, the faith is changing, right? Like, the faith is changing. I want to listen to children. Let’s not just do what we did 20 years ago, not just because it was all wrong, but because we’re progressing and we’re learning and we have new information. And I think that’s beautiful. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. And I think the difference between holding on, conserving, trying to find a spot somewhere back there in the past that we can get back to and anchor ourselves I mean, that’s a large part of what I used to do and what I used to be as a pastor in the churches that I was raised in and that I started. And I was trying to anchor people to something so that even as these waves kind of pushed us forward in society, we were going to be anchored to this thing in the past. And it’s just a totally different way of viewing the world. And I love that, especially with kids, right. They have these new that’s the beauty of new humans is they come with new ideas, they come with new ways of seeing the world that make you just stop as a parent or as an adult and just go, wow, yeah, that’s true. Why do we do that? Or it’s kind of like when a new person joins your team or your company or whatever and you want to get as many ideas as you can from them because maybe you got the group thing going on and maybe you’ve been doing something for so long because that’s just the way you do it, but maybe not the best way to do it.

Sarah Swartzendruber: I don’t know. Yeah. And I think over the last ten years, I think over and over, kids and students have, for me personally been the place that they’ve asked a question or they’ve engaged in something, they’ve poked at something that I was like, yeah, you’re right, we need to keep reimagining. And if I get permission to faith shift and faith grow, why am I not giving permission to those kids being part of that process? Could they not help me reimagine my own faith as I’ve shifted? Because we’ve all shifted whether I think we’re recognizing it or not. I do think we’re all I think we imagine faith like point A to point B, but it’s not like that. There’s so many influencers in our life that shift that and make that twist and turn, and kids and students have that as well. I could go on, but I think kids hand us wonder, and that’s what we’ve lost developmentally, right? What we know about adult brains in general, wonder is harder for us. Curiosity is harder. We kind of think what we think, and kids help reinforce that nuancing. They don’t see things in the binary in the same way what we know they can do developmentally. And I think that’s what they allow us to engage in different.

Shelby: This is, I think, one of the things I was wanting to talk about anyway, because I’ve heard you even just like in your announcements at church and when we were getting ready for the Christmas Eve production, you talk about power dynamics and how you really want to invert those to give children the power here, because you believe that that is, in a lot of ways, the way of Jesus. And you talk about learning from them and maybe you just kind of answered the question, even what you just said. But I wanted to know practically what does that look like and do you see that being done wrong? And then how do we actually learn from children and let them lead? Because that just seems so backward to even, what do I call it, my inner apologist or my inner fundamentalist? That still is like but they might be cute, but they don’t actually have a clue what they’re talking about. So tell us more about what you think of all that.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, well, I think we have to take a step back and think about kind of brains and how kids brains are working. And my background is in education. That’s what I really thought I was going to go do. Right. So I did all these brain development classes because that makes sense, right, when you’re going to go work with kids and students. And I think maybe every pastor should be required to take those classes as well. But no one asked me, so it doesn’t matter all that to say, right? I don’t know. No seminary has asked me. So I think it’s really critical to start thinking about how kids are thinking and how they’re viewing specifically faith development and spirituality. So when I was in seminary I started asking the question at what point can a kid deconstruct their faith? And so what I was really trying to ask was if we look at our zero to 18 plan of how kids are developing and over their years, right? What do I want them to know by the time that they’re graduating from high school and they’ve completed their time at Cascade, because it was selfish motive. We had planted cascade. I wanted a different system in terms of how we were doing, kids and students. And I’m overseeing all those things and I don’t know, it was pretty selfish. Like I was really curious of that. When I teach college students, they always say things to me in those classes like why does someone never teach me this in Sunday school? Like those lines. And my question is, can you actually teach more nuanced theology and practices or is it developmentally that a kid can only do certain levels of critical thinking when they hit kind of that over 18 portion and period. And so basically what starts happening and this is kind of what the cohort all lays out is I started to really see that kids can younger, they can hold more nuance and around age twelve, right, that’s like we all know not every kid can fit into a box. I mean, we could go through all the things, right? This is a neurotypical statement, but in general, if we are comfortable with that statement, around age twelve, later middle school, high school kids are able to start to do some of the critical thinking where they can actually do some of that work that I think we want like our really young kids to do, right? So they can present back, they are asking questions. However, when they’re younger, they’re nuancing in more real time. So let’s say I say an opinion to a kid and then you say an opinion to a kid and they directly contradict each other. That’s not ideal, right? However, that kid can have that experience, what we think we know about brains and say, okay, Shelby thinks this, sarah thinks that interesting and moves on, right? And that that’s not like this make or break moment when they get older, like twelve, those influencers really matter. And so I think what I’m trying to say to you is that what started happening is I started realizing that with power dynamics and when we say that kids are actually active parts of the community, we set up the systems that honor that. So to me, ways that we honor that is that we honor that kids have brains that can nuance things in younger years that I as an adult may not be as great at, right? So kids can nuance concepts, they can hear something they don’t need, always an explanation. And sometimes their questions are different than my questions based on their age and stage and what matters to them. And those questions matter because I need them that flattens our power dynamics to see God in a way I could not have seen or understood God alone because of how that child’s brain is working and thinking. Right? Same thing with middle school, high school at that twelve years and up, we know that the questions that they’re asking are a little bit different than the questions I’m asking. And maybe some of them I’ve already asked. But I think if we actually listen, they help us kind of nuance kind of the world and what we’re learning in. So when I’m talking about power differentiation, I’m talking about like are we as leaders setting up systems where we allow critical thinking every step of the way? So in cascade setting, they always get asked every single Sunday in every single classroom. Using your skill of curiosity, what are some questions you have from the story? And then in the younger years, I help model, our teachers help like, I’m going to model for you some younger questions. Like what do you think it smells like? Right? I’m doing some senses stuff. I’m trying to get them thinking. And then as they get older, hopefully they’ve been modeled and they can know, they can ask anything. By the time they get to middle school, high school, they’re asking away that’s what they thrive in is actually questioning you and disagreeing with you. And to me that’s a win. We empowered them to think whatever they wanted to think. It doesn’t need to be what I think. And they get to actually have like a real dialogue where I can learn, they can learn, and we can go back and forth. So that to me, kind of I don’t know if that helps connect it, but that to me is power dynamics, right? Do I assume I have all the answers in the room just because I have an MDiv? No. Those students have shifted and changed and held space for me in such tender moments of theological shift and change in a way that many adults cannot, and kids do the same. And so I think we have to really allow them to shape and help us think and dream in order to shift my opinion. Take it or leave it.

Shelby: That’s beautiful. Do you have any stories or examples of a question a kid asked that you’re just like, that just blew your mind or something? Like, I know maybe it’s hard to pull those out just on a moment’s.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Notice, but I just yeah, like so many I think I’ve told you this before, that my dad passed away a couple of years ago. And so my daughter, we talk about papa who’s not here. And so Kinsley just turned two. And Kinsley literally this morning to me said, mama, Papa is in heaven, and he’s laughing. And I’m like, first of all, when did you we don’t talk about heaven. Where did you get that line? Fascinating number two. Yeah, my dad laughed all the time. What are you even talking about? But for me, in that moment, to me, she holds space for my grief, for the relationship I wish could happen. So that’s not really a question she’s asked me, but I think when you actually start listening, the child is listening and processing, right? They’re doing exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. And then if you actually engage it right, because I could have this theological moment where I want to be like, okay, let’s talk about if we think heaven is real kinsley, which is not helpful to that two year old’s brain. I think I get to engage that because it’s my kid, however I want. But I do think that some of that other questions I have this whole thing where you don’t teach every story in the Bible. And sometimes what happens is we teach a story. I try out that I’m like, maybe we should be this makes me laugh because she’ll be emailed me after this, but maybe we should be teaching Noah’s ark. Maybe we should I don’t know, I don’t like the story, but maybe we can teach like a nuanced version, which some would say that’s like not holding true to the story, but I’m not going to teach scary parts of the story to young brains. I just don’t believe in it theologically. But then what happens is that a kid asks you a question, they engage in a question in that back and forth, and you’re like, oh no, we’re not teaching that story again. That was still too scary. So I think kind of, I’ve been.

Shelby: Like, no way to salvage that one.

Sarah Swartzendruber: No, that was just too scary. Middle school or high school students, I had a student recently say to me, we’ve been studying Amos and they’re making all their funny jokes about Amos and all the things, and then like, out of nowhere, a student, we’re talking about like, are you comfortable with an emotional God? Like, do you think God is emotional? Because that’s a pretty emotional book. And a student says something in a question form of like, if God’s not angry about how homophobic my school is, I’m not down with God. And that was like, it was just such a statement of like, this was a young middle school student that saw it. And I think those are the moments that I’m like, you’re right, you’re right. And so I think that’s a question into a statement. But yeah, some of those I was.

Nate: Going to ask about the nuance piece, too. You said children, especially below the age of twelve, right. Are able to hold that nuance. So I guess applying that to the Bible, in your experience, give me maybe an example of a story in the Bible or a piece of theology or doctrine or something like that, that you feel like they can hold that tension of two different things or yeah, just talk about that a little bit.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah. Number one, I think it’s really important that we give responsible theology. So I say that we can teach more than I think that maybe my friends who are kind of in the thick of deconstructing thinks they can teach. I think you can teach most stories. And I always say that with the caveat of, like, I think responsible theology is really important. So I want to be really careful about how freely or flippantly I say that. Because what I mean by that may not be what you interpret. And so that’s gotten me into trouble of how to actually helpfully pass that forward. But I think that when we tell stories, number one, I think you don’t tell every story to every age. So I think the Bibles kind of are rated and scary and intense. And my goal is not to tell like an Abraham and Isaac story to a young brain. That’s a really scary story if a kid is in real time putting themselves in the story, which I’m hoping for. Right. And a brain is thinking pretty concrete thought process. I don’t want them to be worried that their parent is going to go murder them.

Shelby: I don’t want to be sacrificed them on an altar.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, it’s really scary and.

Nate: We grew up with those stories. Right. But I guess I don’t even remember being overwhelmed with it. I think you reach a point of spiritual desensitization to where these stories you reach a point they don’t actually affect you, which is scary.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah.

Shelby: And yeah. It just shows how disassociated you become from them and yeah. You’re not really putting yourself in those stories at that point anyway.

Sarah Swartzendruber: No. So I think you need to skip certain stories. Let’s just say how it is. And I think that we are nervous about it because it’s something we call the Bible, which Shelby will tell you.

Shelby: The scripture does not exist.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah. And so I think that makes us all kind of I don’t know, I’m going to project, but that makes me nervous to change church history right. And be like, oh, I’m not going to teach this story, but your kids are fine. They don’t need that story. There’s lots of stories they don’t need. So I think to me, what I’m thinking about is like, how do you use a spiral teaching technique where I’m teaching a concept and then I’m adding to it as the kid gets older and developmentally can handle more and different parts and aspects of the story, so that it’s not like we’re lying to them. But I’m not going to include every angle of the story. I don’t know where our original question was, so now I feel a little lost.

Nate: No, I love that. I love when we can’t figure out what the original question was because we’ve gone down this fun rabbit trail, bunny hole, whatever it is. I don’t know.

Sarah Swartzendruber: So sorry.

Nate: No, I love it.

Shelby: Yeah, I love it. This is maybe one of the bigger categories of the conversation that I want to talk about. It’s just okay, so specifically, you working as a pastor and doing Sunday school curriculum writing for kids, because I’m guessing there are not a lot of resources out there for how to do some form of Sunday school in a deconstructed type of setting. I mean, deconstructed is not necessarily a defining word here. Faith shifted setting, progressive setting.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Shifting.

Shelby: Yeah. But I just think that that’s fascinating and really courageous of you to I mean, this is this is already such a scary journey for most adults to take on their own, much less for you to then be like, all right, our kids need our help here. And I think well, maybe to start it off, a lot of parents and I think this was addressed a bit in our last episode of this series, the first episode. A lot of parents, I think, will feel like maybe it’s better to just kind of not incorporate most of a lot of elements of Christianity, particularly the Bible, that my kids will be okay without the Bible. And I think that’s true, that kids can be fine without the Bible, but you clearly see a value to it, and you’re devoting a lot of your life to that. First of all, I’m just curious, what do you think is the value of raising kids within the Christian tradition and with a relationship to the Bible?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah. Well, I think you have to start saying, right, many of us have faith Christian. We know what we don’t want, but we’re not quite sure what we do want. And so I think, for me, at the end of the day, I planted a church because I deeply believe in intergenerational spaces. And that’s the thing I’ve come back to year after year, which is that I could hang out with my friends in my own echo chamber and call it my own little house church. And it could be amazing because I don’t know, it’s just my BFFs, and it’s really controlled, I guess. But to me, that’s not the goal of for me personally, what I want to raise my kids in. I want my kids to have those five adults that we see. Research says that can be a part of kind of my kids village or whatever we want to call it. Right. I want those five adults outside of parents, that are promoting and actively engaging in my kids life. And so I think that is one place we can find that I think is in church spaces. And so if I want that for my kids, me personally, I believe I need to be a part of creating that and changing the narrative so that we’re not passing off detrimental theology or scary theology, because that’s what I’ve mostly seen modeled. So in most progressive church spaces right now, they’re still using kids curriculum that matches those old spaces. That’s actually one of the least I don’t know, updated parts. Right? Like, their sermons are going one direction. But what we’re handing to our kids and students, this goes back to power dynamics. If we actually say kids and students are just as important as adults, which, if you’ve ever ran a church, you know that kids and students suck. Budget. They don’t help you on your budget. Right. So that’s like this whole money conversation behind the scenes that may or may not make you feel gross. I think we have to really start prioritizing the experience of kids and students, because ultimately, for me, I have journeyed enough in other faith experiences. I’ve read them. I didn’t feel like it wasn’t an option for me to choose other faith practices or nothing at all. But I’m still drawn to the story of Jesus. Jesus’s. Life. Death. Yeah. Resurrection, however, we want to kind of think through that. I don’t need you to think what I think. But I do think that there’s something bigger than ourselves that I call God, which you may or may not agree with how I just defined all of that. So to me, that story is a story that I am drawn back to over and over again. That being said, I think how we pass on that story to kids is really important, and I haven’t seen that done super well. And so, yeah, that’s why I started writing our own curriculum and that’s why all the brain research to me really matters. Not because I think I’m going to prevent a bunch of kids from going to therapy. I’m sure that I’ve created problems. I’m not trying to be bigger or better than anything or anyone. I just think that if I say kids are just as important as adults, and if I say I want to create a church that is not based on racist, patriarchal homophobic like all these ideals of what I’ve seen the church built on. I think we need to start listening to our kids and students who are doing those conversations differently and better, which I experienced as an expression of faith than I was past. So they kind of all connect to me as, like, how we see the world and how we move forward with it.

Nate: I’m curious. US, you have one kid, another kid on the way, and you’re already starting to do this a little bit. Your kids, two, right? Is that right? Yeah. So you’re already starting to kind of get into this, right? Questions start I mean, two is, I think, two and three, that’s like when the questions come online, right? That’s when it’s all why? Yeah, exactly. And I guess I’m just curious, how do you see yourself? How have you already started this? But then how do you see yourself? Is this kind of the stuff you’ve laid out? Are you just hoping to incorporate that at home? Do you feel like home is a bit different than the church setting or the Sunday school setting? I’m just curious how you think about that. And how do you hope to set up your home, I guess, or how are you setting up your home to kind of, in some ways, build upon the legacy that you have from your parents of being that open space where questions are welcome and then also tweak things right and make those improvements that you want to make? How do you think about that?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, so I started the parenting after deconstruction Cohort because I feel like faith spaces may work for some people. Like, you may have a church that’s doing something or a community or a space or whatever that you feel like you can do some of the things I just talked about, but some people don’t, and that just is true. Or like they don’t feel safe walking into a church. That’s a really big triggering place. And I think we need to own that as faith leaders that we’ve made some pretty major mistakes that I think we need to take ownership of. And so what I found over and over and why I started the Cohort is that I wanted you not to need an MDiv to talk to your kid about faith if you still were interested in having those conversations. So I wanted it to be accessible and capable for you to feel empowered, to just think about the brain and what that looks like in regards to faith development, to kind of start to create the rituals is what you’re talking about. It’s like, are there rituals in your home? And I think we know that rituals happen at home. Like, a faith development really happens at home. They get an hour at church. But some of that stuff, I just think that what actually matters is what’s their day to day, what’s life looking like, what’s happening in the spaces you’re around. So I don’t see that as, like, you need to be reading your Bible every day at home. That’s not my jam at all. I wasn’t raised that way. But I do think that you get to be intentional about why you’re doing what you’re doing or why you’re not doing what you’re doing. So empowering to me is things like getting to ask questions as you read books. So we read stories with Kinsley that have Bible stories in them that I’ve decided are fine because she’s a pastor’s kid and I’m picky. And so we do, like, some question asking. And yeah, she’s two, and she totally does like, why. And in the same sentence, she talks about baby sharks. And that’s the world I live in right now. I just think that God is all around us and we get to engage those conversations and notice. And so that, to me, is a lot of the work that I like doing with parents. It’s like, what are you noticing? So we light a candle in my house all the time. The first thing when her and I walk in from childcare is we go downstairs and light candles because I like that my house smells better. Like, that just is. And when my dad was really sick, a friend had encouraged me, what if you thought about, yeah, cancer and whatever. You need to think about cancer every time you lit that candle. And so that practice started for me of thinking about someone. In that season, it was my dad, and now Kinsley. And I will say, I’ll say out loud, kinsley, who do you want to think about? And to me, whether that’s prayer or I’m just moving someone forward in my brain, kinsley and I are actively doing that together. So that’s a really simple ritual. She’s two, but we do it together, and she walks in, is like, light the candle, light the candle. And that’s fun. And I think just the repetition for me is a helpful piece of what I consider to be prayer today. That, to me, is a prayer experience Kinsley and I are having together. I’d say things like going on walks. We take a lot of walks, mostly because she could run all day every day, and I’m tired. But to me, it’s like noticing the birds and the airplanes. To me, the point of the creation narrative, which I don’t read as a literal narrative, is creation care, and how are we going to care and be a part of this harmonious existence? And so for me, I’m partaking in that narrative and that story every time Kinsley and I go on a walk and we talk about the dog and the airplane and the blue, we’re talking about colors and all the fun things that are good for her developmentally. But for me, that’s an act of a ritual, of a faith experience that I’m doing at home. So those are always my three go to. Kinsley also really likes praying. Hilarious. She does full on prayer. I don’t do a lot of outlaw praying at this point in my life because I’m mostly tired, and that’s my own journey, right, of having a dad with cancer. And that’s complicated for me still. And Kinsley prays with the person that watches her, which I love. I love that she has that experience with her. And so Kinsley has started just saying amen randomly. And you’re like, who knows? Why is she saying that? You’re mid sentence. The other funny thing Kinsley did is she stole baby Jesus from the Cascade Kids Christmas program. You should know this. Baby Jesus lives in my house because my two year old stole it. She tells everyone about baby Jesus and sometimes tells them that baby Jesus is in Mommy’s tummy, which is very awkward when you’re a pastor.

Nate: We don’t know, right? We don’t know. Right. Almost radical.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Oh, for sure.

Nate: I love that, and I love all those things. And I think a lot of parents are wanting to know, how do I incorporate all those things? And I would definitely recommend jump into this cohort, right? Because a lot of people, we’re talking about our church, and we talk about that when you jump on our Zoom calls or all the Facebook group. We talk about our church a lot and how amazing and wonderful it is. But there’s not a lot of those experiences. It’s hard to have that or around the country, around the world, wherever you’re listening. I know that can be really frustrating. And so I love that you’ve started that, and I definitely encourage people to jump into that. I guess I’m also wondering for those kind of overwhelmed parents out there that feel just totally daunted by this. I remember this when deconstruction started for me, five, six, seven years ago, jeez, eight years ago, I need to update these numbers. It was like, okay. Not the bare minimum in the sense of, like, I don’t want to do a whole lot here for my kids. Not like that. I just mean, what are those core things that I can be doing to be moving this child forward? A lot of parents think of this not to be, like, negative, but how can I not screw up my kid the most. Right. And I don’t want to be like you had talked about this earlier, of kind of being fearful almost of giving them something or messing them up, but I guess just maybe help us think or help the listeners think about what are some of these kind of core things. Like if you’re just doing this, if you try to just this. And I think you talk a little bit about saying, I don’t know, being open to saying that or questions, are these the kind of things that we really want to be doing?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, well, I think if you’re in I was trying to reference Kathy Escobar’s face shifting. I think that’s a really helpful model. That’s what we go through in the cohort of unraveling severing. And that final part, I call it reimagining. So I’m talking to you out of the reimagining phase, and that means that I’ve been allowed to be angry. I’ve been in therapy for many years and someone has let me face shift. I mean, I started a church, right? And I’m just laughing at myself. And we started literally something we thought maybe someone else will Ron be a part of because it didn’t exist. So you got to know I’m biased a little bit here, but I think my point is that you need to first give yourself permission. If you feel overwhelmed and you’re in the middle of a face shift, the first thing I always say is, you’re okay. You are okay. Your face shift is okay. Your anger is okay. And you may hate me that I just said that because I’m a pastor and I represent literally the thing you’re mad at. And I can handle that. I can handle that, and you can take the space. I always say to parents in that phase, hey, it’s possible for a hot minute here. You may not want to do anything at home, and that’s okay. If you need a season of that, your kid is going to be okay. I really believe that. I think where I get concerned or I start asking questions is sometimes when we’re angry, it’s easier to stay angry. What’s the thing that propels us towards a new shift? Right? Because some of us deservingly so have faith trauma that needs to last many, many years. In terms of anger, that makes sense. But then you’ve got your kid developmenting and growing and having their own experiences of the world and they think the world is beautiful and good and that’s lovely, right? And so how can we, in those moments, do our personal work so that I’m not projecting onto my kid the ugly, the hard? Because I would guess if you’re in the middle of that crisis point, your kid will say something that is beautiful and good that somehow helps you reimagine, and it’ll have a spirituality kind of undertone. Like my daughter saying something to me about heaven, which is not something I talk a lot about, and it makes you stop and pause or they ask you a question, and then you’re able to reengage. And I think at that point, my hope would be, what does it look like to do simple practices? So simple practice, like gratitude, maybe it’s really hard to talk about God, and that’s okay. Maybe you’re comfortable talking about the best part of your day, the worst part of your day. And I think that’s the starting point of conversations that why was it great and why was it really bad and kind of starting to go in those directions? I think we can do really simple noticing, right? Like, the senses, five senses check in. Like, what do I hear? What do I smell? That kind of stuff with kids that that starts to, I think, connect us back to, I don’t know, what are rituals, what are connections, what is spirituality to you? So I guess I would give all the love in all of I think all of the space, that it’s okay that you feel overwhelmed or you feel really angry and you’re actually really uninterested in faith and spirituality, specifically with your kid. And also, I would push you and nudge you to say, how long have you been in that space? Not because it’s wrong or inappropriate, but there is a point of reimagining, and I think that’s the piece that we have to keep thinking about, right? Because the journey is a journey. We’re not trying to be stuck in the anger just as much as I’m not trying to be stuck in the reimagining. So I don’t know if that’s helpful.

Nate: Yeah, that’s great.

Shelby: Okay. Now. I kind of still want to go back to the Sunday school topic because it got a little bit we had some great conversation after that, but I had more questions around that because I think the engagement with the Bible is such an interesting topic. And we talk about the Bible most of the time on this podcast. So I just feel like it’s something that when I’ll dive into a little more well, first of all, I remember when you and I first went out for coffee and we were talking about Sunday school and how you kind of think through that. And I can’t remember the specifics, but there were, like, different basic messages that you were trying to get across to each age group that every story was kind of revolving around. And I don’t remember what those were, but if you remember and want to talk about those, I thought it was really interesting.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah. So I think my emphasis is always love God, love self, love others. And that that’s, like, my trinity of for lack of better thought. Like, that’s kind of my three basis. So, like, God is present, God loves you. So that goes with kind of that brain and that science developmental. Right? Cindy talked about this, so well, what kids want is belonging and connection. We know that we can see all the data in the research. And in fact, what you and I want is belonging and connection, right? That’s just basic what we’re hoping and looking for. And so we’re looking at as a kid develops, right, how do we give them that language through the realm of spirituality? Because I think that for me, that’s like, my lane of thought. I’m hoping those are coming in many different ways of that kid’s life. But my lane is spirituality in a Sunday morning experience for that kid. So for really young minds, how we’re doing kind of that triad is I’m thinking about attachment theory. That’s Kristen Mazefield’s book with attachment to God. I’m thinking about how are we really giving eye contact? Right? I’m connecting with kid. Then you move up to that pre K brain and you’re thinking really hard about how do I connect for this kid, who for the first time, they see power dynamics in my adult figure, whoever that is in their life, and they’re connecting that to God. And so my goal is to kind of help lower that while using how they’re referencing and viewing the world. So, yes, right. God is like a parent, which I think can be stressful for many reasons, but for the kid, that’s a connection point for them that they can understand and see. But then how am I also saying, but God loves you, you’re loving yourself, and then, how do we love others? So kind of passing that on. Does that make sense? So you’re doing that in all kind of those connection points. You get up to more elementary school, especially like, later elementary school, and you’re seeing a kid have this ability to connect actual, like, there’s a cross or there’s a tomb, there’s a symbol, a light, whatever the thing is, and then I’m starting to be able to connect. What does that look like for loving God? What does that look like for loving myself? So you’re helping them start to make some of those connection points. My favorite story with elementary is I think I told you this story, Shelby, that I used to be really stressed out when kids would we be in a dynamic where I’d be like, is there anything you want to pray about? And we were just talking about connection and relationship to God and that and the kids would be like, in those older elementary, they would say things to me like, I really want a puppy. And I’d be like, okay, but if we pray for you to get a puppy and then you get the puppy, do you think, did I just hand you prosperity gossip? Basically, like, you did the right thing and so then you got the puppy. And so I used to get, like, really panicky, kind of like hot face, which is for me, a signal of like, uhoh, I don’t think I want to teach that. I don’t know what happens to you when you theologically run into something that you’re like in the wrestle.

Shelby: I start sweating.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah. And so what happened is that I used to be like, I try to walk them through prosperity gospel, and then I realized after kind of more of my research, that for them, the connection point of, like, actually, it’s possible that you could get the puppy, and that doesn’t make God good or God bad. That just is and you just want to be seen and known because you are appropriately self obsessed with yourself, because you have proper attachment at that point. And so I pray for the puppy now, but that took me a long time. So yeah. Point being, name it and claim it. All of those. Name it and claim it. Yeah. You could grew up in that more than me, my friend.

Nate: That was a later experience.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Later, okay. But yeah, that I think is kind of, again, those basis of love, god love, self love, others. Is that what you’re looking for? That whole thing.

Shelby: Yeah. And I remember, I think when we were talking about the pre K age, and you’re talking about the one thing that I’m trying to get across to them is like, I think it was God loves you. Maybe that’s what it was. Or like, you are loved, or something like that.

Sarah Swartzendruber: You were loved. God loves you.

Shelby: Yeah, because at that age, you’re saying the identity they’re forming is just it really is about them at that point. And I was like, okay, 100% prayer.

Nate: At four, five years old, right around there.

Sarah Swartzendruber: No.

Shelby: And speaking of that, I just think probably there’s a lot of people listening who we grew up in a certain type of church and Sunday school, and people are probably still having a hard time picturing like what? Does this actually. How do you fill this hour of Sunday school in a way that’s not yeah, that’s not the way we experienced it. And I remember you talked about I think there were, like, three elements that you get to every time. I know one of them was play, and I don’t remember what the other two. So yeah. How do you intentionally structure the Sunday school experience?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, so it’s heavily play based. That’s all of my background of, like, kids learning fun and play. Church does not need to be boring. We play so hard. And that’s just an important key part of how they’re learning and how they’re thinking. So this last week we did kinetic sand. We’re talking about it makes me laugh. We’re talking about the Lord’s Prayer in terms of, like we’re talking about that God cares about what you think and that prayer is just a connection point. So nothing of what you probably think I was going to talk about with the Lord’s Prayer, we’re not doing anything. Like, we never recite the Lord’s Prayer. We’re talking about prayer and what it means and that God cares about you that much. And so then their introduction activity is one of the stations was kinetic sand, and they got to draw or write or do whatever they wanted in terms of what do you want to communicate. And that’s just a different form of play. They loved that kinetic sand. It went everywhere in the classroom. I thought it was going to stay in the bin. It did not. And to me, it’s just as important that they get to draw and do that whole experience as it is that then they go on their own imaginative experience of creating scenes that got everywhere, if that makes sense. So play to me is a huge piece of how and what they’re playing and that we give them opportunities to do that through stories that we’re telling. I think that’s key. Right? So around Christmas, we were doing Hammers with Joseph and the golf tees and blocks because they’re talking about being a carpenter. We’re going to play carpenter that day. And so to me, we’re playing, and it’s super fun. So all of that play is really important. Then we always do some sort of a story, and then they’re always going to do curiosity questions coming out of that. They’re never going to do a story without modeling critical thinking or they’re going to be partaking in it. So sometimes kids don’t have questions because they’re like, I don’t know, it is what it is. And so then you help them start modeling it because they’re kind of in that concrete brain thought, which you have to help kind of model, like, hey, what do you think about this? And then they get all stoked. And sometimes their questions are incredibly theologically beautiful, and sometimes it’s just like, do you think Jesus wore sandals that day? And I love it because it’s what they’re thinking about their journey. Or they’re connecting Marvel characters into the story because they’re doing developmentally what makes sense to them. Right? And then the last piece of that is like their own response. So it’s play, story, curiosity, and then it’s something of a form of response. So not like we’re doing something that has to connect. It’s like we’re eating a snack. And then we’re going to be taking kind of that God loves you concept, and we’re putting that into action in some way. So hopefully that’s something still fun. Yeah. Play based activity craft. You’re trying to use all your different brains so that we’re using all of our senses. Right? Not all of us are auditory learners. I’m not. And so you need to sometimes give kids activities that can kind of help support what you’re talking about. So yeah, that’s Sunday school. And if you want, we have parent toolkits that I can yeah, we have some of that that we’ve modeled so that we can show that to people.

Shelby: That’s awesome.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah.

Shelby: Thanks. Thank. You for the environment you have provided for our kids at Sunday school.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Oh, they’re the cutest.

Nate: And then obviously your cohort is a great resource. The link to all Sarah’s stuff is in the show notes here. We’re pushing people to that. If that is sounding like the direction you want to head, I would highly encourage you to get involved in that because that can give you the tools and the resources that you need. And I was also going to ask you, as you think of other resources, maybe it’s someone that’s not quite ready to jump into a cohort or just someone who wants to that person that wants all the info. Right. What else would you recommend for people out there that are trying to do this?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Well, so many great things. So many great things. Okay. If you’re someone that’s super into Bibles, like if you’re someone that often what I find is someone’s pretty nervous about like I’ve I’ve done some of my unraveling severing and I want to read something with my kid and I have no idea what to read and there aren’t a lot of great options out there. I would say you are correct. That is a true statement there’s not to me a Bible that I would highly, highly recommend. But that being said, I really like the Bible basic storybook and some of kind of the content that is around Brittany Sky’s work. I don’t know her personally, but I really like some of that.

Shelby: And what is it? Is it just like a storybook that you would read on the couch with your kid or it sounded I don’t know.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, it’s like the Bible option. If a Bible is helpful for you, it’s like a Bible Bible so you could read a story out of it and they have some cool questions and noticing stuff out of that that I’ve liked. I know last week you all talked about Jesus storybook Bible, which I also think has some really great moments. It also has some very problematic theological moments in my opinion, which you can take or leave. But I think something I would encourage, which I think Shelby talked about doing, is you can always, as you’re reading it, skip words that you don’t want to include. So maybe for you it feels really stressful to say sin, which is totally fine. I would just not include it when it gets included and then you go silent for a second and you pick back up to the things that feel more comfortable to you in that season. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.

Nate: Versions of rap songs where you’re like, there’s no words. There’s those stories in the Bible where you’d be censoring and you’re like, I didn’t say anything. What’s the song even?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Just kidding. Yeah, I mean, I didn’t know that I was going to be a censored rap song today, but yes, that is actually and I think you can do that. My suggestion would do that with any book, any kids book. The person didn’t write it knowing where you sat in that moment.

Shelby: And I think this is just I mean, you’re totally right to be like, this is with any book. And it kind of points out just the huge double standard that we have often given the Bible of. We wouldn’t let our kids watch a certain movie, and yet we’re willing to let them hear, well, maybe not this generation, but that’s what we’re dealing with is this feeling like we have to give them the whole Bible, at least by a certain age, and even by a young age, give them certain parts of the Bible. I was actually specifically wanted to ask you, how do you approach we haven’t been at Cascade around Easter time, so I really don’t know what you guys do with the crucifixion, because that feels like that feels like the crossover of a really horrible, traumatic, scary story. But also it’s literally the center of the gospel story. I guess it depends on how you define the gospel. Actually, I’m not sure I agree with the statement I just made, but usually it’s interpreted as the center. How do you handle that story?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, unpopular opinion. I would not include all those details to a young brain. Right. That spiral dynamic concept. So a young, young brain, I would even say as basic as how we teach it, is something around like there were leaders who didn’t want Jesus to be there because he was creating problems. And that’s a really simplified way of a much harder lesson to say some things. But no, I wouldn’t be going into the details of the cross because I think they’re really scary details, and I would circle back to that and expand that story. Right. I can give more details to that story as it feels more developmentally appropriate, which to me is like an elementary school. So later elementary, I think we can start to say more of that story because I think some of it is helpful to give context so that when we get to high school, middle school, you can actually say, hey, I don’t know that I believe that Jesus died on the cross. And I can say, yeah, let’s talk about it, or, like, the resurrection or all that stuff. And I think that’s totally fair conversation point.

Nate: Maybe it’s a good time for me to ask. I used to ask this to a lot of guests, and I just have not for a while, but just kind of a fun question at the end. What do you feel like is the most heretical thing that you believe that you’re comfortable sharing?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Oh, I don’t know, because I probably think a lot of things that people would find heretical.

Nate: I think the thing you just said might have it’s okay if you don’t believe in crucifixion. Yeah, that’s pretty heretical.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, but that makes sense to me. I’m not big on sin conversation, especially with kids and students. So I think of sin as like, separation from God, which I can see in some big systematic conversations, which we could list. Right. Like, systematically there are some things that don’t feel great, but how do we pass that to a kid? Do they need to be singing like a prayer? Like, no way. That’s shame based, scary ways to teach kids. That’s really manipulative and really problematic. So I don’t know if you’re going to want to include that I just said that or not, but.

Nate: That’S not that heretical for our audience and probably.

Shelby: I can’t think of the last time I used the word sin, honestly.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, I don’t know. That’s such a hard question because I’m not in those spaces where I wouldn’t I don’t get invited anyways because I’m a young female. No one ever wanted me to be there to start. And so I don’t know. Recently I was with some male pastors who I find safe humans, and I really like them and have been very good to me. And I said something like, yeah, well, if we say sin is not real or the whole thing isn’t real and everyone just kind of stopped and looked at me and I was like, oh, okay, yeah, I’m back.

Shelby: So it was a little more heretical with that group than you thought it was.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, we weren’t ready for me. And I was like, oh, okay. So I don’t know. I don’t know that I have anything wild. I think sometimes, just like, I assume we all see the world, I will say this. I assume that we can all recognize each other’s lanes of thought. Even lanes of thought I don’t really like. I get how you got there, even if I don’t think they’re great lanes. And I think that something that drives me nuts is when we can’t recognize the other lanes. Like, why can’t you see my lane? Why don’t I get a lane? Yeah, why is yours? I don’t know. Somehow different or better? I don’t know. It’s getting bright in here. Yeah.

Nate: That leads me to kind of another question. I wasn’t really thinking to get to this, but there’s a lot of parents out there who are another component in all this is the outside voices. Right. You’re going through deconstruction no matter which point you are in it, but you have family, friends, former church members, or maybe current church members that are kind of it’s like lobbying these, I don’t know, Bible grenades at you or just whatever it is that’s coming from the outside too. And you’re like, I need to have an answer for them. I need to have an answer for my kid. How do I do all this? I don’t know. Have you thought about that at all? Just curious, your thoughts on that?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, so specifically in my cohort, something I think a lot about is like so a parent starts giving a different version of faith. So a different version of faith to me is I’m skipping Bible stories. I have permission to change the words. I permission not to include theological concepts that I was told were like the make or breaks of faith or Christianity. All of that I think is fair game in my opinion. And I think the thing I say over and over in my cohort is you don’t have to agree with me. I have some ideas, but those formed on my own experiences and my own study. And I hope that you are forming your own and at times form what you think by realizing that you don’t think what I think. I think that’s actually key. That being said, what I think happens is that these parents have face shifted. And then grandparent says something to kid or they read a book or something like that and then parent is spiraling like I am not okay with the thing you said. And in fact, the thing I notice over and over again is progressive or whatever we’re going to call you, face shifted individuals who then get into a room of kids and they go back to those brain tracks that have some wild theology. Like I don’t know what it is about kids and students, but people get into a room of kids and students and they pull out theology that they have not said in years or that they think or they just haven’t reimagined that thing yet. And then it gets passed to a child and then the parent hears that information and they’re like, what just got said to my kid? And the thing I think I would pass on in those moments is one, what’s happening in you as a parent? What is that actually bringing up for you? What’s the trigger? What’s the messaging you heard that was so detrimental? And then two things like hey Kinsley, which is my daughter’s name, hey Kinsley. When Nana said that line to you, what did you think? Like actually engage your kid in whatever the topic or the line was that made you kind of frantic and panicked and circle back to them like, what do you think about that? Because what I think you start to hear is the kid either picked up on the line and they didn’t feel good about it and they weren’t comfortable with whatever got said and they have some questions and then we can bounce off their questions instead of me critiquing or tearing down that person’s opinion. Because it’s usually the people we respect that’s I think the hard part or we want someone to have relationship with them or I think you notice kids didn’t even hear it. Kids didn’t pick up on it because this was more triggering for us than for the kid and we move on. And so I guess I don’t know if that’s helpful or hurtful, but I do think that there’s something where we engage this critical thinking back and forth. And if we’re modeling that in every angle of our life, this is just another place we’re doing that with faith development.

Nate: I love that. That’s good.

Shelby: Okay, I have one probably my final question here. It’s just for the parents who are getting ready for this episode to end and they’re going to go back to their kids and whatever stage they’re in. What are just some of either your top or your top few favorite stories that you do like teaching kids from the Bible? Because we know we have a lot of list of ones that we don’t feel good about, but which ones are your favorites?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Oh my gosh. Okay, well, I’m an easily excitable person, so probably whatever I’m teaching in that moment or whatever, I’m like prepping. But that being said, stories I love. I love some of the Old Testament is my jam. I really wish no one has ever said after they face shifted, but I love Moses, I love Joshua. Some of those really big moments of Moses and God in some argument. I don’t know, that’s up to me. Some of my favorite stuff to teach the kids. I love the story of Jacob wrestling with God and when Jacob is like, you were here all along. That’s actually one of my top favorite stories because that to me is the most defining story later on of what I think we’re all about to do is wrestle. And for me personally, I felt like God was missing a lot. And yeah, I can identify some different narratives there now. So yeah, I mean, those would be like my top go to. I love creation, which no one I love if we talk about creation in how we’re taking care of the earth and what we’re being asked if I actually care about the earth, if I actually say I’m not more important than the earth or animals, that’s like my earth shakes because I’m not doing great at that stuff. Yeah, so I love all that. I really like the Jesus stories. I don’t really like parables. I think they’re hard and really complicated and have been mostly used to manipulate. So not like by Jesus, but like how we are teaching a lot of parables, which we’re actually doing right now with our older elementary. But I’ve avoided them mostly because they’re hard. They’re hard. So yeah, that was the whole point of them. I know.

Shelby: Well, but I mean, maybe they are better for adults not in like this is an appropriate way, but this takes a lot of, I think, conceptual thinking that younger kids don’t maybe have yet.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, I don’t know.

Shelby: I’m just thinking of it on the floor. But anyway, keep going. This is great.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, I love anything with Jesus. And so I think I was thinking more like younger elementary I love with high school students, I loved studying Daniel. Yeah. That to me is like a really fascinating actually, like some power dynamic stuff there. We’re doing Amos right now that’s really fun in terms of like an emotional god. Yeah, all the things those would be I mean, everyone’s on a different place of what you’re comfortable with and how old your kid is, obviously. But those are some go to I.

Shelby: Would go and how do you answer the question? I’m just imagining parents telling these kids these stories. And I know kids who say, did this really happen? Is this real? How do you handle that question?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, I would ask them back. I would always ask a question back to that because what are they really trying to ask me? Because right. Number one, I have no idea. And I think we need permission to say, I don’t know, what do you think? But I think also what I’m always interested in is what are kids trying to get to if I’m not teaching some of like Jonah is not like a story I teach often. I have I’ve tried it on and taken it off. But I think if I was teaching something like Jonah to a young brain when I’m saying I’m not teaching it, I’m teaching it older, I’m not teaching.

Shelby: It young because people get really swallowed by fish. Is that like why you don’t teach it too?

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah, I don’t think it’s a real story, but yeah, even like the Red Sea, right? Like that story. I don’t know that. I literally think that story happened the way it happened. And if it did right, I just told you like Moses, I’m not going to teach about a bunch of people dying on God’s behalf because someone’s the chosen people and someone’s not. That’s a terrifying story, especially to an in like am I in or am I out? No thanks. Hard pass. Because I think what kids are asking you more is like, do I have to believe this thing by thing? Do you believe this word to word and fact by fact? And so that’s why I like asking a question back to them. Do you think this is real? Like the story? I don’t know. I’m trying to think of a good one, like Jesus’s birth. Do you think it’s real? I’m not sure. I kind of think that someone had someone named Jesus. I would say some things that I think. I think probably someone did have someone named Jesus. Do I think what piece of the story are you not sure about? And then I would be doing the back and forth because I don’t teach virgin birth. So again, that’s probably another heretical thing I do. So that’s not like something that we would be talking about, but if they had heard that somewhere else, which is common. Right. Because that’s a pretty easy thing to pick up on. Sometimes those questions come into the spaces that I’m in. So I’d be like, oh, interesting. What does that mean? I don’t know. I’d ask a question back.

Shelby: Well, that’s incredible. And I think this conversation has given a lot of tools and ideas for parents. I mean, it’s given me ideas. And I’m going to talk to you afterwards about some of my ideas. Just thank you for all of the thought and time you’ve put into this for years, even before having your own kids. And I’m really glad that we get to be in relationship with you, be in church with you, and yeah. For all the people out there who don’t get to be, then I hope you can take advantage of some of the resources that Sarah is connecting us to and the ones that she’s creating, and we will have links to all that in our show notes.

Nate: Yeah. I love your energy around this, Sarah. Like you said, I think at the beginning, kids are so unique, so special, and I just care so much about these humans getting their start in life and figuring everything out and there’s so much we can learn from them. And I see that I hear that in your excitement and your passion around this topic. So thank you for being passionate. I think it’s going to help so many people.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Yeah. I think if I want to stay in church spaces, we’re going to have to change some things. So I’ve decided to be the millennial that starts to shift it, right? So here we are.

Shelby: I love that.

Sarah Swartzendruber: Here we are.

Nate: Thanks, Sarah.

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