In 1989 something incredible happened. Against the backdrop of a changing world order, world leaders came together and made a historic commitment to the world’s children. They made a promise to every child to protect and fulfil their rights, by adopting an international legal framework – the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Four articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child explicitly recognise the spiritual as an element of holistic child development, along with social and moral wellbeing, cultural development, and physical and mental health.

Coincidentally, Petra Institute saw its inception on 1 April of the same year, with a specific calling pertaining to the spiritual element of child development. We have since trained leaders in different aspects of children’s ministry in around 60 countries across the world.

Spirituality and Spiritual Development

In spite of its subjective, vague, personal and difficult to articulate nature, spirituality has been defined as meaning making, feelings of connectedness to others, self, and/or a higher power, as well as a process of searching for meaning and purpose, and the openness to and search for self-transcendence, in which the self is embedded in something greater than the self, including the sacred.

Spiritual development involves the integration of one’s beliefs, value, meaning and self-worth. These are intangible elements such as beliefs about self and others.

The Benefits of Spiritual Development in Children

It equips them for life

According to research done by psychologist Lisa Miller, ‘’children who are raised with a robust and well-developed spiritual life are happier, more optimistic, more thriving, more flexible, and better equipped to deal with life’s ordinary (and even extraordinary) traumas than those who are not.’’

Teenagers, in particular, are exponentially better off if they’re in touch with their spiritual sides — less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, to engage in risky sex, to cope with depression. “In the entire realm of human experience,” Miller writes, “there is no single factor that will protect your adolescent like a personal sense of spirituality.”

It contributes to healthy self-esteem

A deep sense of spirituality creates recognition, within individuals, of a sacred meaning to all of life. This understanding contributes to a feeling of significance of self as well as of others. This includes a healthy view of self, a thoughtfulness, compassion, and empathy for others, and a fundamental consideration for the wellbeing of family and community.

The implications of these views on the individual, family, and society cannot be underestimated.

It cultivates respect for authority

The ability to recognise the existence of a higher power teaches children to place themselves in a position conducive to yielding to proper jurisdictions with respect to the social hierarchies valued within in their cultures. This breeds an understanding of proper boundaries, fulfilling relationships, feelings of personal security, and an ability not only find their proper places in society but to relate to one another in ways that allow them to coexist in a healthy way.

Petra Institute: Building communities where children are welcome

At Petra Institute, we are not only concerned with the children in the church but especially those outside the church who grow up without hope and love, and who are emotionally wounded, alienated, and lost.

We do not see children separate from their environment and therefore focus on building relationships within organisations, families, and the community because the importance of spiritual development as a foundation can simply not be underestimated.

We share God’s desire for the lost and broken children to be found and restored to healing Christian families and communities, to join Him in transforming society.

Active partnerships, both with churches and organisations that are working in the context of poverty, emergency, and persecution, are therefore central to our model. We focus on building capacity for children’s ministry within partnerships with denominations or organisations.

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  • Louca, Eleonora. (2016). Spiritual Development in Children and Adolescents. Weber Psychiatry & Psychology. 2. 556-558.
  • Lisa Miller. (2015). The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving.