Legal Disclosure: Baker Publishing provided me with a free copy of this book to read and review it. Personal Disclosure: I would have purchased it anyway! I read most books with a pen or pencil in hand (or finger in the case of Kindle). I underline either “amen” or “remember that new thought” passages—so I can easily return to them later. I began underlining Ivy Beckwith’s “Formational Children’s Ministry” in the introduction. Ivy has an extensive history of educational and experiential exposure to children’s ministry having taught on the college level and worked in the local church and for big ministry publishers. I appreciate her non-linear career path—local church…professor…church consultant …curriculum editor…local church. She has learned and collected a broad understanding of what works to connect children to the church and to Christ. I keep her “Postmodern Children’s Ministry” on the shelf next to my office desk and it too is a well marked book! I was very excited to learn that she had written another book on the topic and welcomed the opportunity to devote the time to reading it.
In “Formational Children’s Ministry” Ivy purports that what is critical to spiritual formation of children is the need to tap into their imaginations. She believes there needs to be some “compelling pull” for them to be drawn into living in the kingdom of God rather than delivering information with the hopes that it will work its way into their souls and emotions. The book explores what it takes to manifest the compelling pull—people—who themselves “have had their imaginations captured by the kingdom of God.” She makes a strong case for three things that the church must use for “shepherding children into a life with God”: Story, Ritual, and Relationship.
I nodded and underlined away all through the chapters on,,,
…STORY–the need for our children to know God’s story through the Bible, to hear the church’s story in a historical context, to understand the community’s faith story, and to be given the language to tell their own faith story
…RITUAL–the catalyst for passing along the faith, the kinesthetic connection to God’s story, and that which brings the faith community together
…RELATIONSHIP–within the family, in the church community, and with peers
But the compelling pull for me into this book on transformational ministry for children was Ivy’s cry for the need for intergenerational ministry—interweaving the entire community’s story together through ritual and relationships to understand and embrace God’s story. That was a huge “AMEN!” for me.
She begins to make the case in Chapter 7 (Children in the Worshiping Community) to help parents understand and to help church leaders help parents understand that children need to SEE their parents living out their faith as a priority–a challenge when we segregate worship by age groups. She supplies other compelling reasons for children to be a part of worship with the whole community—not only what this offers for the children but what it offers for the rest of us as well. My only—really only—twinge of regret with the entire book is her shift from the critical need to incorporate children into worship with all ages to how to do “children’s worship” well. It’s like she is saying, “Please don’t…but if you must, then here’s how.” Sometimes I’ll scribble questions in the book margins as I read and at the end of this chapter I wailed, “But what happened to making worship meaningful for all ages together?”
After reading Chapter 10 (Facilitating Spiritual Formation through Community Relationship) there are more underlined passages in the chapter than not! She espouses the need for bringing the generations together in our congregations…
…as places where we share life together
…to buck the prevalent culture of ageism
…for plugging the rite of baptism into the power of the entire community
The best way to build community, she explains, is through shared experiences—continuous, shared experiences—to allow relationships to grow. She is concerned (rightly so) that the church too often has settled for being “just another place where adults, teens, and children come to participate in their own interests and have their own worldviews confirmed.”
Ivy is honest about all the roadblocks that face the church interested in bringing all ages together to learn, worship and fellowship. She encourages the church leader to start small and think intentionally and offers several specific examples of how it’s been done before and encouragement for all churches (especially small to mid-size) to give it a try.
I’ll offer up a time tested solution for Ivy and all the churches seeking a way to implement intergenerational ministry—it’s LOGOS. It was LOGOS that drew my family into the relationships in our church and many other families as well—setting the conditions right to nurture spiritual development and transformation. LOGOS is not a program or a curriculum but a system that facilitates intentional multi-generational ministry through study, worship, and fellowship. I was so charged up by how well it worked that I started getting asked to talk to other churches about it. Now I’m on staff of the international organization and get to talk to churches ALL DAY about how to implement and troubleshoot and maintain just the kind of thing that Ivy is convinced churches ought to be doing.
There is a need, as Ivy says, for a shift from the “formal education” or “schooling model” for children’s ministry. And there is a need for churches to learn how to incorporate the story, ritual and relationship within the context of the whole church community. Read the book and be prepared to be inspired and motivated to do children’s ministry a new way.