A Review of Ivy Beckwith’s “Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children using Story, Ritual, and Relationship”

March 3, 2010

Three kids of different agesLegal 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.


Tooting Your Own Horn

January 6, 2010

My mother used to say, “if you don’t toot your own horn, no one else will.”

I did not get it then….but I do now. It sounded self-centered, too prideful then, but now I understand the difference: being egocentric, arrogant, conceited about yourself is not the same as understanding God’s purpose for your life, being in touch with your own gifts and abilities, and being open to sharing yourself.

Maybe it would read better if mom had said, “Find the horn God gave you to toot, let your life be pleasing to God, and toot away.”

Judy Comstock, Executive Director of the International Network of Children’s Ministry, has just edited and published “It Worked for Us: Best Practices for Ministry with Children and Families.” I am going to toot Judy’s horn for just a moment: this is a very helpful book containing practical information about children’s ministry from administration to child development to education models to safety, special needs, spiritual formation and finally, volunteers.

One chapter is on Family Ministry, a particular passion at The LOGOS Ministry these days. The chapter begins with reminding us about Deuteronomy 6:4-7, one of my favorite passages and the guiding scripture for our Heartfelt newsletter. The chapter goes on to talk about “providing a model for parents” and about educating, equipping and encouraging parents along the way.

Lots of churches today are struggling with how to provide Biblically-based, healthy worship and ministry opportunities for children and their families, especially if they are experiencing staff and volunteer shortages. Rather than remain in despair and isolation over what our churches cannot do, let’s talk with one another and help each other find ways and means to reach more families for Christ.

I am thinking that churches who have created effective family ministry should be tooting their own horns. What is your church doing for children and families and how is it working?

Toot away!

Shift by Brian Haynes

October 1, 2009

Brian Haynes’ new book “Shift: What it takes to finally reach families today” was a book I really wanted to love.  After reading it, I found that I loved the premise and the purpose but not so much the practice. Haynes believes that God’s plan for spiritual formation of generations is found in “the shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9):

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”

I agree!  And there’s a chorus of voices agreeing as well…George Barna (“Transforming Children Into Spiritual Champions”), Ivy Beckwith (“Postmodern Children’s Ministry”), Walt Mueller (Center for Parent/Youth Understanding), Mark DeVries (“Family-Based Youth Ministry”), Ben Freudenburg (“The Family Friendly Church”), Mark Holman (Faith@Home Movement), Kara Powell (Fuller Youth Institute), and Gene Roehlkepartain (Search Institute) to name just some. The voices seem to be getting louder and louder saying not just that parents need to teach their children how to love God but that the church must be charged with equipping parents to do so.  Haynes puts it this way, “To equip the generations effectively, we [the church] must reach and equip parents.”  So simple…yet so hard!

The practice that he lays out in “Shift” involves equipping families through seven age-appropriate milestones “that every person growing in his or her relationship with Christ experiences and celebrates.”  The child or youth (or adult) must learn key truths to progress from one milestone to the next.  The church teaches each milestone to the parents and the parents reinforce them through “faith talks” at home and resources that the church provides.  There are church events that teach and celebrate each of the milestones and that connect parents with one another.

I see one gaping hole in the plan…the connection to community for the kids.  As it should, “Shift” describes a structure of stability for the family and sets up an environment for the parents to learn and grow together.  But without a strong system of relationships for the young people—in addition to those with their family—there is a lack of connectedness to the wider body of Christ.  Children and youth in the church need plenty of opportunities to build and deepen relationships with one another and with mature Christian adults…in addition to their parents. Inter-generational relationships within the church community are critical for building disciples of Christ.

Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute and a former youth pastor says in an interview in Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal that the standard ratio in youth ministry is one adult for every five kids. “My colleague here at Fuller, Chap Clark, says we need to reverse the ratio and strive for having five adults build into one kid…I’m talking about five adults who care enough about a kid that they learn her name, ask her on Sunday how they can be praying for her and then the following Sunday ask her, ‘How did it go with that science test?’ Our study shows that even these baby step connections can make a real difference.”

I agree with Haynes that each milestone is critical, each should be taught, each should be celebrated and that the parents should be at the helm.  But despite the church-based events proscribed for each milestone, we create individual “silos” around each family when we don’t intentionally bring families together to live out experiences of community. He lays out a great plan where the church and family are supported in traveling one common path (and rightly so) but not connecting with one another. Maybe I missed that or it was implied? Where are the children while the parents are in each preparation seminar?

And okay…there’s something else that concerns me.  As I read about each family’s faith talks and the celebrations (simple or grandiose) around the passing of every milestone, I imagine the “perfect” or “good” church families participating.  I’m sure there might be stories to prove me wrong but I struggle to see the plan drawing in the adults and/or the children who are troubled or confused about their faith or life in general. I’m all for setting the bar high and creating high expectations to grow the faith but again think the relational context needs to be there in order to help many of our families step into the process. Does this work on those “marginal” families or those “marginal” children within our church families? Does it draw in those from the community–a non-churched population that is growing larger and larger?

Brian Haynes is wise in counseling his reader (the church leader) to rethink how to engage families and change the culture within each church’s own context and culture. And I love the question that he encourages each church leader to ask, “How would our ministry paradigm need to shift to integrate church and family for the spiritual formation of the next generation?” It’s a critical question that too many avoid. Kudos to him for bringing it to our attention.  But let’s complete the picture with intergenerational connectedness within the body of Christ.

Brian Haynes’ “Shift: What it takes to finally reach families today” via Amazon.com