Ivy Beckwith serves as the Minister to Children and Families at The Congregational Church of New Canaan in New Canaan, Connecticut. Her most recent writing endeavor is entitled “Formational Children’s Ministry” and is subtitled “shaping children using story, ritual, and relationship.” The book first caught my eye in the bookstore because I love the idea of storytelling as a way to convey the excitement of the Bible to the children we minister to, and I was excited to read it.
Formational Children’s Ministry was the subject of a book blog tour several months back in which many prominent Children’s Ministry bloggers offered their opinions of the book. The book was already on My 2010 Reading List, and reading the reviews of others from the blog tour encouraged me to move the book to the top of my reading list. It was a rather quick read, and I have been planning on posting my own review here on Dad in the Middle for quite some time. As I started to summarize and review this book, I realized that this article was getting quite long, something I am not unaccustomed to here on this site. Nonetheless, I decided to break this review into several parts and post it as a series rather than one review. As I said, the idea of teaching kids the Bible through story is something near and dear to my heart, so several posts seem quite warranted. Plus, last week was Vacation Bible School at my church, and breaking this article into several parts allowed me to take a little break from writing during this busy week.
In the final post of this series, I will include links to the other reviews (from the Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol) so that you can read the opinion of several others in addition to my own review. In order to adequately review the book, I thought it necessary to first include an overview of the book which I have done chapter-by-chapter. Following the description of each chapter, I will offer my own thoughts (in red) where applicable. At the end of the review, I will offer my overall thoughts on the book and recommendation.
Synopsis of the Book
The basic premise of this book is that the model currently used in Children’s Ministries around the world (which Ms. Beckwith calls the formal education or schooling model) is inherently broken and needs to be revamped in order to meet the needs of kids today and effectively teach them God’s word. She begins the book with a search for a new and better model for transforming kids spiritually. While I am not a “throw the baby out with the bath water” kind of person, I believe Ms. Beckwith’s stated purpose is admirable. To the extent that there are ways to better reach kids with the gospel of Christ, I am all for exploring them!
Chapter 1 – The Search For A New Model
While Ms. Beckwith acknowledges that kids need a certain amount of foundational information (such as instruction in how to use and navigate the Bible), but she also draws the somewhat sweeping conclusion that,
…schooling, or formal education, is not the best methodology for growing kids into faith, which is, at heart, a relationship with God.
She proposes what she calls a “formational model” of children’s ministry. This book is based around three characteristics (as revealed in the subtitle of the book) of the formational model of teaching children. These are:
While I agree with Ms. Beckwith that faith is, first and foremost, about a relationship with God, I worry that the approach presented in this book might discount the importance of the foundational knowledge of God. In Deuteronomy 6 and throughout the Old Testament, God commands the Israelites to teach things to their children so they will know what he has done. While I agree that Children’s Ministry need not mimic formal education in order to teach about God, I think it is presumptuous to throw it out all together. Instead, I think it is our role as ministers to children to utilize the best of whatever approaches are available to reach kids. To paraphrase the words of Paul, we must become all things to all people in order that we might reach some. To the extent that there are positive aspects of the formal education model, I would want to spend some time examining the effective aspects of that model rather than throw them out all together.
This ends part one of our look at, and the introduction to, the newest book from Ivy Beckwith called “Formational Children’s Ministry.” Tomorrow we will look at a number of chapters which unpack transforming children through the use of story.