The Eric Trap (A DAD IN THE MIDDLE REVIEW)

Keep reading to the bottom for your chance to win a free copy of the book!!!

Collaborative books are all the rage in children’s ministry today, and that’s not a bad thing.  It started several years back with Michael Chanley and the Group of 35 when they produced the book, aptly named Collaborate.  That was followed by the free e-book What Matters Now in Children’s Ministry.  Jim Wideman’s 1st Infuse group put together Kidmin Leadership, and the folks at WMNCM produced a follow up to their first offering called What Matters Now in Children’s Ministry – Early Childhood Edition and most recently have produced Nexus: Central Themes in Children’s Ministry.

So, when I found out that Jim Wideman’s Infuse 2.2 group was also putting together a collaborative book, I had mixed emotions.  I have the utmost respect for Jim Wideman.  Outside of my immediate family, Jim has had a greater impact on my ministry and parenting than any one person I could name.  That has come primarily through his books and some limited interactions.  I’ve yet to read or hear or see anything that Jim has been involved in that I have not learned from.  Over the last few years, I’ve also gotten to know some of the people who have gone (or are going) through Jim’s Infuse program…people like Jenny Funderburke, Sam Luce, Kenny Conley, Spencer Click and others, and I’ve gained a good deal of respect for them as well.  In dealing with, and learning from, them I understand Jim’s great pride in them.  On the other hand, was this just going to be another collaborative effort….a series of articles by various people loosely based around some theme. Now, don’t get me wrong, the books I mentioned above are awesome.  I’ve read them all and learned a lot, and I recommend to them to people frequently.  Any hesitation about this book was not based on the quality of those books, but more on an apprehension of getting “more of the same.”

Any hesitation I had was quickly erased.  I received an e-copy of The Eric Trap last Tuesday by e-mail.  I opened it up  just to have a look (at least that was my plan), and I hadn’t put it down before finishing the first three chapters.  I finished the rest of the book that evening at my daughter’s softball practice.  This book is as captivating as is it informational.  The book is based on a week in the life of Eric Newman – a fictional children’s pastor whose life will no doubt make you think, “I’ve been there.”  The day-by-day narrative unfolding of Eric’s week is as captivating and entertaining as is it illuminating.  Eric faces in one week many of the trials and tribulations that children’s pastors face.  From a verbal altercation with a volunteer in a crowded hallway on a Sunday morning, to a glowing lunch with a set of parents, to a humbling encounter with an older mentor to the near collapse of his marriage, Eric faces many of the uphill battles faced by all children’s pastors who fail to focus on the most important things.  I understand that the narrative part of the book was written by Kenny Conley and Sam Luce, and they did an extremely good job with it.  Good children’s pastors tend to be good storytellers, and Sam and Kenny are definitely that.  The story of Eric will pull you in as you relate to his trials, shutter at his mistakes and find yourself hoping the best for him in his journey.  More than anything else, this narrative story weaved throughout the book keeps The Eric Trap from being “just another collaborative book” that feels more like a collection of individual blog articles than a cohesive book.

The there is what I will call the “application” part of the book.  Each of the narrative of a day in the life of Eric Newman is followed by a chapter from one of Jim Wideman’s Infuse participants.  Contributors include Jim Wideman, Craig Gyergo, Kristin Englund, Deanna Hayes, Matt McDaniels and Sherri Epperson.  With the exception of Jim, I was not familiar with any of these authors prior to reading the book.  Now that I am, I will be following all of them on Twitter.  There contributions are clear, clearly heart felt and edifying.  While I found myself anxious to get back to seeing what old Eric was up to, the insights and wisdom of these six kept me fully engaged.

I am glad that Jim has begun to have his infuse groups publish these books, and I hope he continues.  Jim influence on these guys is readily obvious throughout the book.  At times, I forgot who had written which portion of the book as Jim’s wisdom and years seems to shine throughout no matter who was wielding the pen.  I think that is a testament both to Jim and these gifted writers.  I think this book has the potential to change the landscape of how effective children’s ministry is done, and for that I am grateful.  I would be remiss if I did not address one other issue.  Who is this book for?  It seems clear that the book is intended primarily for those who work vocationally in children’s ministry.  That said, I do not fit that description, and I learned a ton from this book.  I found the principles not only applicable to volunteer work in children’s ministry but also to life in general.  Eric Newman may be a children’s minister, but I think no matter what our vocation, many of us find ourselves falling into the same traps.

That is why I want to put a copy of this book in your hands.  Jim and his crew were kind enough to send me three copies of the book.  I was planning on keeping one for myself and giving away the other two, but I am so excited to get this book in your hands that I will be giving away three copies.  Use the form below to enter our drawing as many times as you wish.  There are tons of ways to enter (and some you can do more than once).  I hope you will take this opportunity to enter the contest.  I don’t think it is too cliché to say that reading this book may change your life – at the very least it will change the way you do ministry.

Oh, in case you missed it, I was provided with a free copy of this book to do this review.  As always, that did not influence the contents of this review in any way (now if it had been signed, that would be another story….. Smile)

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THE TODDLER’S BIBLE (A Dad in the Middle Review)

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Background

As the father of four kids, one of whom is still only four, I jumped at the chance when I was asked to review The Toddler’s Bible by V. Gilbert Beers.  This book from David C. Cook publishing was first published in 1992.  It was released earlier this year with brand new artwork and a fresh cover.  Having seen both the old version (which I was already a fan of), and this new version, I can attest to the improvement in the overall look of the book.

About the Book

This book includes a collection of 101 Bible stories rewritten in the language of toddlers and presented against the backdrop of wonderful artwork.  Each story is four pages long with text appearing on two of the four pages.  I read through the entire book in about 30 minutes by myself, but that isn’t really the point of this book.  The point is to sit, or lay, down with your toddler and engage in the stories with them.  Talk to them about the stories, talk about the pictures, ask them questions and generally build a relationship around these stories and this book.  Dr. Beers has done a great job with picking Bible stories which are age appropriate and provide kids with a great Biblical foundation as they grow in their knowledge of the Bible.   I was struck by the overall completeness of the book which includes many stories that other toddler Bible ignore.  Without tackling every story in the Bible, Dr. Beers does a great job of selecting a great variety of important stories including many lesser known stories without neglecting the time honored “toddler” classics like Noah’s Ark and Daniel and Lion’s Den.

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iPad Books for Kids

For Christmas this year, my lovely wife (whom I love dearly, and for a lot more reasons than the one I am about to give) surprised me with an iPad.  I have wanted one for some time now (I’m a gadget guy), but I just couldn’t bring myself to purchase one for me.  At first, it struck mostly as an oversized iPhone (something else my wife finally broke down and decided I needed for father’s day last year).  The more I began to play with and use the iPad though, the more I began to see its great potential.  One of the the most enjoyable things I have found it to be useful for is reading.  Whether it is books read through the Kindle App or in depth bible study using Olive Tree, reading occupies a good deal of the time I spend on my iPad.

One night when I went to read to my four year old Nathan before bed, he asked if we could read a book together on the iPad.  It seemed harmless enough, so I forked out $2.99 plus tax and bought my first kids interactive book for the iPad.  Since then, he prefers, almost exclusively, to be read to from the iPad as opposed to old fashioned paper books.  Being a bit cheap, I keep my eye out for good cheap or free kids books, and I have compiled a list of Nathan’s favorites below.  If you know of any other great free / low cost kids books, please leave them in the comments below:

  1. imageCat in the Hat – I paid $2.99 for this Dr. Seuss classic.  It has options to read to you, and if your child clicks on a picture, the associated word appears.  This is a great app for young children learning to read and children of all ages who love Dr. Seuss.  The price of these books seems to go up and down frequently, so look for a good deal.  I use App Shopper to keep track of my wish list.  All of the Dr. Seuss apps are universal meaning they will work on your iPad, iPhone or iPod touch.  All of my kids use the same apple id as me so they all get access to these books on their own device.
  2. imageYou’re Only Old Once – See my description of Cat in the Hat above for additional information on how this app works.  There is a great collection of Dr. Seuss books apps available, and they’re all on my wish list waiting for the price to come down a little bit.  One of the nice things about these apps is that once you’ve used one, they all work essentially the same way.
  3. imageAesop’s Fables – This interactive app comes with one free story, and you can buy four more for a $1.99 in app purchase.  I bought them, and it was a great investment.  These are some of Nathan’s favorite stories.  There is an option to have the book read to you (a must in Nathan’s mind) and various object “shine” during the story indicating that they can be clicked on for special actions.
  4. imageThe Ugly Duckling – This classic story is retold in this wonderfully illustrated book.  You can choose to have the book read to you or read it yourself.  Either way, each page includes some items which allow your child to interact with the story – from stirring up a storm to causing crazy reactions from ducks, this one was free and a great investment.
  5. imageToy Story – This classic telling of the first movie was free and comes directly from Disney.  Mixing great illustrations and video clips from the movie, it is a captivating story and top notched in terms of quality.  To be honest, I can’t figure out why they are giving it away for free, but I’m glad they are!
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JUMPING THE TRACK (A Dad in the Middle Review)

I am a fan of Roger Fields.  Roger is a self described:

Husband. Dad. Writer. Blogger. Consultant. Social Media Junkie. Humorist. Minister. Horse Owner. Prez of Kidz Blitz Ministries. Political Prognosticator. Public Speaker. Newsaholic. Author. Lifelong Learner.

I like that about him.  I have followed Roger’s sites (those still running and those long since shut down) for years now ever since I started dabbling in children’s ministry.  His monthly column in K! Magazine is one of my favorites.  Before I had ever met Roger, I felt like we would get along great and have plenty to talk about over a cup of coffee.  There was something about Roger that just resonated with me.  When I attended the first CMX a couple of years ago, my list of “to do” items included meeting Roger Fields, but every time I saw him he just looked too busy, and I didn’t want to disturb him.  Last year though, I didn’t let Roger’s schedule stop me, and I was pleased to get a few minutes of his time just to say hello.

Roger’s work with Kidz Blitz is fairly well known, and when I heard on Twitter and Facebook last year that Roger was writing the history of that organization, I was excited to get my hands on it.  You can only imagine my surprise when I got the book and thought to myself,

“I never knew Roger was a hobo in an earlier life!!!”

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9 THINGS THEY DIDN’T TEACH ME IN COLLEGE ABOUT CHILDREN’S MINISTRY by RYAN FRANK (A Dad in the Middle Review)

025451011I’d like to meet Ryan Frank sometime.  Perhaps we could sit down over a drink (lemonade of course) and discuss children’s ministry, being a dad and life in general.  He and I come from the same generation (he’s a little younger, but not much!)  I’ve always enjoyed reading what he has to write – whether on his blog or in K! Magazine, and the more I read, the more I am convinced that we would get along famously.  So, when I found out that he was writing a book, and was anxious to get my hands on it.  I was not disappointed. 

Reading through 9 Things They Didn’t Teach Me in College About Children’s Ministry felt like I was having a conversation with Ryan and some of his closest friends.  The book is an easy read, which is not to imply that it lacks depth and insight, but only that Ryan writes so well that you often don’t realize how much of the book you’ve read by the time you put it down.  Despite how easily reads, and how relatively short each chapter is, the amount of information and practical advice packed into each page is astounding.  This book will not only make you think, it will give you a laundry list of practical ideas that you can start implementing today.  

Published to look like a an old blank notebook you might have used in college, each chapter tackles one important issue related to working in children’s ministry.  I don’t mind ruining the surprise, especially since you can find the table of contents online, so the nine chapters are:

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THE GOSPEL FOR CHILDREN by JOHN LEUZARDER (A Dad in the Middle Review)

imageThe “subtitle” for this book is:

A beautifully illustrated, simple yet complete guide to help parents teach their children the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

That is some billing to live up to, but I have to tell you, in the end I found this book to be exactly that.  Mr. Leuzarder, driven by the desire to come up with a way for his own daughters to memorize the core truths of the gospel has come up with this resources which should be in the hands of all parents and everyone who works with kids.

The Problem

Before I get into how Mr. Leuzarder solves the problem, it makes sense to define the problem itself.  As parents, or as children’s ministry workers, our chief goal should be to share the truth and power of the gospel with the kids we have influence over.  That said, there is a bit of a dearth [CHECK SPELLING] when it comes to good resources for sharing the gospel with kids.  The result is kids oftentimes get a watered-down, incomplete or inaccurate picture of what the gospel is all about.

Here how Mr. Leuzarder defines the problem in the introduction to the book:

“Many of us are familiar with the term ‘Gospel.’  We have hopefully heard its message in sermons, tracts or on TV.  We understand its great importance because God’s Word tells us that the Gospel ‘is the power if God for the salvation of everyone who believes.’  Understanding this, then, we would all agree that offering this message about the saving work of Jesus Christ to our children, as soon as they able to grasp its meaning, is of utmost importance.

But where do we start?  The Gospel is much more than a few lines out of a tract.  In fact, to properly understand the Gospel we must reasonably understand all that the Bible teaches about the nature and character of God, about man as a created being, his fall into sin and his desperate condition, as well as the work of Jesus Christ to save men from God’s wrath and eternal punishment.  We also need to understand what God expects of His redeemed people and what it means to be an heir to the glories of eternal life.”

The Teaching Process

Now, that is a tall order for any adult to understand all of those concepts.  Thousand-page plus books like Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology have been written to help adults to begin to try to understand all that these concepts entail.  How then can we begin to try to teach these to kids?  I believe it is a three part process (two of which we have some control over):

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