Transformational Children's MinistryIvy 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:

  • Story
  • Ritual
  • Relationship

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.


  1. great review, wayne! my guess is that ivy would agree that formal education not be thrown out entirely, but that maybe our current model of children's ministry has leaned too far into it. i definitely think we need more formational experiences for our children, while not relying solely on simply passing information onto our children.

    looking forward to your next reviews!

  2. Amy,

    Thanks. I get into a lot more as the week goes on. I really did enjoy this book, though if I'm being honest MY initial impression was that this book was another in a long series of "the way you're doing things is broken, and here's how to fix it books." That was one of the reasons I let the review sit for several months. As I went back and reread the review and looked at parts of the book again, I began to wonder how much of that perception was my own bias.

    I am not a traditionalist by any stretch of the imagination. I am for any and all innovation that can be used to reach kids. I believe God gives us those things to use for his kingdom. I have noticed though a trend in the church, and children's ministry in particular, that really is a "throw the baby out with the bathwater" philosophy. It holds that the way things are done is inherently broken and we must implement something totally different in order to fix it. This is something that has really weighed heavily on me for the last several months. At first blush, I realized that I had approached this book with that bias in mind, and perhaps read that into the book when I should not have especially in light of her advocating tradition, ritual and local church history as part of a transformational approach. I tried to go back and change my review to take out that initial bias and decided to go ahead and publish it.

    The irony is, my initial reaction to my perception that this book was advocating a "throw the baby out with the bathwater" mentality was to do the same thing with it. 🙂 As I went back, I realized that the author and I were actually much more in agreement than I originally thought. Ultimately, it is about finding the best approach to reach kids, and I think we agree on that. There is a danger in the extremes on either side of most issues, and when we are unwilling to accept that things may need to change in order to be more effective for God, I think that is when we start to tread on dangerous ground. When we box ourselves into a corner that says "my way is the right way," we become unteachable, and my prayer is that I never get to that point.

    To the extent that I have read my own bias into the book (and I hope I haven't too much, but this is one of the dangers of the written word), I owe Ms. Beckwith an apology. I hope that she will happen upon the review and correct me where I have overstated her position. I think her book is a valuable resource and should spark conversations and introspection about the best way to reach kids. I hope in some small way, that this review does the same thing.

    As for merely passing information on to kids, I couldn't agree more. Information without context is a dangerous and fruitless thing. I fear that we may be filling our kids up with Biblical information without ever giving them the story which makes that information meaningful. Without bring the Bible and God's Story to life for them, we will not create followers of God but little Pharisees puffed up with knowledge and lacking any sort of personal relationship with our Creator. I do appreciate your efforts, and those of Ms. Beckwith, to make sure that doesn't happen.

    Thanks again for your comment!

    My recent post Everyone Needs to Unplug Every Now and Then

  3. I have this book on my read list as well. I am really looking forward to reading it as I have heard some really great things about it.

  4. This book is sitting in my "read pile"… glad to hear that you found some good out of it. This week is our VBS, so I won't be picking up any additional reading right now, but maybe in the next few weeks. Thanks for bringing it to light!
    My recent post Molly Pickens Curriculum Review- What do the kids say

  5. Ivy Beckwith Blog |

    Hi, Wayne –
    Thank you for your thoughtful comments back to Amy. No one comes to any resource or idea context free. I definitely believed in kids having foundational knowledge about God and God's Story. I just thi k we've forgotten that there are other ways than "school" or cognitive processes to give them that. I think Deut. 6 is a lovely picture of spiritual formation happening intentionally through family life. God's story is woven into everyday life, not set a part from it. Looking forward to reading the other parts of the review.

    • Ivy,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m honored that you bothered to check out my review. I really enjoyed your book, and enjoyed reviewing it for this site. I actually finished your book Ultimate Survival Guide last Friday, and I plan on writing about it over on [a cooperative blog I created by, for and about volunteers and bi-vocational children’s ministers]. I do appreciate all that you are doing to challenge conventional thinking when it comes to children’s ministry and pushing us all to work towards the best possible ministry towards God’s kids!