Transformational Children's Ministry

Welcome to our third installment in this week’s review and commentary on Ivy Beckwith’s newest book called “Formational Children’s Ministry.” You can find previous installments in this review here:

In the last two installments in this series, we introduced Ivy Beckwith’s newest book, “Formational Children’s Ministry,” and looked at the importance of story in forming kids. Today we will continue our chapter-by-chapter synopsis and review of the book looking at the formational power of ritual.

Chapter 6 – The Transformative Power of Ritual

In this chapter, Ms. Beckwith argues for the beneficial nature of ritual as a means of providing a foundation for faith. She shares how, through her own struggles with her faith, she utilized various rituals in order to keep her grounded in the faith as she worked through her own questions and doubts. She argues that:

…ritual has the ability to transform our beliefs about right and wrong, good and evil, and put those beliefs into action.

This chapter, however, is not limited to “religious” rituals. Ms. Beckwith also concludes that those of us in Children’s Ministry should be concerned with family rituals as well. Ms. Beckwith argues that utilizing rituals holds a number of benefits in the spiritual formation of children. These include:

  1. Making changes and transitions in life more manageable.
  2. Facilitating the transmission of values and beliefs.
  3. Contributing to the establishment and building of a family identity.
  4. Providing support and containment for strong emotions.
  5. Assist young children in establishing their own identity.

Ms. Beckwith ends the chapter with a number of practical suggestions and ideas for creating rituals related to various holidays.

I have to admit that I started this chapter with some pre-conceived notions. When I read ritual in a church context, I immediately start to think of the preference of religious rituals over relationship – something that has plagued the “Christian” church throughout history and something that the Bible is clear is not pleasing to God. My predisposition against ritual in the church tends to make me skeptical of anyone propounding the benefits of ritual.

That said, I think Ms. Beckwith is certainly on to something here. When rituals are used blindly as a substitute for faith, that is clearly not a good thing. However, where ritual is used as an expression of, or an avenue back into, faith there can certainly be benefits.

Furthermore, at the family level, I think rituals (or traditions) do have the benefits which Ms. Beckwith itemizes. Much of what I remember and cherish from my own childhood when it comes to holidays has to do with the traditions of my family. With my kids, I have continued some of those traditions, and we have also started our own traditions. When all members of our family are looking forward to the same tradition, it helps to bring us together as a family around a shared experience.

Chapter 7 – Children in the Worshipping Community

This chapter examines worship as a means of spiritual formation. Ms. Beckwith details a number of characteristics of worship that make it a transformational experience. These include:

  1. Worship is inconvenient. As worshippers, when we are forced to make time to worship our Lord, we show what is most important to us in life. Ms. Beckwith argues that when we as a church go out of our way to make worship overly convenient to everyone, we take away the opportunity for that worship to be truly spiritually transformational.
  2. Worship provides a sense of identity. In corporate worship we cannot hide from our identity as Christians. Ms. Beckwith explains that, “When families attend church and worship services together, the children have the opportunity to see their parents live out a priority of both faith and family.”
  3. Worship involves us in rituals. In this arena, Ms. Beckwith notes that children are often more willing to step outside of the “comfort zone,” and when adults see them during worship showing enthusiasm, they may be more likely to join in themselves.
  4. Worship slows us downs. Ms. Beckwith argues that kids need role models to show them how to relax and slow down from the fast paced world that we live in.
  5. Worship allows us to engage in hospitality. When children are in worship with adults, it forces adults to show them hospitality.
  6. Corporate worship encourages generosity. Ms. Beckwith argues for the pressure that comes with being in a position where generosity is performed in front of others. In her words, in this circumstance “the pressure is on.” She explains that “Sometimes the only reason we do the right thing is because others are watching.”

Ms. Beckwith argues that by excluding kids from worshipping with their parents and other adults, we rob them of this spiritually forming and transforming activity. In response to those who would argue that worship must be done differently if kids are involved, Ms Beckwith says,

Involving children in the worshipping life of the community does not mean we need to dumb down our worship or change the flow of the service. Children understand far more than we know, and the simple presence of children in worship is far more important than whether they understand everything that is said or done.

I think Ms. Beckwith is on track with this chapter. Worship is a formational experience. It is a chance to worship our God verbally as a community, and I think kids would benefit from joining their parents in worship. Worship is a fundamental part of experiencing a relationship with God, and I believe that it does our kids a disservice when we exclude them from the opportunity to see their parents modeling worship. While I believe there is also a time and place for kids to worship on their own, both parents and kids will benefit and grow spiritually when they are allowed to worship together.

I do disagree with Ms. Beckwith somewhat when she says, “the simple presence of children in worship is far more important than whether they understand everything that is said or done.” She argues that worship doesn’t need to be dumbed down to involve kids which I do agree with. Kids are capable of understanding way more than we give them credit for. That said, I think worship should be for the entire community, including kids. So, some element of the worship service should be geared directly towards them. The goal is to have kids engaged in worship whether that it is “kids’ church” or “big church.” If they don’t understand everything that is OK, but if they understand nothing that is not. Perhaps Ms. Beckwith and I don’t disagree much on this after all.

Chapter 8 – Facilitating Spiritual Formation through Spiritual Disciplines

In this chapter, the author notes:

Many of the traditional spiritual disciplines can be practiced meaningfully by children.

She goes through the spiritual disciplines and discusses how they can be done with children. These include:

  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Fasting
  • Simplicity
  • Solitude
  • Service

I was a little bit weary of some of the methods of meditation described by Ms. Beckwith, but perhaps that is more a result of my misunderstanding than her intent. So long as meditation is based on filling ourselves up with the Word of God, I think it is fine. When meditation is more about letting go than filling up, I think we run the risk of being unbiblical in our meditation. That, however, is another issue for another day.

I think Ms. Beckwith is spot on when she argues that these spiritual disciplines are useful for kids. I think part of our role as those involved in Children’s Ministry is to give kids a foundation for practicing their faith which would include these spiritual disciplines.


  1. Wayne-

    I had the tremendous pleasure of sitting next to Ivy last night at a gathering of CM folks in Texas. She was the keynote speaker, and I was worship leader.

    After talking with her and listening to her keynote, I think I'm starting to get what she's saying about kids in "worship." She is talking about "worship" as the gathering time for the entire body, "inter-generationally." I agree strongly that integrating kids into the whole body is an essential of the modern church. From there, I think (we're now into my thoughts) that each church body needs to keep that goal in mind and implement it in innovative and traditional ways that fits their congregation.

    Let's go a little deeper though. If the kids in church are acquainted with the essence of worship at every opportunity in their children's ministry times, then it won't seem like something that's so foreign and they won't feel the disconnect with worship when they go to "big church."

    That doesn't mean that we do "imitation worship" with our kids that simply mimics grown-up worship in our CM time. It means that we do age-appropriate worship, that fits the size of their world in CM situations. Then, when they go to grown-up church they won't have culture shock; they'll see that they are part of a grand continuum, not isolated in while everyone around them is expressing their worship and praise to God.

    Ivy talked about "deconstructing" our ideas about children's ministry so we can rebuild it based on what's good & right, not continue based on what we've always done.

    I think we should do the same thing with worship in a CM setting. What is worship? Worship, at it's very core is this: telling God that you believe him to be who he says he is. It's NOT the process; it IS a proclamation. Worship is not the number of songs you sing, the announcements you make, or even the message you deliver. Worship is not confession, prayer requests, birthday announcements, or the offering. Worship can and should be part of each of those things, but those things are not "worship" in and of themselves.

    Eh… now I'm just running on. Let me summarize this way:

    If we start by including real, age-appropriate worship in more of our CM gatherings, then grown-up church worship will be more of an integrated part of their church experience. Our kids will feel like part of what's going on, and will be more likely to participate in meaningful ways.

    That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

    • Bob,

      Thanks for your comment. I really do appreciate them. I agree with your assessment that the church needs to (in its own way) integrate kids into the larger body of Christ. I also agree that children’s ministry should be a place where kids learn and model what it is like in the larger church body. At church last weekend, I noticed kids greeting people and participating in the collection. I think this is great. There is no reason these acts of service should be “reserved” for adults. Let’s allow our kids to participate in the body and be the active part of it that they should be! One of my pet peeves is when people refer to kids as “the church of tomorrow.” They are part of the church of today, and we ought to treat them as such. Thank you for all you do towards that end!

  2. Chapter 6 A Catholic Priest told me, "The mass was created for Spirit filled Christians – the problem today is the church isn't filled with Spirit filled people." I believe even in the church we can introduce our kids to some rituals – but it is OUR responsibility to keep it alive and always point them to Jesus.

    Chapter 7 – Wayne this may be one of the few areas I have to disagree with you. I do not believe that the adult service is a place for kids. We teach them that God is boring, wants them in a straight jacket and He doesn't understand them at all. We want children in adult service because it makes us feel good. Having said that – yes I think it is good for kids to see mom and dad worshipping. We did quarterly family services and the service was presented in a way to engage kids. Adults can understand and engage with the concrete – kids can't with the abstract. I believe that kids can learn more than what we often give them credit for – as long as we present it at their level of understanding. We definitely need to be teaching children how to engage in Corporate Worship.

    Chapter 8 I agree with your statements.
    My recent post Child Discipleship – Why It Takes A Church To Raise A Child

  3. Wanda,

    What? You disagree?!? That's not allowed! 🙂 I actually don't think we are far apart on this issue. I would not advocate parents and children ALWAYS be together in worship. I think kids need to understand not only how to worship but what they are singing when they are worshiping through music. I'm not sure having adults and children together is always conducive to that. That said, when it happens from time to time, I think that is a great opportunity for kids to see their parents model musical worship for them. It sounds like that happened in your quarterly family services.

    Thanks again for your comments.
    My recent post The Children’s Ministry Blog Patrol November 2010