Formational Children’s Ministry

‘Formational Children’s Ministry: Shaping Children Using Story, Ritual, and Relationship’ by Ivy Beckwith


Children’s ministry is tougher than it seems. But here’s the thing: most people don’t even notice, or don’t even care, because each person has something different they’d like to ‘get out of it.’ I guess we can make this argument for the whole life of the church, but let’s focus on children for a second.


I grew up in the church going to Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, and youth group. When I was a child we read Bible stories, played games, made crafts, and all in life seemed alright. I was a Christian, and that was the reason I did these things.


It wasn’t until later in my life, in high school, where I started noticing ‘differences’ within my Christian friends. Some of my friends were just like me; we got into trouble every now and again, played sports, were good students for the most part, and self-identified as Christians, but that was about the extent of it. My other friends were a little more into the whole Christian thing: bringing their Bibles to school, meeting during the weekdays with their church, and talking about Jesus as if he were another friend that I had never met in person.


And while we can argue over the ‘culture’ of different churches in regards to this depiction of teenagers, I want to focus on how the role of Children’s Ministry plays into this. Like I said before, most people don’t realize how difficult children’s ministry can be, because they don’t know what else is possible with their kids. Most people simply do the same thing their parents did with them: send them to Sunday school and VBS, and they should turn out alright (my experience).


So here’s the thing for me: I want my kids (congregants, students, etc.) to demonstrate in their lives that church is making a difference for the good. I want them to claim their Christian identity not on the basis of culture or tradition, but on the daily decision to follow Jesus. And I know that with children’s ministry comes a lot of ‘planting seeds’ of spirituality, but I also firmly believe that we can be witness to spiritual development, even in the youngest of ages.


Ivy Beckwith serves a church not unlike mine, and she has written this book to go along with the ’emergent’ church movement of the last few years. She basically argues that the traditional ‘formal’ methodology of Christian education is no longer holding substance, and instead we should be looking more closely at opportunities for the ‘non-formal’ approaches to ministry and development, including STORY, RITUAL, RELATIONSHIP…I totally agree. I think she’s write on the ball with many of these ideas.


There is a reason that I ended up in ministry, and it did not have to do with Sunday School or VBS. My siblings would all attest to being part of the very same programs, and none of them actively participate in the Christian tradition. The reason I ended up a Christian, and ultimately a minister, is because of the relationships formed between myself and my youth group, my pastor, and the adult choir. In fact, I would say that of those three, it was by sitting in the choir every Sunday morning that I was able to see what it may look like to be leading in the liturgy, worshiping regularly, and even preaching. It was the friendships that I was fortunate enough to forge where the idea of Christian community blossomed. Every Thursday night I would come in after soccer practice, or work, or homework, and sit in the pews with my bass section, most of them over the age of 70, and I would participate in Christian community.


Now, did Sunday School have something to do with this? Yes. But it wasn’t Sunday School by itself. It was the relationships formed, the stories, and the ritual of the larger life of the church that ultimately led me into a closer walk with Jesus. And that’s the hard part about children’s ministry that most people don’t understand. It’s not about a one hour a week program that will ‘make’ your child a Christian. It’s about a living community of faith that provides for a holistic identity as a child of God.


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