Attract kids to church, the logic often goes, and you get parents in the pews. All that's left, then, is to get the kids out of the way. Here children's ministers David Csinos and Ivy Beckwith draw on research in human development and spiritual formation to show how children become disciples and churches become centers of lifelong discipleship. For too long, the local church has focused primarily on programs for children rather than ways of doing ministry with children. But in light of emerging missional movements, the church is changing and forming a new kind of ecclesial culture. And children's ministry must follow suit. Csinos and Beckwith propose a new way of thinking for these modern churches--they suggest that children can contribute to our theological understandings, as well as invest in and practice Biblical justice just like adult church members. Here is a unique resource that explores children's ministry in light of true spiritual formation and discipleship.
The first four chapters lay out the practical and theological necessities for such a book. They envision a ministry posited on “new forms of Christianity,” heavy on formation, light on salvation: “If children are born already in connection with God … then helping them learn theological doctrines necessary to cross the bridge from damnation to salvation seems inappropriate” p. 57.
The authors are highly critical of children’s ministry as it has evolved through the modern era, claiming the emphasis on entertainment and teaching children about God has produced shallow Sunday-Christians.
On the other hand their formation methods will cultivate, they say, “a generation of disciples who follow Jesus with the whole of their being” p. 187. Methods include strategic choices of content, encouraging questions and doubts, intergenerational involvement and mentorship, an emphasis on hospitality, social justice, and more.
The first four chapters left me with a lot of questions. What are these “new forms of Christianity”? If children are born already in connection with God what was the point of Jesus’ death?
The book’s practical chapters make many good points. I don’t think there is a Sunday School teacher alive who isn’t teaching with the hope of making lifelong disciples. Some of Csinos’ and Beckwith’s ideas would certainly help with that. However, I would suggest that readers may want to examine the theological underpinnings of Children’s Ministry in the Way of Jesus before jumping wholeheartedly on the bandwagon.
This review was first published in Faith Today, November/December 2013 issue.