13 Oct 2017

Book review: Children’s Ministry on Purpose

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Have you ever watched a movie or read a book that you really wanted to be good, but despite some excellent points you just ended up being frustrated by the end of it?

When it comes to movies, I’m an unashamed Tim Burton fanboy. I grew up on Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and his original Batman series. I love Burton’s quirky style with his characteristic dark, angular and off-key perspective. And yet despite a desperate attempt to root for his later work (Alice in Wonderland anyone?), I’m often left frustrated by the end. Loving the cinematic style, but underwhelmed by the characters and storytelling.

I had a similar experience when it came to reading Children’s Ministry on Purpose by Steve Adams.

Following in the footsteps of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life, this book aims to bring a ‘Purpose Driven’ perspective to children’s ministry.

Steve Adams has served as the Children’s Pastor at Saddleback Church since 2007, and writes about how the Purpose Driven model has shaped the way in which Saddleback run their ministry to children and families. He hopes that sharing these principles will help other churches think carefully about the purpose of their own children’s ministries.

In this—and four subsequent blog posts—I hope to explore some of the key issues raised by the book, as well as some of the frustrations I had when reading it. I would love you to join me as we think through these issues together!

Insightful questions for children’s ministry

The number one question that drives Adams’ approach is this:

Is your ministry to children effectively leading kids towards spiritual health?

Adams fleshes this out in the introduction that sets the scene well for what is to follow:

“A truly healthy ministry isn’t built solely on the personality of the leader or the creativity of the curriculum. It’s not the result of having large numbers of volunteers. A healthy ministry that leads children towards spiritual health is the direct result of balance and intentionality in your ministry.”

Let’s leave aside—for now—that God plays no role in Adams’ definition. The intention of the book is clear: to deliver a series of strategies and questions that will investigate the “balance and intentionality” of your ministry to children.

Judged from this reference point, Adams’ presentation is exceptional and will indeed foster deep strategic thinking for those leading children’s and youth ministries. Following the pattern of Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Church, Adams takes leaders through the Why? (Purpose), Where? (Position), Who? (Audience), How? (Strategy) and What? (Structure) questions that inform ministry.

Adams’ great strength is leading us through each of these questions in relevant, thought-provoking ways. While illustrating liberally from his own experiences at Saddleback Church, he also shows how this approach will work in various church sizes and demographics. They will work equally well in a children’s ministry of five or 500.

A rethink about the issue of volunteers

One highlight for me was the reframing of the volunteer question. Rather than asking ‘Why can’t I get volunteers for my ministry?’, Adams turns this question on its head and asks the more probing question, ‘Why are volunteers not lining up to serve in our children’s ministry?

I agree with Adams. This is a much better question to ask! And it will serve us well to ask this with eyes focused upwards to solutions. I am deeply thankful for the strategic framework that Adams has placed around children’s ministry. These are indeed helpful questions for churches and key children’s ministry leaders to be asking.


A few frustrations

Despite these strengths, I found myself deeply frustrated in my reading of the book. These helpful insights are encased in a larger body of work which I found flawed in its theological and principled approach to children’s ministry.

I hope that by exploring these issues together over the next few months, we might be able to helpfully reflect not only on Adams’ work, but on the bigger picture of the interaction between gospel ministry, Christian theology and strategic planning.

I would love you to join me!

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