Despite now being in my seventh-year working for a church and being a trained-up Anglican curate (not to mention the fact that I now rock up at church with a couple of my own kids in tow), the very thought of children’s ministry is still enough to bring me out in a cold sweat!
So I thank God for Alison Mitchell who has written this little gem, a treasure-trove for anyone seeking to get a handle on the nuts and bolts of children’s ministy. Alison is Commissioning Editor at The Good Book Company, with 30 years of involvement in training children’s and youth leaders, as well as being author of numerous children’s books and reams of ‘Sunday school’ kids material! In other words, you’d assume she’d be well placed to write this book – and once you start reading you realise she definitely is.
Of course, if you’re going to name a book “starting out” in children’s ministry, then it’s pretty important you make sure it’s not too overwhelming. I want a resource that I can hand to (or work through with) a new leader or church apprentice with confidence that it’s not going to scare them off (likewise, for fresh-faced curates!). And yet it also needs to be comprehensive enough to actually be a significant help in teaching, training and equipping people. Starting Out achieves both, making the task and privilege of children’s ministry both imaginable and exciting.
The book is only eight chapters, each one short and sweet, but between them they cover a rich sweep of pretty much everything you’d want introduced. Ranging from the general (‘Why Children’s Ministry?’) to the specific (‘Digging into the Bible’ and ‘Staying safe’), they’re an engaging blend of input, questions & activities, personal examples and prayer points. We recently ran a ‘thank you and refresher afternoon’ for all those involved in the different children’s ministries at our church, and this book was a brilliant resource to draw on in shaping that time.
A few other stand-out aspects that I really appreciated:
- I was really impressed by the way Alison presented a simple ‘toolbox’ for giving leaders confidence to dig into the details of a Bible passage for themselves – and unpack its big idea. I don’t think I’ve seen/read many people doing this quite as simply.
- Some wise words on how to use – and how not to use – published teaching material.
- Alison’s ‘Focus the fun’ element is a really useful reminder that fun is good (i.e. crafts, games, activities), but it doesn’t have to be separate from ‘teaching’ – it can be focused.
- An understanding that different people (and different kids) learn best in different ways.
- Seeing craft as a “secret weapon” – not just a convenient time-filler.
- Helpful to have the subject of discipline is purposefully engaged with throughout, rather than being seen as a stand-alone topic.
- It’s always good to feel that an author is genuinely enthusiastic about what she’s writing about. Alison’s writing oozes conviction and delight.
Maybe sometimes children’s work is seen as a bit secondary, or even worse, simply an exercise in glorified child-minding. Even when we know the ‘theory’ behind its importance, in practice the time we give to preparing (perhaps compared to a sermon, etc) can be rather lacking. But Starting Out gave me fresh joy and heaps of help for the challenge of teaching the next generation about our great and glorious God and what he has done.
Disclaimer: The publisher has sent me a free copy of this book, but I hope this is still a fair and honest review.