Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission: Practical Strategies for Discipling the Next GenerationWritten by Jared Kennedy Reviewed By Aaron Rothermel
The terrain of Children’s ministry with its many conferences, resources, and philosophies will bewilder the uninitiated. Many throw up their hands, pick a curriculum they like, find someone to run the ministry, and are relieved as long as the classrooms have enough volunteers. But is your children’s ministry on mission? Jared Kennedy’s Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission will help you answer that question. Kennedy is a seasoned guide who identifies the key features you must know in order to do children’s ministry, and he provides other recommended resources for those who wish to explore the necessary topics in greater depth.
Family ministry resides at the complex intersection of three primary institutions: the church, the family, and government. Kennedy’s book reveals, in its underlying philosophy, his careful thinking and guidance for how these institutions relate. There are three places where this becomes quite clear. First, Kennedy gives the primacy of Christ as the fuel for ministry (pp. 16–18, 95). Second, he provides clarity for both the necessity of the family and the church (pp. 21–32, 183–97). Lastly, in his chapter on child protection, he clearly articulates the rightful jurisdiction of church and government in both protecting children from abuse and responding to abuse (pp. 67–83).
A strength of Kennedy’s book is his clear philosophy of ministry and his focused teaching of the essentials. Kennedy is intensely practical, putting forward a ministry vision driven by 1 Corinthians 1:31–2:5 and applied with the strategic approach of hospitality, teaching, discipleship, and mission (p. 16). He writes,
My prayer for those who read this book is that your confidence will be rooted in the simple message of “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It was all Paul needed, and it’s all we need as well.… As we consider the one who welcomed children himself, know the Savior and his good news is enough to keep you, and to keep your children’s ministry on mission. (p. 18)
This principle is evident throughout the book: confidence in the sufficiency of the simple message of Christ. Frequently, he reminds us to not put our hope in our ministry model for fruit, but to trust in Jesus (p. 40). As he says early on regarding his methods, “These strategies aren’t silver bullets…. My goal in teaching these methods is to help you keep the mission—sharing the gospel with little ones—the main thing” (p. 45).
A further strength of Kennedy’s book is that it is Christocentric and theological, while remaining intensely practical. Kennedy thus takes a theologically driven philosophy of ministry, and translates it into four strategies: (1) hospitality; (2) teaching; (3) discipleship; and (4) mission.
(1) Hospitality: In part 2, Kennedy gives us practical tools for creating welcoming environments that also protect children from threats (pp. 53–88). In doing so, he reminds us of Jesus’s posture towards children and his zeal for protecting them (pp. 53, 68–70). Kennedy rightly stresses the urgency of both hospitality and child protection, providing wise guidance for both.
(2) Teaching: In part 3, “Connect Kids to Christ,” he effectively describes “three ways to tell a Bible story” with a gospel-centered approach. He then unpacks how to apply these principles to the story of Nebuchadnezzar, and how to teach kids in an engaging and effective way (pp. 91–133). In this section, Kennedy keeps us on mission by narrowing our focus to rightly and effectively teaching gospel centered lessons to children. Pulling from some of the best resources, and synthesizing these with his own contributions, these three chapters may be the best in the book for equipping teachers. Kennedy’s principles and illustrations show that he understands children and their developmental stages. Pastors or children’s directors could confidently share chapters 5–7 with their Sunday school teachers to provide encouragement and strategies for growing in their teaching.
(3) Discipleship: Part 4, “Grow with Kids and Families,” showcases Kennedy’s commitment to both parents and the church. One of the challenges of children’s discipleship is that children keep growing! Every year they change dramatically in how they understand and experience the world. There are few resources that are accessible to the average children’s ministry volunteer or parent to help them grasp basic child development, and even fewer that do so with a theological framework in mind. Kennedy admirably combines these elements in chapter 8 as he addresses four developmental stages: infant (ages 0–2); toddlers (ages 2–3); preschoolers (ages 4–5); and early grade school (ages 6–10).
Chapter 9 focuses on equipping parents with resources and rhythms (p. 163). Here Kennedy puts forward the goal of child discipleship: “Gospel-formed identity—the goal of generational discipleship is for our kids’ thinking, affections, and habits of life to be shaped by Christ’s story” (p. 172). One of the great strengths of Kennedy’s approach is his advocacy of simplicity. He encourages ministry leaders to guide parents toward greater intentionality in what they are already doing, instead of defaulting to more programming (pp. 172–73). In a day and age where digital media compete for kids’ attention, Kennedy cautions against trying to keep up: “Our kids don’t need the latest tech as much as they need an ancient path” (p. 175). He advocates for developing church and family cultures … where thinking, affections and patterns of life are captured and shaped by Jesus’ redemptive story” (p. 175).
(4) Mission: The real test of Kennedy’s commitment to “both and” comes through for us in his approach to mission (part 5). Kennedy recounts the history of Robert Raikes and the invention of Sunday School. Kennedy, with appropriate transparency, highlights the ease with which church leaders and parents may inadvertently operate with a creation and fall vs. redemption and consummation dichotomy. Parents may focus on the world, its practical realities, and the challenges sin brings, while neglecting to integrate those experiences with the biblical emphasis on redemption and consummation. Alternatively, church leaders have a tendency to focus on the redemption and consummation, while neglecting the realities of creation and fall. This often leads to a disconnected or aloof approach to ministry that can miss the very context in which we have been called to minister. Kennedy’s “prayer is that family ministries in our churches revive the gap-crossing, risk-taking spirit of Robert Raikes” (p. 189).
Kennedy’s book is a capstone of the many helpful earlier books in the family ministry movement. It masterfully applies essential insights from these resources, with a practical focus that puts legs onto a good philosophy of ministry. Kennedy tempers our idealism by putting parameters around what we should reasonably expect a family ministry model to accomplish, and identifies areas of weakness for us to pay attention to. He presents important challenges like ministry approaches for children from unbelieving homes, and the “pedagogical advantage of age-directed lessons” (p. 42).
If you are looking for a quick fix, you won’t find it here. But you will find a guide with a pastor’s heart, a strategic mind, and the skill of a seasoned practitioner. Children’s ministry is complex, but Kennedy wisely reminds us to keep the main thing at the center. The gospel is at the heart of this book, and gives rise to a series of very practical strategies for effective discipleship of children and their parents. I heartily recommend Keeping Your Children’s Ministry on Mission to any ministry leader who takes seriously our call to disciple the next generation.
The North Church
St Paul, Minnesota, USA
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