Monday, June 26, 2017

BookPastor >> "Relational Children's Ministry" (Dan Lovaglia)

This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on Feb 12th, 2016.


TITLE: Relational Children's Ministry: Turning Kid-Influencers Into Lifelong Disciple Makers
AUTHOR: Dan Lovaglia
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016, (272 pages).

As far as children are concerned, the Bible has been very consistent. The Bible has said in Psalm 127:3 that "Children are a heritage from the LORD, offspring a reward from Him." We are blessed to have children in our midst. I remember how children light up the mood in any room. At the same time, we need to look at what it means to practice Proverbs 22:6 to "Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Even in the New Testament, children are specifically told to obey their parents. That is one main reason for children's ministry. We want to reach children for Christ, to groom them to be God-fearing individuals, and to help them live a life honouring to God and to people. In the words of Dan Lovaglia, author and Director of Leadership Development at Awana International, children's ministry must be relational. He wants to equip leaders to move from "kid-influencers into lifelong disciple makers" and in doing so to help children do the same when they grow up. Such leaders include not only ministry workers, volunteers, and pastoral staff. Most importantly, it is about reaching and equipping parents by coming alongside them, supporting, encouraging, and guiding them. All of these are best done through relationships. With skill and care, Lovaglia helps us through three main stages.

In Part One, he shows us the need to rise above the status quo. Instead of merely "spinning the wheels" of going through the motions of ministry, we need to be intentional about changing attitudes and to direct them Godward. We need to incorporate spiritual practices in our way of ministry. We need to inculcate Christlikeness. He points out the gaps we have in the discipleship of children, which makes me suspect that it is a symptom of a larger problem in the Church. There is an interesting four models of children's ministry that caught my attention.

  1. Media and Motion - Media Driven and Active Engagement based
  2. Reflection and Response - Contemplative and Reflective based
  3. Drama and Discovery - Pragamatic and Participation based
  4. Mind and Memory - Instructional and Analytical based

Following the models come a worrying diagnoses where parents could have unwittingly adopted onr or more of the four other "scapegoats" of poor ministry to children. They blame "cultural shifts" for their kids not growing in faith. They adopt "cowardly parenting" which essentially treats children's ministry as a babysitting service for their convenience. It could even be a form of parental laziness. They push the blame also to "content shallow" materials forgetting that the best materials are never off the shelf. They are diligently analyzed and adapted to fit relevant needs. They can even blame "careless church leadership" where everything goes wrong because of the leadership in question.  Ultimately, the key problem is a discipleship problem of the overall Church. Other pain points include the ever danger of fatigued leaders who fail to pace themselves with the marathon of children's ministry. They suffer from a lack of budget support. They are stuck with complex programs. They struggle with shallow content leading children to complain of boredom. Some interesting prompts include:

  • How do we schedule needs for sustained ministry?
  • What's the relationship between good experiences and good environments?
  • Are we structuring creativity for significant impact?
  • Are we helping to engage content or engage truth?
  • How do we incorporate biblical content with creativity?

Part Two is about how we can relate intentionally to children and to their parents. It is packed with solid advice. Amid the fun of play and creative activities, there is the serious work of discipleship. It is not just a program but a lifelong process of being transformed into the image of Christ. As Tozer has said, "Only a disciples can make a disciple." It includes servanthood. It includes the humility to be disrupted in five ways.

  1. Draw people into an unscripted adventure with God: Here we are challenged to avoid simple formulas that are scripted and to be ready to adapt and travel toward unscripted journeys.
  2. Wrestle with messy faith together: Learn to anticipate and be comfortable with messiness. Recognize that children's ministry is less about giving answers but more about helping one another live with questions and exploration of activities in our journey toward God. Simple words like "I'm here," "I don't know," or "We are in this together" can help us take the pressure off ourselves and to open up conversational moments.
  3. Establish unconventional community: We must learn to expand the teaching relationship beyond mere teachers and children. This includes parents, and members of the homes. Build bridges with the different kinds of homes: Dreamers, progressives, faithful, or the detached. 
  4. Model Christ’s life-transforming mission: This means helping children gain access to the water of life. It is about pointing people to Christ, to have that personal encounter with God. It is about cultivating the garden through humility, integrity, holiness, faithfulness, and perseverance.
  5. Equip for dynamic discipleship: This is about preparing the children to run the long race. As one grows, we need to point out more and more that only God can help them grow physically, spiritually, relationally, and in character. 

Part Three looks at the bigger picture of realigning children's ministry to the overall mission and vision of the Church. We learn of three discipleship commitments essential for any worker or volunteer. We recalibrate our activities in the light of a new focus on discipleship. We reconsider our discipleship resources available and to plan what we potentially will need.

I am impressed with the breadth of coverage and the depth of experience the author has put into the book. The way that so many things are packed into a book makes me wonder how much material the author had excluded. Part One contains lots of secondary research material where Lovaglia borrows lots of conclusions from Kinnaman's "You Lost Me" and surveys from Barna,and others. It gives us a helpful overview of the kinds of children's ministry environment that most of us would have been familiar with. The bulk of the book is in Part Two where Lovaglia releases barrels and barrels of gushing knowledge and resources about all things relational children's ministry. The leaders and teachers are assumed to be the initiators of various strategies, program tips, and motivational ideas. With the constant emphasis on discipleship, the hope is that the teachers as they seek to disciple the children, will also do the same for parents, helpers, volunteers, and also themselves. It is important that we remember only disciples make disciples. Children's ministry cannot be a one-off event that ends after the children graduates from their elementary school years to high school. It is hoped that the children's ministry would have inculcated a template of discipleship that can be developed and improved even as the child enters high school and beyond. This is why the topic of discipleship is extremely crucial here. Anyone who has been discipled must progress toward becoming disciple makers. If teachers and parents serve in children's ministry with an aim not only to disciple the children, but to make them disciple makers, our perspectives and mission will be enlarged exponentially and biblically. This is definitely the go-to book for anyone interested or are already in children's ministry.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan Academic and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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