Sample text for Postmodern children's ministry : ministry to children in the 21st century / Ivy Beckwith.
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Postmodern Children's Ministry Copyright © 2004 by Youth Specialties
Youth Specialties Books, 300 South Pierce Street, El Cajon, CA 92020, are published by Zondervan, 5300 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49530
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Beckwith, Ivy, 1954- Postmodern children's ministry : ministry to children in the 21st century / by Ivy Beckwith. p. cm. ISBN 0-310-25754-9 (softcover) 1. Church work with children. I. Title. BV639.C4B38 2004 259'.22--dc22 2004008752
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible: New International Version (North American Edition). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan.
Some of the anecdotal illustrations in this book are true to life and are included with the permission of the persons involved. All other illustrations are composites of real situations, and any resemblance to people living or dead is coincidental.
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Editing by Carla Barnhill Proofreading by Laura Gross and Kristi Robison Cover design by Burnkit Interior design by Sarah Jongsma Printed in the United States of America
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one The Millennial Child and Beyond
One morning several years ago I had a short but memorable conversation with the Missions pastor of the church where I was employed as the Director of Children's Ministries. We were discussing how people understand the concept of truth. My friend made the point that the purpose of evangelism is to convince people that the Good News of Jesus is true. But, he said, the time would come when the response to our attempts to convince will be, "Okay, it's true. So what?"
I was intrigued by his words, and in the intervening years they have come back to me over and over again. I believe that Western culture and those that the North American church hopes to speak to are in this "so what?" era. With this change comes a host of new challenges to the church's mission of evangelism and discipleship, such as battling relativism, searching for new paradigms of gospel proclamation, and rethinking our understanding of the Bible.
Those of us who've made careers out of children's and family ministry have had a lot of success and recognition over the last 25 years. We've become professionals. We have academic degrees in Christian Education or Spiritual Formation. We have heightened awareness of the importance of specializing in ministries to children and their families. We've helped proliferate a multimillion-dollar curriculum- and-resource-publishing industry. And we've helped seminaries and Christian colleges grudgingly admit that what we do is a legitimate educational discipline, that it involves more than providing cut-and-paste activities for children in the church basement while the adults get on with God's real business. Web sites and nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping us do our jobs better are growing and providing more and more resources. Children's ministry has its own national conferences, and we have our own celebrities. Megachurches hold large events to pass on the secrets of their success in children's ministry. And I'm sure somewhere in all this we've seen God work among the children and families we've been privileged to know. Children's ministry has come a long way since Henrietta Mears, the founder of Gospel Light Publications, mimeographed Sunday-school curriculum in her garage. We've moved out of the shadows and into the limelight of church ministry.
Yet continuing on this track will not meet the needs of the current generation and the generation to come. If we hope to have any effect on the spiritual formation of the children and families that come to our churches in the next 50 years, children's ministry cannot continue as we know it. We need to be thinking about new paradigms, new ways of doing what we're doing, and we need to be thinking about it right now. If we don't, we'll soon find that we've become irrelevant to the families who live in the changing culture. We'll be scrambling to figure out what happened to everything that looked so shiny and unstoppable at the end of the 20th century.
I began to see this need for a revisioning of children's ministry as I grew to understand the formidable cultural change swirling around us. I heard a speech by a New Testament professor from a prominent midwestern seminary who was speaking to educational ministry professors and teachers. He addressed the subject of postmodernism and the church's response to it. I remember two things from what he said that day. First, he said that those holding a postmodern worldview do not believe in the existence of absolute truth. This statement reminded me immediately of the conversation I'd had years before with that Missions Pastor: I realized that the belief in absolute truth was foundational to so much of Christianity that the postmodern resistance to the idea of absolute truth could be a rather significant problem for the church--we would need to figure out how to answer the "so what" question.
Second, he described a weekly Bible study for business executives that he led in downtown Chicago. He explained that he never went into these sessions armed with formulas and arguments to convince the people of the truth. Instead he simply shared stories of God with them and guided their discussion of these stories. He introduced God to the people and let them decide for themselves. I couldn't help but believe he was on to something. He was proposing a way of bringing people to faith that didn't have anything to do with cut-and-dried teaching methodology. The idea struck a chord in me that day and sent me on the path to where I am today.
The Modern Era For the last several years, the term postmodern has floated around academic and theological circles. (The term is also used in many other disciplines--art, literature, architecture-- but it means different things in each context.) Now it is part of the popular vernacular, and yet most of us don't really understand what it means. I'm no philosopher and don't have a philosopher's understanding of the abstract thinking behind the term, but I can tell you how I've come to understand it as a layperson.
In order to understand how something can be postmodern, first we need to understand how something can be modern. Think back to the European history and philosophy classes you had in college or graduate school. Most likely you studied something called the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason that came around 1700 A.D. This era is commonly thought to be the beginning of the modern era. (In light of the church's resistance to postmodernism, it strikes me as quite ironic that my Christian college had no qualms about requiring a course on the Enlightenment.) Your professors may have talked about how philosophies of modernity came about as a reaction to the more superstitious, mystical, and religious thought of the Middle Ages.
During the Enlightenment, men and women (though mostly men) began to discover they could exert some kind of control over their world and conquer parts of it. Life, it was discovered, was not just a serendipitous journey where everyone was at the mercy of circumstances outside of personal control. Machines were invented that could do some tasks better than human beings. And people were discovering that the human ability to reason and solve problems was a useful tool for taming and mastering the external world. Perhaps, the philosophers mused, humans could be the masters of their own destinies. The only things human beings needed to make the world better was men and women who learned how to think and use their innate talents and skills more effectively. If humans could uncover the mysteries of the world, then perhaps it was no longer necessary to believe in that all-knowing, all-seeing God of the Middle Ages.
Philosophers believed human beings could discover the absolute truth about reality within themselves and that if they thought long enough and hard enough about it, they could solve any problem the world had to offer, eventually perfecting the world and themselves. Many of the thinkers of the Age of Reason had little use for the God of the Bible.
Moderns believe in absolute truth and that all truth is objective. They believe that the final word on all things, the understanding of objective reality, is out there somewhere and humans can find it through our capacity for reason. This objective, absolute truth is not subject to the whims or perceptions of kings, rulers, priests, or cultures. An assertion is true if it accurately and objectively represents the independent, external world. All this knowledge is accessible for all humans; there is nothing we human beings can't know if we just put our minds to it and analyze the problem or the situation. There is nothing humans can't do or understand eventually. Modern thinking holds absolute faith in the rational capabilities of the human mind.
Modernity is scientific. The sciences with their hypotheses, theories, seeming objectivity, and ability to experiment and test for truth are held up as one of the best pathways to absolute knowledge and truth. Modernity prizes analysis. If we can just look at a problem from all sides and use all of our brainpower to figure out the causes and effects, we'll eventually be able to find a solution. The best way to think, then, is logically, linearly, analytically, and unemotionally. Because the world is making progress
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Church work with children.