Book Review: 'Children and Family Ministry Handbook' by Sarah Flannery
By Kevin Johnson
Children and Family Ministry Handbook is a fascinating inside look at the challenges facing the church. Author Sarah Flannery has provided an in-depth analysis of every aspect of children’s and family ministries, including chapters on parents/caregivers, disability, intergenerational ministry, and volunteers. She also provides personal anecdotes as well as practical applications in each chapter.
She spends time defining terms used throughout this resource. A holistic definition of “family” is to ensure that churches include not only all God’s children but all God’s families in the conversation. Her plea to churches embracing an intergenerational approach resonates with children and youth leaders who have felt siloed for so many years.
Intergenerational ministry is church plus intentional mixing of generations in the areas of worship, discipleship, and service (19).
Over the past few months, and since this book has been published, we find ourselves living through drastic changes in understanding the roles found in a family system. By defining the role of parent as a calling, Flannery allows every parent to understand the importance of giving care and nurture to a child a little differently. This shift both empowers the parents and places more responsibility on them for faith formation in the home. The integration of faith formation offers a new approach to understanding children and family ministries. By framing the parent/caregiver definition, the author creates a fresh perspective of inclusivity throughout the remainder of the book.
The book devotes chapters to certain demographics found in ministry, including chapters devoted to child development and safety/abuse concerns for both child and adult volunteers. Flannery stresses the importance and power of listening to children. She recommends “holy listening,” which assures children that adults care enough to listen and hear them when they express hurt in their hurting world.
Flannery’s discussion of essential faith formation elements includes prayer, rituals, and milestones. Flannery notes the importance of each of these elements that helps build resiliency and consistency for families that have experienced trauma. The book gives examples and suggestions for creative implementation of these faith formation elements.
The chapter devoted to preteen ministry gives insight into understanding who that fifth grader is and how to creatively implement faith formation in the congregation. Preteens need conversations in life, even if those conversations are uncomfortable for the adults.
Preparing our preteens for the questions and pressures they will face in middle and high school is worth confronting as adults (83).
This handbook gives many practical tools and applications to change the role that the church plays in a child’s life through young adulthood. Chapters include topics such as disabilities, faith formation design, and curriculum selection and implementation. Any good handbook in children’s ministries must also discuss volunteers. The chapter devoted to volunteers includes suggestions for recruitment, training, and coaching. It is a chapter full of ideas and suggestions for empowering the volunteers.
An especially interesting chapter in this handbook is the chapter on marriage and divorce. The church has the obligation to support healthy marriages and those that are struggling. Family ministry must understand that children are affected by both marriage and divorce.
Both marriage and divorce care call on us to exercise our highest capacity for honesty, unconditional love, and checking our judgmental preconceptions at the door (234).
The handbook also discusses difficult family issues, including trauma, tragedy, death, grief, and addiction, and how those things can change the understanding of the family unit. Knowing when to refer people to counseling is a difficult place to find yourself in ministry. This book provides help both emotionally and spiritually surrounding those difficult places that people encounter in ministry.
We believe that God is good, even when life is bad (256).
The book concludes with a chapter on organizational leadership and structure and offers understanding of the power structures found in the church.
Working in the church is a lot like living with family (277).
I recommend this book to anyone serving in children’s and family ministry and those on staff with them. Reading this book can help lead to God doing big things in your ministry together.
Visit Sarah at her website at sarahmflannery.com.
Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church is putting together a roundtable discussion with Sarah and other children’s leaders for a webinar later this summer. Be sure to watch for dates!
Children and Family Ministry Handbook is available from Cokesbury, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Christianbooks.com. Cokesbury is currently offering free shipping on all orders.
Rev. Kevin Johnson is the Director, Children’s Ministries for Congregational Vitality & Intentional Discipleship at Discipleship Ministries. Kevin’s hero Fred Rogers suggests that we, “listen to the children, learn about them, learn from them. Think of the children first.” This quote defines Rev. Kev’s approach to ministry. Kevin, an ordained elder of the Kentucky Annual Conference, has over fifteen years of ministry experience in which he has thought of the children first. Prior to ministry, Kevin worked with children in the hospital setting and in group homes for emotionally and physically abused children.