Aaron Reynolds is a children's ministry consultant, workshop teacher and speaker who is on a crusade to equip teachers and churches to use the creative arts. He previously served as a teacher and artistic director of Promiseland, the children's ministry of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.
As suggested by the subtitle of Reynolds' latest book, The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School, his passion is communicating "transformational techniques for reaching and teaching kids," and his book outlines proven principles for radically changing the way churches minister to children.
Reynolds took time out of his busy schedule to share with us several of his keen insights into the ways and means of capturing the attention of today's young people and influencing them with the life-changing truth of the gospel.
Ministry Today: So, what exactly is the book all about, and how can it help churches to more effectively reach and teach young people?
Aaron Reynolds: The basic premise behind The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School is that, as churches, especially kids' ministries, we often get stuck in a traditional mind-set when it comes to teaching. We presume that "teaching" means "talking," just like in regular school. So we approach Bible lessons like that. We talk, talk, talk. But kids don't all learn best by being talked at. Neither do all of us adults for that matter.
I believe that our goal should be to bring the Bible to life in experiential, applicational, unforgettable ways that leave kids transformed. Transformational teaching—leaving kids living life differently on Monday, as a result of their time with us on Sunday—that's the goal of this book. My deepest hope is that The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School will go beyond painting the picture of a transformational way to teach kids the Bible, and equip children's ministry teachers in practical and creative ways.
Ministry Today: What is the take-away value of your book for pastors who are not directly involved with children's ministry themselves but who oversee it at their churches?
Reynolds: Honestly, it's not a book written for senior pastors or teaching pastors. But I think leaders need to cast a vision for this to their volunteer teams, and I hope this book equips them to do that, and then gives them a practical tool, a guidebook even, to make it happen. The bulls-eye target audience for this book is the teachers—large group presenters, creative communicators, Sunday school teachers or whatever you call yours—who are in the trenches with kids every weekend and want to bring the Bible to life with awe and power.
Ministry Today: How do your training techniques apply to ministries who may not use the traditional Sunday school model of teaching young people?
Reynolds: Don't let the name fool you. This isn't a book for just traditional Sunday school models. Remember, we're talking about reinventing Sunday school, whether we call it Sunday school, children's ministry, or whatever. I believe the techniques at play here are transferable, regardless of church size, budget, number of kids, space limitations, volunteer numbers, etc.
I honed these techniques during years of teaching 200 to 300 kids per weekend within the Promiseland ministry at Willow Creek Community Church, and there was nothing traditional about the years I spent there. But even larger ministries get stuck in their own traditional "talky" ways of teaching. I have at times.
I believe we need to reinvent these talky, boring (forgive me) practices, and reach for tools that are effective in leaving our kids spellbound and breathless by God's Word. I hope these tools will make ministries feel empowered and equipped for such a reinvention, regardless of how traditional or cutting-edge the ministry may be.
Ministry Today: Does the adoption of technological tools necessarily enhance the educational experience for kids, or can it distract from the communication of timeless truths?
Reynolds: It really does [enhance the educational experience]. But I don't want to miss the main point. There's only one chapter devoted to bringing simple but powerful technology into play. Lights can have amazing power to direct kids' attention. Video is a great and effective tool. Sound effects are awesome at making kids hear and see a story in a new way. Tech toys are wonderful. But I am a firm believer that a gifted teacher, equipped with a dynamic lesson and some powerful techniques can bring the Bible to life in unforgettable ways, whether they have lights, video and sound, or they're standing out on the curb in broad daylight. The emphasis of The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School is to equip teachers with those techniques. The tech stuff is gravy—really yummy gravy.
Ministry Today: How important is it for the senior leadership of the church to be supportive of the children's ministry and its efforts to utilize different methods of communicating?
Reynolds: I will unapologetically say that I believe children's ministry is the single biggest evangelistic engine of the whole church. I think a smart pastor with a heart that beats fast for the lost will recognize that.
Families vote with their kids. If a new unsaved family comes to church, and the children's ministry is lackluster, boring, ineffective, going through the motions, just keeping the kids busy while the adults do their thing, that family likely won't come back. But parents will endure the most boring pastor during the adult service if their kids are excited, energized and being transformed by powerful, dynamic Bible teaching.
I have seen whole families come to Christ, more times than I can count, by a kid in the family finding out who Jesus is and helping his parents along the way. Parents may love and appreciate a vibrant youth ministry. But they stay or go over children's ministry.
Ministry Today: What would you identify as the biggest challenge facing the church when it comes to capturing the attention of kids and influencing them with truth?
Reynolds: You have to earn it with kids. Let me explain that. Adults will mentally apologize for a boring message. They'll accept it. They'll try their best to get something out of less-than-stellar teaching. Kids won't. They check out. They disengage. You know that feeling when the boys at the back of the room start burping the alphabet under their breath during your lesson? It's not because they're bad kids. It's because they're kids. You have to earn their attention. If they check out during my lesson, they're not the problem—I am!
How do I re-think how I'm teaching to capture their attention, imagination and interest? The Bible deserves that. That's what Jesus did all the time. On the boat during the storm, when the disciples cried out in fear, Jesus could have just come up from below deck and said: "Hello? Did you forget who you're with? The Son of God, remember?" and went back to sleep. But He didn't. He stopped the winds, halted the waves and ceased the rain. He got their attention in an unforgettable way to drive His point home: I am with you. That's transformational teaching! I think we need to bring the Bible to life, as best we can, in the same way. Make it unforgettable.
Ministry Today: What are the essential differences between children's ministry in a small church and large church, other than the obvious difference of money?
Reynolds: Lots. There's less volunteers, less space, less tech toys and less prop availability. I think it's easy to use that as an excuse, but transformational teaching isn't about any of those things. I've worked with many small churches, and I know firsthand that a single gifted communicator teaching with power and creativity will bring the Bible to life and change kids' lives.
You'll notice that in The Fabulous Reinvention of Sunday School there's little mention about buying anything or needing a specific, expensive curriculum or anything else that would limit a smaller church. Even the tech toys I mention are fairly doable and inexpensive compared to what I could have focused on. That's because transformational teaching should never be limited by that stuff. If I can afford to recreate the battle of Jericho with a miniature castle, a moat, 20 volunteers decked out in full costume and a to-scale model of the ark of the covenant, great. But if all I've got is a stack of used cardboard boxes and a $3 helmet, hold on tight. I'll bring Jericho to life right in front of you. We can all do that by developing ourselves and our teams with some techniques and tools for dynamic teaching.
Ministry Today: Isn't your advocacy of memorization as a preparatory tool for teachers relatively old-school, particularly when juxtaposed with your other, edgier suggestions?
Reynolds: I don't think so at all. I work with churches of all sizes and shapes—old-school, new-school and every school in between—and I frequently see them ignoring the power of memorization. Sometimes the leader gets it, but out of fear doesn't step up and require it of the teachers. It's a shame, because from my experience, memorization is one of the single greatest techniques for delivering life-changing Bible lessons. Remember, our goal is to bring the Bible to life in unforgettable ways. You don't just experience that accidentally.
I've never seen a teacher stumble into the kind of holy moments that come from preparation. I believe that God honors our preparation. In James 3:1, God directs not many of us to be teachers, because we'll be judged more strictly. We'll be held accountable for what we teach. Shouldn't we then be pretty intentional about what words we say [and] what moments we create in our Bible lessons for kids? Old-school? No way. I think the idea of a dynamic creative lesson that's actually memorized is one of the edgier suggestions in the book.
STARTING A HOUSE CHURCH: A NEW MODEL FOR LIVING OUT YOUR FAITH
Authors: Larry Kreider and Floyd McClung
Publisher: Regal Books
File Under: Pastoring
Executive Summary: According to the authors of Starting a House Church, former pastors Larry Kreider and Floyd McClung, a new type of church community is emerging, and it is in the form of the growing house church movement, which by some estimates represents as much as five percent of the church at large.
The authors are quick to point out that they are not against the traditional church model that they have served for a combined 70 years as pastors.
"We are excited about house churches, but not to the exclusion of the rest of the body of Christ," they write. "Rather, we are excited about how God's spirit is moving through house churches to touch our planet."
If traditional churches are like community stores and megachurches are like big-box superstores, then house church networks are like shopping malls with many stores, the authors explain. They also stress that while house churches typically are individual and specialized, they can only thrive when they network together with other house churches.
The authors identify the early church practice of meeting house to house as the measuring stick for the modern-day house church movement. From learning how to start a house church to identifying several of the pitfalls to avoid, readers learn practical pointers for joining the movement.
Whether or not someone is interested in jumping on the house church bandwagon, Starting a House Church is a useful primer on the trend toward small churches as an alternative to megachurches and other traditional church models. Church leaders of every stripe would do well to glean from its contents and personally apply its principles.
Ideal reader: Pastors, teachers, lay leaders and others called to minister to people via the early church model of meeting house to house.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (4); Insight (4); Theological Depth (4); Readability
(4)Reviewer: Sean Fowlds
CAREER CROSSOVER: LEAVING THE MARKETPLACE FOR MINISTRY
Author: Tom R. Harper
Publisher: B&H Publishing Group
File Under: Ministry
Executive Summary: A leap into full-time ministry should not be taken without careful thought, prayer and exploration. Careers can often look greener on the other side of the vocational fence, and ministry is no exception. Yet relational and financial land mines can catch the naive pastor, church staffer or parachurch worker unawares. A person can easily make this transition for the wrong reasons, such as feeling burned out in a secular job or dreaming of "changing the world."
Harper, an admitted "pastor wannabe" who has used his business skills to impact churches, researched hundreds of pastors and ministry workers and learned that nearly 40 percent transitioned from the secular marketplace. Harper's study led to the publication of this short, user-friendly guide for anyone considering making a move into vocational ministry of any capacity—and at any age or stage in life.
One compelling chapter, "Nine Steps to Turning Your Decision Into an Action Plan," details the foundation of prayer in this discernment process. Such prayer should flow into the development of a personal mission and vision statement, further informed by wise counsel with friends and family, according to Harper.
Other sections of the book examine the strengths and weaknesses of "crossover" leaders. For example, most report being strong on church administration, conflict resolution and prayer but weaker on evangelism, budgeting and fundraising. A chapter on dealing with challenges in ministry is loaded with helpful reminders from Scripture.
Throughout the book, Harper weaves in anecdotes from survey respondents who have made the transition from the marketplace to ministry. Their straightforward comments about the struggles and triumphs they have faced add to the book's credibility and usefulness for readers.
Ideal reader: Persons considering full-time vocational ministry, as well as seminary students still wrestling with the direction of their post-seminary careers.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (3); Readability (5)
Reviewer: John Michael De Marco
CARING FOR THOSE IN CRISIS: FACING ETHICAL DILEMMAS WITH PATIENTS AND FAMILIES
Author: Kenneth P. Mottram
Publisher: Brazos Press
File Under: Pastoral Care
Executive Summary: In the vast array of specialist advice for church success, books rarely focus on practical help for people in crisis. Today's clergy need a wide range of knowledge about pastoral care, medical ethics and crisis management.
Caring for Those in Crisis, by Kenneth Mottram, gives ministers and other church leaders that guidance. To make the information reader-friendly, Mottram takes us into waiting rooms, doctors' offices, medical centers and family discussions. His years in hospital chaplaincy and church ministry give him the experience to voice his case. Biblical passages and contemporary policies prove his arguments.
Ethical questions raise serious concerns for those serving in healthcare. Mottram hits tough subjects such as withdrawing life support, organ donation, genetic testing, cloning and many other modern practices. Church leaders need biblical views like these to make decisions. They also need pastoral hearts for the care of those involved.
Through trauma, crisis management, Medicare/Medicaid arrangements, alternative treatment options, informed consent, beliefs in the supernatural, decisions for length of life and the ongoing political and ethical debates, Mottram's guidance helps protect leaders from hasty, foolish involvement and from over-spiritualizing issues that need logical conclusions.
Readers off all types can learn much from Mottram's wisdom. Workers who provide medical care but hope to maintain obedience to their biblical beliefs can get a greater understanding from Caring for Those in Crisis.
Ideal reader: Pastors, staff members, small group coaches, hospital chaplains and local church leaders who volunteer for pastoral care. Healthcare professionals and families of those facing medical concerns may also benefit from the practical guidelines.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (5); Insight (5); Theological Depth (4); Readability (5)
Reviewer: Chris Maxwell
UN.ORTHODOX: CHURCH. HIP-HOP. CULTURE.
Author: Tommy Kyllonen (aka Urban D)
File Under: Culture
Executive Summary: Hip-hop is more than a passing fad or an unredeemable, underground subculture as some have suggested. Instead, hip-hop has come of age, so to speak, enduring now for more than 30 years and infiltrating every aspect of mainstream society, including fashion, movies and even consumables such as energy drinks.
The passion pastor and hip-hop artist Kyllonen has for hip-hop culture comes through loud and clear in Un.Orthodox. As he seeks to bring the average reader to a greater level of understanding concerning the culture, he also tries to inspire both empathy and evangelistic fervor in those who will be faced with the charge of reaching this ever-expanding segment of society.
The book itself is divided into three distinct parts, each containing numerous chapters that elaborate on the theme of the section. Part one is Kyllonen's own story, told in a very conversational tone. The author retraces his roots as a preacher's kid of Greek immigrants, growing up in mostly urban contexts and developing a love early on for hip-hop.
Even though Kyllonen's church history is mostly traditional (his dad pastored small Assemblies of God churches), his story is "unorthodox" in the sense that he had the support of his family from the beginning as he wrestled with a way to integrate his faith with his love for the hip-hop culture. Many readers will be able to identify with Kyllonen's struggles to integrate his faith with the rest of his life in the neighborhood and the school system.
Part two is a fascinating look at the history of hip-hop itself. Admittedly, the writing is not the best example of investigative journalism or engaging, historical text. From a reader's perspective, it would have been more interesting to see how the author's own life intersected with the history of hip-hop apart from the one or two half-sentence references. However, most readers will find the information challenging and insightful, if not occasionally overstated.
Part three is the "practical" section in which the author attempts to give guidance to anyone interested in reaching out to the hip-hop culture.
Ideal reader: Pastors, youth pastors, children's pastors, outreach coordinators and other local church leaders who will potentially interact with the hip-hop culture. It'd also be beneficial for parachurch leaders as well as anyone within the hip-hop culture that's involved in ministry to their peers.
Rate the book from 1 (poor) to 5 (excellent) on these criteria: Practicality (3); Insight (4); Theological Depth (2); Readability (5)
Reviewer: Eric Wilbanks
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