During my time leading the children’s ministry at a multisite church, I had the privilege of hiring and training several campus children’s ministry directors. Each time someone joined our team, I handed over a stack of books. There were books on how to stay gospel-centered, how to create engaging environments, how to develop volunteer leaders, and how to teach children of different ages in an engaging way.
And the longer I spent in children’s ministry, the larger the stack would grow. For example, it wasn’t until I attended a breakout session on child safety at a children’s ministry conference that I added a book on keeping children safe through skillful volunteer screening and updated and enforced safety policies.
Deepak Reju’s On Guard and Marty Machowski’s The Ology were frequent features on that list of recommended books, and I am excited to add their book Build on Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide to Gospel-Based Children’s Ministry to the stack.
In writing this book, Reju and Machowski have provided a single resource that includes almost all the topics that a children’s ministry director needs to know in order to faithfully steward and lead a healthy children’s ministry, from vision-casting to volunteer management to child safety. As Reju and Machowski say to the children’s director reading this book, “There are no playbooks for your job, so we have created one for you” (6).
By Practitioners for Practitioners
From almost the first page of the book, children’s ministry directors will instantly know that they are learning from men who have walked in their shoes. The list of “difficulties and frustrations” that Reju and Machowski include in their introduction may surprise parents, volunteers, or other church staff leaders, but most if not all of them will be all too familiar to those leading kids ministries. This instantly gives credibility to the authors, as they are not offering advice from an ivory tower, having never experienced what life is like in the trenches of the kid-min world.
Children’s ministry directors will instantly know that they are learning from men who have walked in their shoes.
It would be easy to be overwhelmed with all the different priorities, groups of people, and practical aspects of children’s ministry that every director should consider. Knowing that the authors have been there and walked the road before gives courage to readers that they can, with God’s help, accomplish all they are called to do.
The authors also should be commended for their intentional balance between the biblical priorities of children’s ministry, including teaching the Bible, valuing the children, and focusing on the mission, and the more practical aspects of ministering to children, such as recruiting volunteers, creating safe environments, and writing emergency plans.
Most men and women called into children’s ministry are most excited about sharing the gospel with children, and rightfully so. However, the details of running a safe and adequately staffed ministry are not simply “necessary evils” that exist for the real ministry; they are a key part of enabling ministry to kids to happen. The fact that Reju and Machowski give equal space to the pastoral and the practical speaks value into the many hours that children’s ministry leaders will spend performing tasks that allow the direct ministry to children to happen.
Limits of a Comprehensive Guide
Reju and Machowski gave themselves quite a challenge when they set out to create “a comprehensive guide to gospel-based children’s ministry,” as the subtitle of this book indicates, especially since they were aiming to create a readable volume that wasn’t overwhelmingly long. It would be impossible for every topic related to children’s ministry to be addressed in 200 pages. Inevitably, readers will find that topics they consider vitally important were not addressed, or only mentioned cursorily.
The details of running a safe and adequately staffed ministry are not simply ‘necessary evils’ that exist for the real ministry.
I was surprised to find no mention of a layered volunteer leadership structure in Build on Jesus because I cannot imagine leading a children’s ministry without one. With so many volunteers needed to maintain the necessary adult-to-child ratios, there is no way a single children’s ministry director can adequately lead, serve, and care for all the volunteers in the ministry, even in a small church.
This makes it essential for a children’s ministry director to identify, train, and empower volunteer leaders to lead and care for smaller volunteer teams. While I see this volunteer structure as a non-negotiable for a successful children’s ministry, it’s not mentioned in this comprehensive guide. Other important topics, like creating a welcoming environment and teaching on an age-appropriate level, are given only a few pages each.
In many ways, this is an inevitable consequence of attempting to create an all-in-one guide for such a large and varied role as a children’s ministry director. If the authors had addressed a layered volunteer leadership structure, they would’ve needed to remove or at least shorten another important section. And while every reader will likely, like me, find a topic or two that they feel should have been included, they’ll also likely struggle to decide what topic should be removed or shortened to make room for the new material.
In other words, Reju and Machowski have done as good a job as anyone could in creating a comprehensive guide, as it’s impossible to cover every topic thoroughly without creating an encyclopedia of resources.
While Build on Jesus has not eliminated my need to give a stack of books to a man or woman seeking to be trained as a children’s director, it has earned its place in the top two or three recommendations. It’s an invaluable resource because it skillfully combines the pastoral and the practical aspects of children’s ministry into a single volume, showing how they work together to empower the ministry to children to flourish.
The Gospel Coalition