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Back to School
Training. It’s a word that provokes different responses, anything from excitement to dread. It can be seen as a chance to develop new
skills and think about new approaches. It can also be viewed as an unwelcome distraction from the important business of actually working
with children. Yet, without it, we run the risk of giving the children in our care less than our best. We keep our eyes fixed on the daily grind and we don’t see what the new might hold.
There is a wealth of informal training options on offer, from how-to books to bespoke events run by organisations such as Urban Saints or Scripture Union, and national conferences such as Hand in Hand. But what if you want to go one step further? What can a diploma or degree give you that experience and face-to-face work can’t?
Robert Willoughby, lecturer in New Testament at London School of Theology, quotes a former principal at the college when thinking about this: ‘To teach simply, you need to understand profoundly.’ This goes beyond knowing how to tell a Bible story or which games work well; formal study helps us to go beneath the surface and get to grips with theology, methodology and the spiritual development of children – all in order to help children get to know Christ.
The ‘why’ and the ‘how’
'Many of the children’s workers I meet are intuitively gifted at communicating the gospel to children, and passionate about doing so,' says Carolyn Edwards, Oxford deputy centre director for the Institute of Children, Youth and Mission. ‘But many of them also lack confidence and technical know-how. For instance, their instinctive judgements about what may or may not work often come up trumps, but without the child development theory or theological understanding, they are less able to change the pattern to fit a new group of children or set of circumstances.’
Giving yourself time and space to consider the reasons why you do things in children’s work helps you examine your own practice. Many courses provide the chance to explore the theory, and then put that to work in a real-life setting. ‘Longer-term study helps workers serve children and the teams they work with more effectively, building on new insights of work with children, and helps develop new skills,’ says Ian White, leader of Cliff College’s children’s and youth ministry programme.
‘Formal courses should not only teach practical skills but ask serious questions about the very grounds on which such ministry is conducted – asking questions about the nature of childhood, the cultural environment and the theology of childhood,’ adds Willoughby.
In our day-to-day work with children, it can be easy to focus on what we’re doing – the pressures of too few volunteers, too few resources, too much to do and so on – and we miss the chance to engage with some of the latest thinking and research. We can buy the book or attend the conference, but very often life takes over. The book stays on the shelf and the conference notes remain unread.
‘What we know about children’s spirituality and faith development has grown and developed so much over the last few years,’ says Edwards. ‘Studying for a formal qualification motivates workers to read the books they have been meaning to look at for ages, and gives them access to some of the latest thinking.’
A formal course gives you much more space to do this than informal training. That’s not to denigrate informal training, which can often be a catalyst for change as workers are inspired to go away and investigate different issues. Rather, while informal training pitches you straight back into your day-to-day life, a formal course gives you more time to spend in study and reflection away from the endless whirl of rotas to fill, resources to prepare and problems to solve.
It’s possible that a gap in understanding of theory and theology can also create a gap in communication, as children’s workers struggle to get across why or how things need to change. ‘They may be right that things are not ok, but they might feel that they are floundering in communicating why or how things should change because they don’t have the “currency” of ministerial training and language,’ says Edwards.
It is this lack of experience of ministerial or theological language which can create problems between children’s workers and church leadership. ‘A formal qualification enables students to advocate for children with a stronger voice both in the church and the wider community,’ comments White.
‘Children’s workers need to know how to win the trust and respect of parents as well as their children. This is often overlooked,’ says Willoughby. ‘The children in our care are part of a family, they do not exist individually. As children’s workers we need to be able to communicate with parents effectively, helping those within the church further the spiritual development of their children and talking openly, honestly and inclusively with the families of children from outside our community.’
Schools are often crying out for people to help with the spiritual parts of the curriculum, but are under pressure not to ‘just let anyone in’. ‘A formal qualification means that not only do you have a better idea of what best practice in a school context looks like,’ says Edwards, ‘but the school knows that you have been through a process of education and assessment that reduces the risk they take when letting you loose with their children.’
Sense of self
There’s also no denying that studying theology helps to strengthen personal faith. ‘Focused study enables children’s workers to deepen understanding both of Christian theology and biblical knowledge, as well as to become more aware of who they are as people and Christian leaders, reflecting on the uniqueness of the worker and their role in the church,’ says White.
This growth in self-awareness is brought out in many of the stories you’ll read below – while studying for a children’s work qualification, students found they had the space to reflect on, study and develop their own faith.
while studying for a children’s work qualification, students found they had the space to reflect on, study and develop their own faith
These courses require a lot of time, effort and, yes, money. However, such qualifications do make you more employable. ‘Many of the graduates of the Cliff College courses have found a greater number of job opportunities available to them having gained their diploma, degree or postgraduate qualification,’ says White.
But, he adds, ‘It’s important to keep the purpose and end in sight, which is to better reach and serve children across the UK and the wider world. I believe children’s workers who have spent time biblically and culturally reflecting on their practice with children are in a better place to do that.’
When we are working with children we are often in a position of power and influence; with that comes tremendous responsibility, and we need to know that we have done everything in our power to ensure that we are doing a good job.
Been there, done that
We talked to some students and graduates from Moorlands College to explore the benefits of formal study
Before doing the course I had been involved in many children’s events, leading and developing children’s ministry, as well as schools work. However, I felt a calling to children’s ministry and wanted to gain a grounding theologically.
Studying theology with children’s and schools ministry has been fundamental to my ministry as a children’s worker. Not only has it shaped me as person spiritually, but it challenged me [to think about] why children’s ministry is important. It has been crucial in developing my gifts and passion, making me more effective in the way I lead, plan, run and develop children’s groups, events, teams, volunteers and so much more. It has given me a good theological grounding too, but most importantly it has given me the tools to continue learning, growing and developing myself as a person and the way I work and minister.
Studying children’s ministry is a must for those who want to be effective in the lives of children, and for those who want to equip churches to teach and disciple children effectively, as well as to learn from children.
Darren and Katie Jones
We both studied for a degree at Moorlands and now work in a shared job role as children and family pastors for a Baptist church. We applied for this job having finished studying at Moorlands and we’re certain it was our qualification that helped us to stand out in the application process.
In order to lead children well, it’s important to have a solid grasp of the subjects we’re teaching, and we found that the formal training we received helps us to do this. To be an effective children’s pastor we believe you need a desire to share and teach the gospel in a biblical and
Our training involved lectures and placement-based learning, which helped us not only to explore theology but also how to apply it to our work. We did a number of placements, which provided varied opportunities to work alongside professionals in Christian ministry and taught us important lessons in the day-to-day work of children’s ministry.
A diploma or degree in applied theology is one of the best ways to get both a good practical understanding and a detailed biblical foundation in children’s ministry and has been really helpful to us.
My motivation for coming to college included gaining greater insight into what we do and why we do it, seeking professionalism, developing personal confidence, learning about best practice and new ideas, as well as helping to think through my theology and exploring different roles within the Church.
I had reservations about going to study and I was quite apprehensive. Most of all I feared failing. But the college has been really supportive and I have got so much from my studies already. I love the flexibility of being placement-based (studying one day a week, plus three
block weeks). This helps me to keep putting into practice what I am learning.
I have found the study inspiring, challenging, thought provoking, encouraging and most of all it has developed what I am doing in my workplace. The opportunity to study has been such a blessing – both personally and professionally – and I am excited to see how God will use it in the future, whether in paid or voluntary work, part-time or full-time, or a step towards something else in his service.
I am currently in my dissertation year of an MA in Christian Leadership. I have really enjoyed the lectures and the interaction with the other people on the course. We are from all different backgrounds – some teachers, some church ministers or youth workers. The discussion groups and the talks over lunch after lectures have been really enhancing. I haven’t done a degree or formal qualification before, so I have found the academic work both challenging and stimulating. I have already benefited from the course and I find I now probe things, ask questions and do more background research, which gives me better understanding of situations. It’s teaching me a whole new way of working.
Calver, Hope Valley, Derbyshire S32 3XG
Institute for Children , Youth and Mission
CYM Core Services, Trinity Business Centre, Stonehill Green,
Swindon, SN5 7DG
(CYM have centres in Belfast, Bristol, Cambridge, Nottingham and Oxford.)
International Christian College
110 St. James Road, Glasgow, G4 0PS
Sopley, Christchurch BH23 7AT
Oak Hill College
Chase Side, Southgate,
London, N14 4PS
020 8449 0467
1 Kennington Road, London, SE1 7QP
020 7921 4255
St John ’s College
Chilwell Lane, Bramcote,
Nottingham, NG9 3DS
0115 968 3203