Sonja Stewart. Louisville: Geneva Press, 2000. 276 pp. $24.95.
When I opened my copy of Following Jesus, I felt like a young child for whom Christmas morning has finally arrived! I have led worship for four- and five-year-olds for several years and have eagerly awaited this sequel to Stewart’s first book, Young Children and Worship.
Following Jesus contains a series of thirty-four stories, mainly from the gospel of Mark, that help children learn more about the kingdom of God established during Jesus’ life on earth. It shows children who Jesus is and encourages them to love him and to want to follow him.
A fifty-page introduction gives worship leaders everything they need to set up a worship center and plan the order of worship each week. It also includes a summary of the Bible’s teachings central to the establishment of Jesus’ kingdom.
An appendix shows leaders just what materials they will need to set up their center with two- and three-dimensional visuals. All the patterns for figures and other visuals are included.
The book offers worship leaders a way to use these thirty-four stories for fifty-two weeks by repeating certain stories. Although some people feel uncomfortable repeating stories, young children enjoy repetition. Also, the main focus is not the story but the whole experience of worshiping through singing, praying, giving an offering, reading Scripture, enjoying a feast, and receiving a blessing at the end of the service. All of which makes Children & Worship very different from a church school class.
Stewart skillfully sifts through theological truths and communicates their essence for children in stories that are short, sparse, and easily understandable by young children ages four through eight. Directions for moving visuals are clear and easy to follow. In small churches, worship can be adapted for children of various ages in one center by planning wondering questions appropriate for each age level and by offering various suggestions for response activities.
One part of the stories that makes me uncomfortable is Stewart’s choice of wondering questions. Many of them are very good, but too many wonder about how people feel. I wouldn’t ask more than one “feeling” question in each worship session. Worship leaders are free to think of their own wondering questions, of course.
Although the book doesn’t suggest it, I believe this program could easily be adapted for use with children and adults with mental impairments. The visuals and opportunity for various response activities would be ideal for those who cannot read, write, or even speak.
Following Jesus is a wonderful and very helpful resource for children’s worship programs. Thanks, Sonja Stewart, for giving us another complete worship experience on a theme very different from that of Young Children and Worship!