My Conspire 2009 Thoughts – General Session 2 with Drs. Ivy Beckwith and Don Ratcliff


(picture taken from


(picture taken from

The second General Session at Conspire 2009 was on the topic of spiritual formation. Amy Dolan interviewed two heavy hitters on the topic: Dr. Ivy Beckwith and Dr. Don Ratcliff. You can check out my live blogging of the session here. You can also read my summary of the session at the Conspire blog.

Of all the sessions, this one was my favourite. I was surprised to read some of the strong negative comments that were left about the session on the Conspire blog. After thinking about it, though, I guess I can understand. More often than not, I run into children’s ministry people who are more interested in WHAT to do instead of WHY. In my opinion, we’ve been spoon-fed for WAY TOO LONG and need to start digging deeper than the methods and 3-year plans. Those of us in children’s ministry need to learn how to take in theoretical, philosophical and sociological information regarding spiritual development and figure out how all of that informs the how of what we do.

Anyway, back to the session…

I was in awe of these two leaders in the field of spiritual development. I loved each of their definitions of spiritual formation. Dr. Ratcliff defined it as encouraging children to be Christlike by connecting God and the child helping them to experience God. Dr. Beckwith’s definition was “helping a child to love God and live in the way of Jesus.” Wow! How simple, yet how profound! Sometimes we convolute what spiritual formation is. We attach conditions and knowledge and tests to spiritual formation, and we lose the core of what it truly is: helping children to love God and love others.

Another thing that really stood out to me in the interview was Drs. Beckwith and Ratcliff’s views on measuring spiritual growth. They did not point to which verses should be memorized or what stories a child should know or even theological concepts that children should understand. They pointed to a transformed life. The measurement of spiritual growth in these scholars’ eyes is in how they live. I like what Dr. Ratcliff said, “It’s not a test. It’s a testimony.”


12 thoughts on “My Conspire 2009 Thoughts – General Session 2 with Drs. Ivy Beckwith and Don Ratcliff

  1. Henry, I haven't looked at the Conspire blog yet, but I really struggle with these definitions of spiritual development. They seem a bit moralistic, emphasizing "be like Jesus" or "walk in his ways." I'd feel more comfortable with defining spiritual development in terms of a growing "trust in, faith in, or reliance upon Jesus." It will be terribly defeating for our kids if they try to live in this way without trusting Jesus' pardon and power.

    On the other hand, I am thankful that these leaders want to measure spiritual growth by a transformed life. After all, faith expresses itself through love (Galatians 5:6). I just don't want to put the cart before the horse. Faith is the horse.

    • Henry Zonio says:

      I meant to write spiritual formation rather than development. Don't know if that makes a difference.

      I can see how those definitions could be seen as moralistic. In my understandings of those definitions, I assume connecting kids with God's power since that's who Jesus was. I agree that we need to make sure that children need to be connected to God with a continuing awareness of his presence and his power. Thank you for making that clearer.

      • JaredKennedy says:

        I think that Drs. Ratcliff and Beckwith have a lot in common with Scottie May and his chapter in Perspectives on Children's Spiritual Formation (B & H). At least he quotes them both a good bit. I have a lot of affinity for that chapter (and there is lots to learn from the whole book). I bet that I would have enjoyed this presentation.

      • Scottie May says:

        Just an FYI, Jared: Scottie May is a "she"–not a "he." But how could you know?

      • Henry Zonio says:

        Is this the ACTUAL Scottie May?

  2. Daniel says:

    This sounds like it would have easily been my favorite session too. I’m continually contemplative of how little we can definitively know about what makes a strong relationship between an adult and God, and yet we claim to know everything about how a child’s relationship with God should be. I like the idea that it is, at it’s core — for both adults and kids, no disparity — about people loving God and loving others. That definition inspires a journey, and it doesn’t get trapped into what are ultimately cultural and man-made issues.

  3. Amy Dolan says:

    Thank you Henry for your fair and kind review of this session. I enjoyed the conversation and hope that for those of us concerned and passionate about the spiritual formation of children – we can continue having conversations just like these. I look forward to future dialogues with you!

  4. […] on spiritual formation were affirming yet challenging. You can check out more of my thoughts here, my summary of the session here, and my live blogging of the session […]

  5. Don Ratcliff says:

    Yes, thank you for the fine review of the session. I must admit that any quick and easy definition of children's spirituality is going to be oversimplified, because (1) children are complex and (2) spirituality is also a complex issue.

    If anyone would like to take a look at some additional detail on the topic, you might want to look at and also a web page related to a conference on the topic at (there is also a discussion page linked there with dozens of mp3's on the topic).

    And, just for the record, Scottie May's office is about three doors down the hallway from mine!


  6. margie hillenbrand says:

    Reading this a little late. (Read your comment on the Conspire 2009 blog.) I liked what you said above: "More often than not, I run into children’s ministry people who are more interested in WHAT to do instead of WHY. .."

    I first started blogging as part of a new church plant (it happened to be postmodern) and I was looking for conversation about kids. I cared about the scriptures & kids & parents – their effect on everyone else & visa versa. I was looking for conversation not just about the "what" and the "how" but "why" we would do what we did. It seemed that a church plant was the perfect opportunity to ask "why" as part the design process but there never seemed to be time for that discussion. I'm excited for all the conversations that seem to be happening. I hope you keep asking, "why".

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