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Book Review: Caught in Between: Engage Your Preteens Before They Check Out by Dan Scott

Scott, Dan. Caught in Between: Engage Your Preteens Before They Check Out. Cumming, GA: Orange

Currently on staff with Orange, an organization dedicated to equipping both parents and the local church to work together in the faith formation of children, Dan Scott is a veteran preteen worker, speaker, and curriculum developer with a passion for the preteen years. In Caught in Between, Scott highlights the nature of preteen ministry caught between children and youth ministry. Whether you define a preteen or preteen ministry as 4th and 5th grade, 5th and 6th, or all three with 4th, 5th, and 6th, the reality is that those years are developmentally marked by a transition from the childhood of the elementary years into junior high.

Using stories from his own life as well as his ministry experience, Dan Scott explores the tensions that preteens face due to the developmental crossroads they find themselves at. Scott notes how during the 4th-6th grade years preteens begin to find elements of the ministry for children beneath them, while they still struggle with the deeper and more abstract educational approaches found in youth ministry. Exploring the cultural changes as well as the educational responses that public education is experimenting with in an attempt to be responsive to the changing nature of the world of preteens, Scott attempts to point a way forward for the church to address this often forgotten segment of our congregational Christian education strategy.

In his examination of the culture of preteens, Scott notes the way in which they feel the pressure to perform and younger and younger ages. From this he rightly challenges the church, stating the “It’s more important than ever to give preteens a place where what they do isn’t as important as who they are” (p. 38). Scott further notes that “(t)he preteen years are fraught with tensions between who they were and who they will be” (p. 49). It is into this struggle that a well thought out approach to ministry can aid in moving preteens from ministry to children to what the church offers for youth.

Having spent that last year plus working with the LCMS Youth Ministry Office in their Young Adult Research, I very much agree with Dan Scott’s assessment of the need for a distinct approach to ministry for preteens. Further, it is interesting to note that the district youth event The Summit was launched more than a decade ago as a response to the in between nature of 4th-6th graders.

While Scott articulates well the needs of preteens, translating the practical advice that he offers to smaller churches may take some additional effort. As is often the case with books and podcasts related to Orange at its associated ministries, much of the discussion on strategy is initiated by folks with larger church ministry experience. Most of LCMS congregations with volunteers running both ministry to youth and children may need to scale back discussion on the design of a unique environment for preteens in chapter 4.

The book concludes with a single page addressing small churches followed by several pages of checklists and worksheets to use in developing a contextually appropriate application of a ministry for preteens.

Published by Orange, this book comes out of a Baptist/non-denominational type of theological background. While the book is not overly theological some of the structures related to how ministry is done in their churches may be grounded on differing theological assumptions related to the nature of faith and children than we hold as Lutherans. The book also tends to speak more toward an audience whose churches have well established ministry for children and youth, which may be a challenge for smaller churches with few under 18 years old at all. Culturally, Scott addresses the need to bring voices into the teaching of preteens from a variety of cultural backgrounds, even addressing how this might be done in a more homogeneous congregation (p. 90-91).

If this book sparks a good discussion on the transitions that our young people go through from childhood into adulthood and how each of our churches need to develop an intentional response, the cost of the book for a small group of ministry leaders to read together would be complete worth it for your church. Pastors, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, and others in your church who have a roll in ministering to children before, during, and after the preteen years would be well served to read and discuss this book.

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