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Review - Welcome Mat, by Beth Barnett

Thursday, 9 December 2010  | Darren Cronshaw

Beth Barnett, Welcome Mat: A Resource for Opening the Bible with Children, Adults and Teens (Melbourne: Scripture Union, 2010)

Welcome Mat is a 262 page toolbox of ideas and principles for family mission, worship and Bible-engagement.

Written initially for Scripture Union Family Mission Teams, it is relevant for anyone working with children, teenagers and their families. It digs into nine passages from the Gospel of Matthew – from Christmas to Easter and an exciting adventure of risk and trust in between. In our church, Auburn Baptist, we are looking forward to using its ideas and creative inspiration from December to April for intergenerational worship, gospel messages and Sunday School. 

Beth Barnett’s vision is to invite people of all ages to question the Bible, process it, imagine themselves in it and grapple with appropriate responses: “If we want to get to know God, nothing can replace the centrality of engaging with the Bible (led by the Spirit). If opening the Bible is a hands-on, read-the-text-heaps, experiential, open event, there will be plenty of room for the whole person to be engaged – cognitively, physically, emotionally and spiritually.” (p.14)

Beth and her buddies who she gleans from offer ideas for summer missions, multi-age services, children’s talks, prayer ideas, games and suggestions for music. She has written a wealth of material for small groups, team building, Bible bytes (memorising Bible verses) and some beaut Bible drama scripts. The book has suggestions for preschool, children, teen and family engagement. Yet it doesn’t age-segregate everything but celebrates whole families and whole communities learning and interacting together.

Welcome Mat offers expansive ideas for events, but it is not about crowds for their own sake. It invites people to experience community together in safe, fun and creative ways. “We are anticipating the Kingdom, and praying that people will join us in living within the gracious invitation of God, and that as they do, as we share time and experiences and thoughts and laughs and words together, that whole families will discover that they are living in God’s world, and that salvation is coming to dinner in their household.” (p.180)

I think the book is worth it for the advice on leading times of prayer, enhancing small group dynamics, and fun creative ways of reading the Bible. For example, a favourite idea I am looking forward to using is “bandaid prayers”, sticking bandaids on coloured paper representing what we want to ask Jesus to help with what is worrying us. For talent shows, it suggests ridiculously high scores (every score starting with a 9 point something) to enhance the fun and downplay the competitiveness. For teenagers, it suggests experiences and projects to do together to create something, and provoke conversation and new thoughts in the midst of the project. And for reading the Bible, there are simple ways of grabbing people’s attention, like inviting groups to read along whenever the passage comes to a word starting with “d”. Or I am going to use this tongue twister to introduce the Bible reading when I preach on Jesus calling fishermen: “A  busy beach with lots of boats, were friendly families of fishermen, we can hear the waves (whoosh, whoosh), the sea gulls (arrgh arrgh) and the fishermen working (goodonyamate)”. We may as well have fun when we invite people to engage the Bible.

Beth’s method is about immersion and engagement rather than study and head knowledge. She hopes that all who crack open the Bible will not just study and learn stuff, but “find yourselves in over your head, and be drenched up to your eyeballs by the presence of God, by all that God is. That you will be soaked through with God’s Spirit. That you will drop all over the place, leaving puddles of grace and truth, just like Jesus did.” (p.194)

That’s an inviting welcome that grabs my interest.

It’s an invitation worth hearing, responding to, passing on, and hearing again for ourselves. For example here are a few snippets of Beth’s portrayal of the welcome mat Jesus puts out for us:

“Once you’ve met him, you’re gonna find out that you can’t help asking him if you can stay – which of course you can – but seriously, hanging out with Jesus – it changes us. We dare to ask and trust and help and risk” (p.4)

“The kingdom of Heaven is at hand. God is in the house – he’s up to something and we are all in the middle of it, whether we like it, or not.” (p.5)

“We don’t want to grow a generation of people who hear about Jesus and say, “That’s great – no worries,” and walk away living the same lives under the same false gods, kings and authorities.” (p.24)

 “Jesus loves families, Jesus calls families but Jesus doesn’t prescribe what the shape of those families will be. And a good thing too, as he actually calls us into a new family. He’s put out the welcome mat for us to come in and discover a whole new bunch of ways to be a bunch.” (p.26)

“God likes to stir things up a bit … What happens after Jesus’ death is a complete surprise …  A lot of things are being turned on their heads. Men are listening to women, the strong are shown to be weak, and death is not the end. If ‘that’s the way it’s always been’ isn’t working for you, it’s worth checking it out with God. He seems to have a lot of radical ideas about what has to stay (love and justice) and what can go: hopelessness, oppression, violence, imprisonment, prejudice…” (p.128)

“Lucky Jesus already knows the absolute worst about us, and thinks the absolute best about us.” (p.136)

This is fresh language for expressing what really is good news about Jesus.

I asked Beth a few questions after reading it, to get to know the heart of the author …

Beth, why did you write Welcome Mat?

There are two main drivers for me: Relationships and the Bible. No argument that ministry is all about relationship - and that's something that anyone can do - put themselves in a space with others and share the journey. That's what mission is all about, so by writing resources like Welcome Mat, I hope to release people from the stress of focussing on 'what are we going to do?' so that the main focus of prayer and listening to the spirit can be about people. Having said that - we need content. I am concerned that we don't just tell people about what is in the Bible, but we actually share the experience of engaging with the Bible together, and let the text - which I believe is the powerful living word of God stand up for itself.


How long have you been developing these materials?

I have been writing program materials within my local pastoral roles since 2000. This is the 4th program I have written for SU, though each year we have expanded the scope of the resources, from being primarily a small groups resource, to supporting drama,  parenting, preschool, teenagers, team studies and family events.


What did you enjoy about writing it?

I love the text! I love re-reading Matthew and hearing it fresh. I love assessing every idea that I have for engaging (lots of them hit the cutting room floor along the way) and evaluating whether it will be a valid incarnation of the text. To have 10 good ideas you need to have 100 bad ones - or another way of saying this is: I have stacks of ideas, and some of them turn out to be actually useful.


How and where do you hope people will use it?

Obviously it is written directly with the Scripture Union summer Missions and camps in mind. But I am also interested in whether, if we are reading the text 'well', by which I mean 'authentically' or 'for real' with any given group of people, it doesn't so much matter whether they are already followers of Jesus or just putting a toe in the water, or actually barely aware of God at work in their lives, the process of Welcome Mat will hopefully be just as useful.


Do you have other resource writing projects on the go?

I'm working on a couple of extensions of the Matthew material. Welcome Mat Families of Love & Justice, is a family resource that uses some of the other parts of Matthew's gospel especially the Sermon on the Mount. It provides households with ideas for engaging with the text around their everyday lives, in ways that fuel them for discipleship and mission in the midst of life.

I am also working on Welcome Mat Preaching, which explores the ways in which preaching, often seen as a mono directional directive process, can recover more of the invitational essence of the gospel. I'm not sure what point that part of our gathering turned into one person telling lots of others what to do, but it doesn't reflect the gospel of Jesus. So hopefully in both theological reflection and in practical worked examples it will offer some ways to 'put out the welcome mat', inviting many into the process of reading the text, living the text and missioning the text.

There are blue prints for John's gospel for use in the summer season of 2011/12  which will be called << [rewind] - and yes that will be the gospel backwards.


Welcome Mat is a valuable mix of evangelistic passion, educational psychology, creative colour and interactive fun. It is a sound investment for anyone involved in children’s ministry, youth work, worship leading or interactive Bible teaching.  

(Welcome Mat is available for sale from Scripture Union or the Baptist Union of Victoria for $28. CDs of related songs and drama sound effects are also available.)



March 1, 2011, 9:57AM
As someone who has developed my own material many times, I am so grateful that someone as insightful, creative and wise as Beth gives us this material to 'bounce out of'. Very few church-based resources have the multi-sensory, immersive and expectant approach to opening scripture that Beth models! Looking forward to the sermon on the mount additions! Naomi

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