When Dr. Colleen Derr, the President of Wesley Seminary, went looking for a textbook for a Children, Youth and Family Ministry program, she couldn’t find one anywhere.
She contacted her friends in the publishing world, and no one could find a book about transformational communication for those working with children, youth and families.
Finally, Derr said she received a call from University Press saying, “We don’t have that book, but if you write it, we will publish it.”
“So that’s how the project got started,” she said. “I set out to write the textbook that I needed for that particular class. Then along the way, it became something a little bigger and broader, and the audience a little larger.”
Derr said the book contains teaching strategies and techniques that acknowledge that most teaching takes place beyond the four walls of a classroom.
“Everything we do and say teaches,” she said. “How do we set up our lives, focus ourselves to be intentional, to capture the communication in such that the people we are called to serve hear it in a way and receive it in a way that they experience transformation?”
Derr’s “Renewing Communication: Spirit-Shaped Approaches for Children, Youth and Families” was published in February.
“Just in time for COVID, exactly,” she joked.
Derr is currently using the book to teach a course, so her initial motivation for writing it was fulfilled, she said.
“I didn’t do it to make money. It isn’t my retirement plan,” she said. “As people need to find it and do find it, I just pray that it’s a blessing.”
While the book was meant for those who work in children, youth and family ministry, Derr said her audience expanded to include most people.
“We all are communicators, and we all have an opportunity, no matter our role in life or our stage in life, to influence someone else for good,” she said. “(The book is) really for anybody who wants to be much more intentional with how and what they are communicating in order for it to be used for good.”
Derr wrote the book from a Christian biblical perspective, with the foundational belief that transformation only happens through the holy spirit’s power, she said.
“No matter how fancy we are, no matter how good we are, no matter how well schooled we are at communication and no matter how intentional we are about it, if it’s not done through the power of the holy spirit, then transformation isn’t possible,” she said.
Tanya Smith, a student of Derr’s, said she “received a fresh anointing” to preach while reading Derr’s book.
“I have not been preaching for a long time. However, when I have the opportunity to preach now, I feel as though I am equipped with more knowledge in the fact that I am not only preaching for transformation but definitely teaching for transformation,” she said.
Another student, Leslie Banwart, said the book reminded her that helping guide others in their faith journey is humbling.
“There were many great highlights, take-aways, reminders, and applications for transformational teaching throughout Dr. Derr’s book,” she said. “For me, however, the three big takeaways that significantly affected my faith journey included relying on the Holy Spirit, starting with the end in mind, and cultivating authentic relationships with those in our context.”
Amid a global pandemic and the current Black Lives Matter movement, Derr said transformational communication is especially important.
“It really started with COVID, all of us having to hunker down in our homes and grossly change the way we live our lives, and then on top of that the recognition that our country still has so much work to do in terms of race relations,” she said. “We have so much more to learn, more growth to do as individuals and communities and churches.”
According to Derr, people need voices for good and “Spirit-led” communication in the nation and the world today.
“We are called to love one another – to serve one another – to care for one another – to seek justice for one another,” she said. “I pray that this book, “Renewing Communication” provides a vision of what Spirit-shaped communication looks like and practical tools for how we can each live into it.”