Book Review: Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry

gospelcenteredym_205_316_90There are a few books I consider “must reads” for people in student ministry (if you want to know what they are ask me). Recently I read a book I would add to that list and it’s called Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry. It’s one of the most theological and practical books I have ever read in regards to student ministry.

One of the strengths of this book is the variety of voices. Every chapter focuses on a different area of student ministry and each chapter is written by someone who has a passion and gifting in that area. Each chapter is written pretty much in the same way – a section on how the Gospel informs and shapes that area of student ministry and a section on how to practically grow in that area of student ministry. Also, at the end of each chapter there is a list of recommended books on the subject of the chapter.

Two of my favorite chapters were Eric McKiddie’s chapter on expositional teaching and Tom Olson’s chapter on singing. All the chapters in this book were excellent but these two were the ones that impacted me the most.

In McKiddie’s chapter, he argues that teaching the Bible is the main task of anyone in student ministry. He says, “While fun is an indispensable part of youth ministry, your main task is to convince your students, week after week, why they need Jesus and to show how the Gospel profoundly after every area of life” (page 55). He believes expositional teaching is the best method for this. After giving his reasons for expositional teaching in student ministry he gives some practical steps in how to craft a Biblical expositional sermon for students. His steps serve as great reminders for people newer to writing sermons as well as to seasoned veterans. Olson’s chapter on singing was another one that I really enjoyed. He argues that corporate worship should be vital a part of student ministry. He says, “It’s not just a warm-up for the message or a means to corral hyperactive teenagers. God has made singing important. Singing is vital for the health of our students and the strength of our ministries and, in harmony with strong teaching, singing will get the word of Christ dwelling richly in their lives” (page 142).

I could say more about these two chapters and the rest of the book but I’d rather you grab a copy and read it for yourself. If you’re in student ministry I’d highly suggest this book for you and your team.

Book Review: The Most Excellent Way to Lead by Perry Noble

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I read and reviewed this book before the news came out about Perry Noble no longer being the Senior Pastor of NewSpring Church. However, my opinions on this book, what I learned from it, and what I liked about it, hasn’t changed. I am heartbroken over the news and what has happened in the life of Perry as well as NewSpring Church but believe we can all still learn something from this excellent book.

One of the books I just finished was Perry Noble’s newest book on leadership called The Most Excellent Way to Lead. I have always enjoyed Noble’s leadership stuff as well as his books (his book Overwhelmed was a game changer for me personally) so I was excited to read this one.

When most people hear “1 Corinthians 13” they automatically think of the “love chapter.” It’s a chapter that is usually tied into the topic love in the context of marriage or a relationship. However, Noble argues (and I would agree with him) that it seems like this is chapter is better suited for the context of leadership. As Noble says, “In 1 Corinthians 12, the emphasis of Paul’s writing to the church is on spiritual gifts, leadership, and the importance of working together. In 1 Corinthians 14, he continues this line of reasoning as he encourages leaders to sound a clear call for their followers. But right in the middle of these two chapters we find 1 Corinthians 13” (page 5). Noble continues by arguing the context of chapter 13 then is leadership. He says, “Paul is continuing his discussion about leadership here, and when he says he’s going to show you the most excellent way, I believe he’s saying, ‘I will show you the most excellent way to lead” (page 6).

Throughout this book, Noble uses Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 13 to show his readers how to become better leaders. In this book Noble addresses the heart of the leader. Like Paul shows us in 1 Corinthians 13, the heart of the leader is most important. The way to become a better leader is through having the right heart attitude.

I want to change up the way I do the rest of this review. I want to share three things I really liked about this book.

First, it focused less on what leaders do and more on who leaders are. This book focuses on the heart of the leader. If the heart of the leader is in the right place than correct and loving leadership will flow out of them. Noble shares very practical leadership advice throughout this book but the theme throughout is the heart of the leader. Through this book, God showed me a lot about my heart in regards to my leadership. I was encouraged, challenged, and convicted. It was just what I needed for this season of my leadership journey.

Second, it included a ton of great leadership one liners. One of the things I have always enjoyed about Noble’s leadership stuff (podcasts, articles, etc.) is his great leadership one liners. These are simple statements that contain a wealth of leadership knowledge and advice. At the end of each chapter this book includes a page of “summary statements” from that chapter. Just having these pages to look back on and read the leadership one liners is huge!

Third, I appreciated Noble’s honesty and humility throughout this book. Noble shares a good bit of his leadership failures and mistakes. He even shares about seasons in his life that were very dark and things that most leaders with his platform would like to keep quiet. I was encouraged by his authenticity and humility. He isn’t a guy who is claiming he has it all together and he has done it all correctly and we should follow him. He shares his failures, faults, and mistakes but continually points to God and how God has continued to shape him into a better leader.

The book is very straight-forward, easy to read, and will impact those leaders who take the time to read it. I’d encourage anyone who finds themselves in a leadership position to read it.

Book Review: Storify by Rachel Blom

51cjoMnENiL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Communicating the truth of the Bible to teenagers in our culture is not an easy task. To make it even more difficult, the approach that may have worked in the past is not guaranteed to work in the present or in the future. So what do we need to do? Instead of doing what we have always done and expecting new results, we should take a step back and rethink our approach. When it comes to communicating the truth of the Bible we need to ask ourselves, “Is our current method of teaching really working?”

In her new book Storify, Rachel Blom helps us rethink how we communicate to teenagers by promoting a style (or method) of teaching that she refers to as “storify.” Storify is all about “using principles of story to empower our message” (page 15). Later in the book, she says it this way: “Storifying means using the principles of story-the characteristics that make stories so effective-throughout your talk” (page 90). Blom believes that our modern approach to teaching teenagers isn’t cutting it in our postmodern culture, which is also heading towards being a post-Christian culture (if you don’t fully understand the idea behind postmodernism and post-Christianity no worries, Blom does an excellent job at explaining them both and what they look like in this book). In order to teach teenagers effectively in a postmodern culture we must use a postmodern approach. This is where the idea of “storify” comes into play.

As I read through this book, two big ideas kept surfacing. I think these two ideas sum up what Blom is trying to communicate in this book.

First, we must make good use of the element of story as we teach teenagers. Stories are excellent ways to communicate truth in a way that sticks. Blom spends several chapters on the idea of using stories well in our talks. She gives very practical tips on how to use and tell stories in our teaching. This by far was one of the most helpful things for me personally about this book. I often spend too much time and preparation on content while neglecting the time it takes to think about and craft good stories to include in my teaching to better communicate what I’m trying to teach.

Second, we must structure our talks (or messages, sermons, etc.) like a story. A few chapters of the book are dedicated to just this idea. Blom encourages us to think about the structure and flow of stories and how we can follow that same flow and structure in our teaching. This section of the book is sure to rub up against anyone who has taken homiletics courses or read any preaching books by anyone other than Andy Stanley. As someone who has taken many courses in homiletics, read many books on preaching, and tends to take a more traditional approach to preparing and teaching the Bible, this section was tough for me. There where times I loved what Blom was saying and then there were times I am not so happy with what she was saying (probably because what she was saying went right up against my traditional approach that I have been taught and tend to use most of the time). However, I appreciated what she brought to the table on this topic and how she gives a clear argument for the benefit of structuring our talks like a story. I came away with some things to think through and apply in my approach to teaching teenagers.

There has been many books written on the topic of speaking to teenagers. However, Storify challenged me more than any other book on this topic has in awhile. I would highly encourage anyone who regularly teaches teenagers to read this book.

Books I’ve Read Recently

Catalyst-Leader-BookThe Catalyst Leader by Brad Lomenick. I decided to pick this book up and read since I haven’t read a leadership book in a while. Brad Lomenick wrote this book while he was the leader of Catalyst, which is an organization that equips and inspires young Christian leaders through events, resources, consulting, and community. In this book, Lemonick puts forth eight essentials that are required for what he calls a “change maker.” The eight essentials (which could also be called characteristics) are: called, authentic, passionate, capable, courageous, principled, hopeful, and collaborative. Each chapter covers one of these essentials. In each chapter Lemonick explains why the particular characteristic is important to leadership as well as ways leaders can grow in that area of leadership. Two of the things I really liked about this book was how practical it was as well as all the stories Lemonick includes of people who demonstrate each characteristic. The stories are inspiriting and serve as great reminders of what being a “change maker” really means. This is a great read for anyone in leadership who wants some practical tips on becoming a better leader.

Amish-Values-for-Your-Family-195x300Amish Values for Your Family by Suzanne Fisher. I have always been intrigued by the Amish. Their simple life and faith has always been something I want to learn more about. One of the areas of the Amish I have always admired is how they view and go about family, which is why I decided to read this book. The point of this book is not to encourage people to “go Amish.” It’s an encouragement to look into the family life of the Amish and see what values we can take from them and apply to our own families. Fisher says, “There is much we can learn from these gentle people about raising our families well: to help prioritizes what’s truly important, to simplify decision making, to slow down as a family, to safeguard time together, and when age-appropriate, to let go” (page 13). The book covers four broad “values” the Amish have in regard to family: children are love but not adored, great expectations, daily bread, and letting go. Each chapter gives a short story of a family living out one of those values. The section I really enjoyed and learned the most from was “children are loved and not adored.” As a culture parents put their children at the center of their life and their family. Everything seems to revolve around the child. However, this doesn’t always proceeds the best results. In many cases this hurts the family and the child. The Amish have figured out a way to love their children but not revolve their whole life and family around those children. Instead, those children become a vital part of the family and benefit the family. Also, each chapter ends with a short summary of how families can take that story and the value it teaches and apply it to their family. This is a book I would highly recommend to parents of children of any age.

41wF1qfueZL._SX355_BO1,204,203,200_Beyond Small Talk by Rachel Blom. This little book contains extremely helpful information on how to have conversations with teenagers. As the title suggests, Blom helps the reader understand how they can move from “small talk,” which is actually important and needed, to more meaningful conversations about God. What I loved about this book is how Blom doesn’t paint “small talk” as a bad thing or something we should look down on because it’s not “spiritual.” Instead, Blom shares how we can actually become better at “small talk,” which will set us up to move into those deeper conversations. This book contains very practical tips on almost everything someone needs to know in order to have good conversations with teenagers. There are chapters on things like building trust, getting small groups talking (which is a must read for anyone who leaders a small group made up of teenagers), and knowing what to say/what not to say. I’d encourage anyone who deals with teenagers often, especially parents and youth workers, to read this book. It’s short and simple, but very helpful. Talking with teenagers is important and those of us who deal closely with them should strive to grow in this area. As Blom says in the introduction of this book, “It’s imperative that we talk with them, that we succeed in opening up a real dialogue.” This book will help you do just that.

Two other books that I also read that I chose not to review were A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer, which is an older book but is still a great read that I would recommend to all Christians, as well as The Divorce Dilemma by John MacArthur, which is a very helpful book in understanding what the Bible teaches about divorce.

Book Review: Youth Ministry in the 21st Century

51D-3YevG9L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_What is the correct view of youth ministry that youth pastors, youth workers, and churches should have when they do ministry to teenagers? Youth Ministry in the 21st Century attempts to answer that question by bring together five influential leaders in the youth ministry world and having them each share their conviction as to what is the best “view” of youth ministry. Each author passionately shares his view of what youth ministry should look like and then the other authors get the chance to respond to that view. The views and responses are both detailed and honest, but handled with respect and appreciation for the other views. Chap Clark, who serves as the editor, compares Youth Ministry in the 21st Century to an earlier book he was part of called Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church. Clark expresses his gratitude for that work but rightly argues that as youth ministry has moved forward and new issues among teenagers in our world has surfaced it is time for a new conversation to emerge about what youth ministry should look like. Youth Ministry in the 21st Century serves as that new conversation and it’s a good one!

Greg Stier offers the first view, which is “The Gospel Advancing View of Youth Ministry.” Stier holds to the conviction that youth ministry is about developing students who will be “world changers” for Christ. Taken from Jesus ministry (the Gospels) and the book of Acts, Stier paints the picture that youth ministry is introducing students to Jesus and then training them to go out and share the message of the Gospel. Stier says, “If we really want teenagers to be like Jesus, then we must cultivate in them a driving passion to reach the lost” (page 5). Stier also says, “The goal here is not more evangelistic programs but nurturing teenagers to live and give the Gospel in word and deed in their spheres of influence” (page 5). One may wonder where Stier puts helping students grow in their faith when it comes to this view of youth ministry. He doesn’t ignore that facet of youth ministry, but believes that the most spiritual growth in teenagers lives happen when they share their faith and focus on the mission to reach the lost.

The second view, offered by Brian Cosby, is “The Reformed View of Youth Ministry.” Cosby picks an interesting title for his view that  leads the reader to think more about reformed theology than a view of youth ministry. Cosby, who holds to the reformed tradition, doesn’t necessarily give a view that’s tied to that tradition but there is no doubt that tradition influences his view. In the reformed view of youth ministry, the focus starts with God not the teenagers. Cosby argues most youth ministries emphasizes “Home Depot Theology” – “You can do it, God can help.” He debunks that false view by arguing the emphasis of youth ministry must be God working in and through the teenagers hearts to change them. Cosby argues that youth ministry needs to move away from entertainment and focus on a methodology of practicing historic “means of grace” – ministry of the Word, prayer, sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s supper), service, and Gospel community. Cosby argues these are the practices that should shape youth ministry.

Chap Clark offers the third view, which is “The Adoption View of Youth Ministry.” In this view, youth ministry is seen as part of the larger church body. It’s not a separate church of younger people but a ministry of the church to help nurture the faith of teenagers. However, those teenagers should and must be “adopted” into the larger body of Christ through relationships, service, mentoring, and worship. Clark argues that the way to help teenagers posses a life-long faith (one that doesn’t fade away when they graduate the youth group and go to college) is by connecting them to the church. Clark says, “I contend that the primary reason we have lost so many of the hearts and investment of our young when they leave the confines of the high school routine is that we have failed to provide them with the most vital resource they possessed in Christ: the God-given faith community” (page 75). The adoption view of youth ministry strives to make sure teenagers are a part of the larger church community so that even when they graduate the youth program they have a place to belong, grow, and serve.

The fourth view, offered by Fernando Arzola, is quite out of place in my opinion. The view Arzola offers is “The Ecclesial View of Youth Ministry.” This view argues that “Protestant youth ministry has all but deleted ecclesiology from its theological radar” (page 113). This views argues that teenagers should be taught church history and should experience their faith with the backdrop of what has taken place in the church in the past. To be honest (and this seems to be a point made in the responses) I don’t understand what this view looks like practically when it comes to being a view of youth ministry. I appreciate the argument and believe teenagers should be taught how God has worked in the history of the church but to call this an entire “view” of youth ministry is a bit too much.

The fifth view shared in this book is from Ron Hunter and is called “The D6 View of Youth Ministry.” Hunter, who founded D6 and is helping bring a very Biblical family ministry approach to the church, argues that youth ministry should be a partnership between the family and the church to nurture students in their faith. The D6 view is built upon God’s commands in Deuteronomy 6 (and Ephesians 6) for the parents to be the primary leaders of their  kid spiritual development. The youth pastor and the church should train, equip, and resource the parents but should never take the place of them. This view, much like the emphasis of ministries like Orange, believes ministry to teenagers is done best when the parents and church partner together.

After reading this book I did not come away with the conviction that one of these five views is right and all the other ones were wrong. Instead I came away with a much greater understanding of the scope of youth ministry and an appreciation for the different views of how to do youth ministry. As I reflect on the views I come to a place of realization that all of these five views offer a piece of the greater youth ministry puzzle. One view doesn’t cover all the complexities of ministering to teenagers in our world but they do all offer a significant piece to the overall puzzle. For example, in my opinion and in light of this book, youth ministry must have a great commission focus (reaching students with the Gospel and sending them out to reach others) [Gospel Advancing View] and should be built upon Biblical practices such as preaching/teaching, prayer, service, and Gospel community [Reformed View] while making teenagers a vital part of the church community (Adoption View). This should all be done in partnership with families as we help them fulfill their God-give role to disciple their kids [D6 View].

This is a youth ministry book I would put in the hands of anyone who is currently in or preparing to be in full-time youth ministry. It will sharpen and guide those of us who want to be faithful to God and His Word as we strive to build a strategy for youth ministry in our context.