Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries
Growing Young by Kara Powell, Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin
For insights into youth ministry, Sustainable Youth Ministry is hard to beat. I reread it while reading for the first time, Growing Young, a more recent book offering wisdom for engaging the younger generations based on research results from over 250 leading congregations. Taken together, these works make it clear that relentless work on congregational climate and culture is essential if ministry is to bear fruit and be sustained among the rising generations. No one person, however gifted, can be the rock-star who attracts and keeps youth and young adults. It takes the whole church and lots of stamina to create an environment that consistenly shares leadership and is marked by relational warmth and empathy. These are some of the characteristics of healthy churches along with a clear focus on Christ and teaching members how to love neighbors. Members of St. Paul's will take heart because we often speak of creating a healthy ecology and tending it.
There is a lot more to learn, though. Young people, it seems, appreciate relationships across generations, not just with their peers or the cool youth minister. Successful churches promote intergenerational friendships and, importantly, issue the call to discipleship instead of watering down the gospel. They present Jesus Christ in all His glorious truth and give youth a place at the heart, not the periphery, of congregational life. In presenting the gospel, growing churches make room for questioning, doubt and discussion. Tough questions are not avoided. Is music important to the youth? Well, not as important as pastors think it is. Nearly twice as many pastors as students listed worship music as vital! Students want relationships. And they want help, or at least real relationshios, as they navigate the culture. This is the real challenge! Although neither book gives much on specifics about the cultural trends and issues that are so obvious (technology, nihilism, family breakdowns, pressures to succeed) and ones that are not always obvious to youth (consumerism, impulsivity, perfectionism), the books do inspire readers--or this one, anyhow--to get fully in the mix with our young people. It takes more than one priest, however, to tend the ecoloty and work the fields, so I trust others will pick up one or both of these books and read!