Help, I’m a youth worker!

Since I’ve started blogging more regularly again, I’ve had a few requests from those who find themselves doing youth ministry in the church but who have little or no training. They’ve asked a variety of questions, but often a question they have is how to get a better handle on youth ministry without heading off to get a degree in the subject.

Ideally, if someone is a full-time youth worker, they’d have some type of formal education in Bible, practical theology, counseling, and programming. But our world isn’t an ideal place. There are also a large number of people who simply love students and volunteer in the youth ministry at their local church. For people in that situation there are a number of options. Some great conferences and training opportunities are around, and I’d highly recommend many of them.

For today, however, I’ll simply list five must-read books for anyone who wants to do youth ministry. This is probably the height of hubris since plenty of other bloggers have far more experience than I do. Nevertheless, what’s the point of blogging if not putting your own two cents out there?

Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli – This book really should end up on nearly anyone’s list. Mark proposes a way of doing youth ministry that values downtime instead of activity, prayer instead of entertainment, Scripture instead of our pet peeves; in short Jesus and his way of life over our own culture and the empire of this world. I constantly revisit this book, not because I agree with everything in it, but because it always helps me to reevaluate how I am doing ministry. It encourages me that, if I’m going to help my students encounter God, I need to be encountering him myself.

Almost Christian by Kenda Creasy Dean – If you know me, it’s really no surprise this book is on here. It might be a surprise that I didn’t list it first. Kenda’s book brings together a variety of statistics and seeks to answer the question “Why?” in an accessible manner. It does all of this and more. It is a challenge not only to youth workers, but to parents, senior pastors, church boards, and–really–Christians. Our students are almost, but not quite, Christian because we are almost Christian. Perhaps the best aspect of this book is that, although Kenda recognizes the enormity of the problem, she manages to hold out hope that change is possible.

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andrew Root – This is perhaps the most theologically nuanced youth ministry book I’ve ever read. Trying to summarize even a part of what’s discussed is probably impossible. This book has challenged me, encouraged me, and caused me to revisit (!) how I think about relationships in ministry. In truth, this book would probably be beneficial for senior pastors and other ministry workers to read. Simply put, this is a must read.

Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns – Hardly a youth ministry book, this makes my list because it is a huge help in answering some tough questions about the Old Testament. Pete helps explain why the Bible has theological diversity, why we get different accounts of the same event, and how we can reconcile all of that with a high view of Scripture. If you already have some experience in biblical studies or theology, I’d encourage you to pass this by in favor of Kenton Sparks’ God’s Word in Human Words. But for the uninitiated, Enns’ short book really is a huge help.

The Bible – No, I’m not cheating, and I’m not trying to be cliche either. Too few of us have actually read the Bible. I don’t mean cover to cover in one of those Bible-in-a-year reading plans. I mean actually read through the stories, digested them, thought about them, and learned from them. Do we understand how the prophets fit in with the deuteronomistic history? Do we get the cycle of sin-judgement-repentence throughout the book of Judges? Do we recognize that David is introduced twice in two mutually exclusive accounts in 1 Samuel? Have we wrestled with this book that we want to teach to students? If we haven’t, we need to. Wrestling with Scripture will help us be better youth ministers than any other book. I’m going to cheat and, in conjunction with this, encourage you to read Shaped by the Story by Michael Novelli. Michael’s book helps us learn how to help students understand and enter God’s story. But it’s certainly no replacement for actually wrestling with that story ourselves.

Honorable Mention: Middle School Ministry by Mark Oestreicher and Scott Rubin – If you’re working with middle school students specifically, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s pretty much one of a kind, and is jam packed with helpful information for those of us who minister to and with middle school students.

One final note, there are so many other books that would be helpful for those working with students. This is really just a place to start. I also need to mention that it’s always possible I might change my mind. I might read a book next week that I think just has to go on this list. That’s the beauty of the Internet, I can always come back and update my list. In the meantime, happy reading.

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