I’ve been reading a lot of books. Specifically, I’ve been reading a lot of youth ministry books. As I’ve been reading books on student leadership, relational youth ministry, how to disciple students, and a host of other topics, I noticed something: we always want to agree.
Let me elaborate. In pretty much any other area where I do extensive reading (biblical studies, linguistics, Hebrew language, phonology and morphology, ancient near eastern studies, second temple, even adolescent psychology) when someone disagrees with something, they aren’t afraid to say so. More importantly, in those fields you’re expected to interact with the latest research. That means you can’t simply not address how your view on topic X differs from Professor Y’s view on topic X if Professor Y has recently published a monograph on said topic. Youth ministry books are different. I’ll allow that books on youth ministry aren’t meant to be scholarly monographs. Even so, it is frustrating when an author doesn’t interact with other youth ministry authors.
By and large, the youth ministry world is fairly small. If someone has managed to publish anything larger than an article in Youthworker, Group or Immerse that person probably knows and is known by a plurality of the other voices in youth ministry. So, we want to be kind. We want to embody love. I get that. But sometimes it would just be really helpful if an author would say, “I suggest doing such and such. You might note that this is different than what B suggests in her recent book. B is a great person, but I think she’s wrong here. Let me explain why…”
Maybe publishers don’t want to deal with that. Maybe authors just want to be nice. But every year I read a number of youth ministry books. Some of which have wildly differing ideas on ministry, or even a single aspect of ministry. That’s good! We need different perspectives. But sometimes I feel like either A) these authors aren’t reading one another or B) I’m completely misinterpreting what every one of them is saying. I know A can’t be true, and I’d like to believe that B isn’t any more likely. Therefore, there must be another reason. Regardless of what that reason is, I’d like to say: it’s OK to disagree. It’s OK to say you disagree. One of the things that makes scholarship so helpful is the back and forth that goes on between scholars. We need more of that–in published form–between youth workers who respect one another, but have legitimate disagreements over aspects of youth ministry philosophy and praxis.
I’m not saying this never happens in youth ministry. After all, Mark Oestreicher sometimes mentions minor disagreements with Kurt Johnston. But on the whole, we try to stay away from this and just applaud one another. On the one hand, that’s a good thing. We are all on the same team. On the other hand, I think doing so limits our interactions on important topics because youth ministry authors aren’t interacting with one another in sustained ways via books and articles. Perhaps that is happening on a personal level, but that doesn’t benefit the wider youth ministry world.