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.


Peter Enns to Leave Westminster

Not that I think anyone will be surprised by this, but Art Boulet is linking to a joint statement from Peter Enns and Westminster Seminary.

The gist of the statement is that; 1) WTS agrees that Peter Enns is an evangelical, 2) Peter Enns agrees that WTS thinks he isn’t Reformed (or at least their brand of Reformed).

I have only a few thoughts on this; 1) Not surprising, 2) Peter Enns has guts, 3) it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Dr. Enns.

My thoughts on Enns and Westminster

I’ve listened to the special chapel discussion that took place at Westminster today. Here are my impressions and thoughts on the chapel itself and the broader issues taking place at Westminster:

1. I thought that the students did an excellent job of being respectful and yet asking very pertinent, at at times pointed, questions.
2. The administration representatives did as all such representatives do, they dodged. That isn’t to say they didn’t answer questions, they did. But they were quick to hedge their comments with cautions.
3. At least one of the questioners asked if Dr. Enns had been formally charged with anything. This was perhaps the most interesting question posed in the entire 36 minute chapel. The answer included a double helping of hedging but it eventually came out that, no he had not been formally charged, though there were allegations that were brought. The way I see it, the Board of Westminster has gotten themselves into a pickle. They decided to ignore the faculty vote on his orthodoxy, and go ahead and suspend Dr. Enns. As a result they appear to be suspending him for the nebulous “disunity” on campus. Which of course, leads back to his book which is the reason for the disunity. But, if Dr. Enns is still in agreement with the WCF, which a majority of faculty say he is, then there is no cause for disunity surrounding the book.
4. I think that the very fact that there are some who are questioning Enns’ conservatism shows a tendency among conservative evangelicals to go on witch hunts. This concerns me greatly. The fact that Westminster is getting all bent out of shape because Dr. Enns said Christians don’t need to be afraid of critical scholarship is simply astounding.
5. All of this leads me to the question of whether or not true scholarship can take place at confessional schools. Scholarship naturally involves questioning. When someone is stopped from questioning, that’s a bad thing. Of course, one could make the argument that any Christian school that attempted to hold to any kind of creed (even something as basic as the Apostles’ Creed) would eventually stop people from questioning things. I understand and agree with the sentiment. But the Apostles’ Creed, for instance, would allow much more room for questions than something like the WCF.

So, with all of this the question remains for me, how can scholarship take place in conservative evangelical circles when it would appear that if one acknowledges some of the findings of scholarship over the past hundred years they are immediately labeled “liberal.” Such labels are unhelpful at best and dehumanizing at worst. Relatedly, I find Michael’s questions quite interesting.

Special Chapel at Westminster

As promised, today, Tuesday April 1st, there was a special chapel held at Westminster Theological Seminary to bring the student body up to date on the goings on at the seminary. Art, a friend and current student at WTS, recorded the discussion and has posted a link to the mp3. I will not link directly to the mp3 from here because it appears that the site which was hosting it is under quite a bit of strain trying to serve up all of the requests. I do, however, highly recommend that everyone grab the mp3 and take the time to listen to it as soon as possible.

I will update this post if another link to the mp3 becomes available. I’ll also have another post with my impressions as soon as I’m able to listen to the mp3.

Update – The link to the mp3 from Art’s blog appears to be working wonderfully now.

Enns, bloggers, and explosions

There has been a veritable explosion of epic proportions in the blogosphere over the issue of Peter Enns’ suspension (I’m sorry, I ran out of adjectives or other ways to lengthen my already over long sentence).

I think the fact that almost every other word in the above sentence(s) is a link to a blogger discussing the issue of Dr. Enns’ suspension is telling. I pity the person in charge of next month’s Biblical Studies Carnival, but I digress. A few links deserve to be repeated for being exceptionally lucid: David Opderbeck shares some well articulated thoughts on what things like this mean to Evangelicalism. Kevin Wilson offers a telling exposition of exactly what this reveals about Westminster’s take on things. Everyone needs to read my friend Art Boulet’s blog since he is a current student at Westminster and may be in the best position to give the facts concerning the issue. As Art rightfully points out, Peter Enns was already voted “orthodox” (that is, in agreement with the Westminster Confession of Faith) by the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary. The issue is not his orthodoxy. I cannot stress enough the importance of Art’s blog in actually ascertaining the facts of the issue. Art may not like the decision, but he is willing to give the facts that are known, to the student body of WTS, at the present time.

My own opinion on the issue is that one should always err on the side of academic freedom. Obviously, a confessional school has the right to dismiss faculty for violating their particular confessional stance. The question, at the moment, is whether or not Dr. Enns has done that. The faculty of WTS voted that he has not violated that confessional stance. The seminary will do what it wants, of course, but the facts need to remain center-stage in our discussions of the issue.

One last comment, I realize that the blogosphere is a place where hierarchy means little or nothing. It’s one of the things I like about it. However, in this particular issue, one should certainly weigh the comments of those who are chiming in on the issue. I suggest one important criteria: has the person speaking on the issue ever taken the time to read Inspiration and Incarnation. In an ironic twist, I predict that Dr. Enns’ book will see a significant increase in sales because of this hullabaloo.

The cat, as they say, is out of the bag.

UPDATE – A special chapel was help on April 1st (if only this was all a bad April fools day joke). I have posted a link to Art Boulet’s blog, which in turn links directly to the mp3. Please take the time to download and listen.