7 Family Minsitry Essentials: a book review

In the past, Children and youth ministry has been directed entirely at what the church can do for your kids when you aren’t there. We have shunted children off to a Sunday School room and overload youth with fun activities among their peer group. A handful of  ministry practitioners have helped us enlarge our vision of what family ministry could be.  Michelle Anthony and Megan Marshman are two such people.

Together they challenge us to a more holistic vision, identifying the 7 Family Ministry Essentials:

  1. Empowering families to take spiritual leadership in the home.
  2. Forming lifetime faith that transcends childhood beliefs.
  3. Teaching Scripture as the ultimate authority of truth.
  4. Understanding the role of the Holy Spirit’s power to teach and transform.
  5. Engaging every generation in the gospel of God’s redemptive story.
  6. Making God central in daily living and every biblical narrative.
  7. Working with the community to further God’s will.

While many of these seem like they should be no-brainers for any Christian ministry leader, Anthony and Marshman challenge us to think beyond concepts to how these ‘essentials’ shape our practice. So for example, it isn’t enough to acknowledge that parent’s have a real and vital role to play in their children’s spiritual life. If churches and ministry leaders take this seriously, they will see it as vital to their mission to empower families to lead their kid’s into the truths of the faith. As a children’s minister, Anthony stopped sending home summaries of what the kids learned that day and started sending home ‘pre-teach resources’ that allowed parents to read the Bible passage to their children and interact with them over various questions before the next Sunday (40). Similarly an investment in ‘lifetime faith which transcends childhood beliefs’ means more than hoisting information on kids, or settling for just teaching moral behavior. Instead it means leading children and youth into an encounter with Jesus and allowing them to be spiritually formed (73).

Each of these essentials points to ways that the general practice of family ministries ought to be redefined. The chapters end with a ‘ministry assessment’ designed to help ministry leaders engage the book and make practical changes in their ministry to students. I highly recommend this resource for anyone involved in children’s or student ministry (i.e. Pastors, teachers, children’s directors, lay leaders, etc). I give it five stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book via LitFuse Publicity Group and DavidCCook in exchange for my honest review.

Testifying Teens: a book review

Testimony has a significant impact on the faith development of adolescents. As young people learn to tell their story of faith, it cements their understanding of God, fosters identity formation and allows the wider community to feedback into their experience and when necessary offer a critique. Amanda Hontz Drury explores what happens for youth as they testify, and puts forward a theology of testimony and offers practical advice on how churches can incorporate intentional, public testimony into youth ministry.

Drury has fifteen years of youth ministry experience and is professor of practical theology at Indiana Wesleyan University. In Saying Is Believing: The Necessity of Testimony in Adolescent Development, Drury offers a similar case for testimony as Thomas Long’s Talking Ourselves into Being Christian, though she is much more sophisticated in her use of sociological research and theology than Long (cementing for me, yet again, that the most interesting work being done in the area of practical theology comes from the youth ministry world). Having read both Long’s and her book, I would say this is the better book. I also see a similarity between Drury’s project and Brandon McCoy’s Youth Ministry from the Outside In which builds off social construction theory and helps youth ‘thicken’ their connection to God’s story as they learn to share their own. There are differences between their approaches but I think enough of an overlap that these books are worth reading side by side.

Drury draws on her experience in youth ministry and her holiness heritage (where a mic in the aisle meant we’d hear from more than just the pastor). As you would expect, she has anecdotes about the telling our particular faith story, but at its core this is a book that is well-researched, sophisticated and theologically thoughtful. Drury doesn’t simply make claims of the necessity for testimony but engages serious research. Her chapter on a ‘Theology of Testimony’ synthesizes the perspectives on witness in Phoebe Palmer (the Nineteenth century, Holiness evangelist) and Karl Barth. This is a creative and thoughtful treatment on testimony.

The book’s five chapters lay out Drury’s case for testimony. Chapter one forms her introduction. Chapter two discusses the findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion which illustrated that young people are inarticulate about their beliefs. Drury argues that teaching youth to speak about their faith strengthens their understanding of Christian truths and their grasp on where God has been active in their lives. Chapter three utilizes the insights of narrative psychology to illustrate the importance of telling one’s own story for identity formation. Chapter four outlines a theology of testimony. Here Drury creatively synthesizes Phoebe Palmer and Karl Barth in attempt to give a full account of the role and function of testimony for the Christian life. Palmer considered herself a ‘Bible Christian’ and had little use for ‘theological technicalities.’ Barth for his part, would be dismissive of Palmer’s subjectivity (95); however Drury points out that Barth corrects Palmer in offering a Christocentric spirituality focused on Jesus rather than the individual self (97) and Palmer corrects Barth in placing personal testimony within the domain of biblical witness (98-9). Drury places these thinkers in dialectic and illustrates that testimony is a Christian call, an expression of gratitude for what God has done, and is enabled and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Her final chapter offers her pragmatic approach to implementing testimony with North American adolescents.

The theological core of this book is applicable far beyond the realm of youth ministry. All ages and stages would benefit from intentional space for testimony; however the way that learning to tell our story impacts our grasp on reality and our self-understanding is of peculiar importance for adolescents. Drury offers practical insight in how to incorporate testimony into youth ministry. As a pastor who is concerned that the youth of my church grow in their knowledge of Jesus and in relationship to Him, I appreciate Drury’s take.

This book is more ‘theological’ than your typical youth ministry book. Drury isn’t offering a “How to” so much as providing a conceptual framework and a re-orientation around the theme of testimony. Obviously this is a good ‘student’ book for those who are learning and thinking about youth ministry but I hope it finds itself in practitioner hands. I also think her theology chapter is widely applicable beyond youth.  I give this book four stars!

Notice of material connection, I received this book from IVP Academic in exchange for my honest review.

Calling Partners For Youth Ministry & Beyond: a book review

I have been a part of an effective youth ministry team. I was not the pastoral leader but a team member, so I wasn’t responsible for creating and building the team, but it was great. We met together, did retreats together and did team building exercises.We called ourselves the ‘Youth Support Team’ (insert your favorite jock strap/bra joke here, we made them all). As the Youth Support Team (YST) we planned our weekly youth worship service, we mentored, we prayed with and for kids and planned special events. On a whole, we did effective and fruitful ministry together. I have been part of youth ministry before and since when finding an adequate ministry team was difficult and appreciate resources for building teams.

These days I don’t directly work with youth, but as a solo senior pastor in a small church I am invested in seeing the youth of my church thrive. Mark Devries and Nate Stratman of Ministry Architects have written Building Your Volunteer Team to help youth ministers raise up volunteers for their church. The book is a 30-day Change project for youth ministry and DeVries and Stratman guarantee that if their program is followed, it will build your volunteer team.

DeVries and Stratman organize tasks for each day to help youth leaders to approach recruitment systematically. Much of what they give you to do amounts to calling and follow-up with people in an organized way. The goal isn’t just to get new warm bodies into youth ministry to serve, but to build a team where people are serving in their gifts and passions (the right people on the bus). DeVries augment the practical steps with instructions for prayer partners and weekly sabbath days (AKA reflection days).

Each week begins with a ‘balcony day,’–a day to set the agenda for the week, and ends with a day reflecting on the process. The idea is to approach ministry recruitment systematically, thoughtfully and to follow through for  a month. If you do that, DeVries and Stratman claim that the results are assured.

Because this is a book about ‘recruitment’ more than it is a book about youth ministry, much of what DeVries and Stratman say is applicable to building a volunteer team for any ministry. They offer lots of practical advice and because this is an organized approach, there are practical steps here that will be helpful to leaders. I also appreciate the places where DeVries and Stratman help retool our thinking about raising up volunteers. For example, day three talks about how we are not aiming at getting ‘helpers’ who will jump in where needed, but partners who take ownership in ministry. They also share other phrases to strike from our vocabulary:

  • “It’s just easier to do it myself” (56).
  • “I Called but they Haven’t called me back yet” (59).
  • “I don’t know anyone else!” (62).
  • “What do I say on my fourth message?” (65).

But most of this book isn’t about attitude and vocabulary, it is about working the steps: creating lists of names, calling potential volunteers, interviewing past volunteers, creating documents, organizing, recruiting, crafting a team. The chief value of DeVries and Stratman’s book is how practical and hands on they are.

When I look at the possibility of applying this book to building a youth team for our church, I am not exactly sure how well it will work for our context. I think a lot of their suggestions work better in a mid-to-large congregation. My congregation is less than sixty and predominantly older. I feel like I would have to do some reworking to follow their steps verbatim. But I did gain a practical approach to raising up volunteers and will be looking at how to implement their suggestions faithfully in my context. Team ministry is the way to go and if this book can help get us there, that is great. I give this book four stars: ★★★★

Notice of material connection, I received this book from IVP in exchange for my honest review

What’s Your Story: a book review

What do you think about when you think of youth ministry? Pre-fab curriculum? Programs? Silly Games? Youth pastors who ‘really care,’ play guitar and have a soul patch?  I am several years removed from the youth ministry world but still am invested in how to nurture the faith of teens and young adults. The perennial problem has been that when youth graduate from youth group, they graduate from church. Thankfully this is not the case with everyone, but it happens far too often.

Brandon McKoy offers a fresh approach which will change the way many are doing youth ministry. Youth Ministry From the Outside In draws together insights from practical theology and Social Constructionism. In fact, youth ministry guru Chap Clark writes the Forward and social theorist Kenneth Gergen writes an Afterward. In between, McKoy takes on a journey from  the way youth ministry  is–with its focus on individuals–to a fuller, richer picture which encompasses the insights of narrative therapy and linguistics. McKoy utilizes  social constructionism to posit that we (and our youth) are interconnected beings whose story is shaped by environments, traditions, family systems, etc. He sees the job of the youth minister is to help students to narrate their own story, get them to ‘thicken’ their own story through asking perceptive questions and exploring the themes, and by helping students locate their own story in the biblical story. Youth grow in their faith and relationship with God when they are able to locate their lives within Jesus’ own story.

In Part One McKoy describes the shift from the modernist emphasis on individualism (“You are Special”) to the social constructionist view of persons existing as a web or relationships.  This inter-connection explains why students take on different roles in their various relationships. For example. a student can be a growing thriving youth in church, but act ‘out of character’ while at school or at work. It isn’t just that they are just being hypocritical or duplicitous. The relationships that formed them may cause them to behave in certain ways in certain settings (because we are defined in relationship). McKoy suggests the way to address this is by getting students to tell their life stories which thicken their connection to the gospel.

This is fleshed out in Part Two. McKoy describes the significance of life stories and the events that shape our youth, particularly in early childhood and pre-adolescence., middle school and mid-adolescence, and middle adolescence. By getting youth to narrate their own life story, this promotes self understanding among youth and fosters organic spiritual growth.

In part three McKoy connects the life stories of our youth with the biblical story.  McKoy is concerned that we read the Bible mindful of our biases and assumptions, as well as the textual issues inherit in its pages. However he does argue for the authority of scripture because of the authority we invest in it as faith communities (163). Furthermore, he urges us to read the Bible as an ‘all-encompassing story’ and to focus on the person of Jesus as our hermenuetical key for understanding the whole of scripture.  McKoy wants youth to encounter a full-bodied version of the Biblical story and be able to make connections their to their own stories:

If students are not given thick descriptions of this [biblical] story, their personal stories(being shaped by the prevailing cultural story) will not be enriched by the alternate reality (God’s story) with which to frame the stories of the story of their lives.  Presenting the biblical story is not about providing explanations for events that the authors did not include or searching deep behind the meaning of the words, but about re-presenting the text in living detail (180).

Such a close reading text enables youth to imagine the realities of the Kingdom of God and helps them know Jesus because we know Him through knowing his story. And so a thick description of the biblical story and an emphasis on relationships enables students to  deepen their own story and grow in their faith.

Many Christians are suspicious of social construction theory and narrative approaches. Are these approaches ‘too postmodern?’ Are they too loose in their appeal to authority and truth? Is their emphasis on relationships harmful to our conception of the individual? McKoy anticipates many of these objections and attempts to answer them through out the book (often in a a text box labeled ‘the critic’s voice’).  I remain uncertain about aspects of social construction but find the way McKoy applies its insights helpful and suggestive. Certainly attention to how people are shaped by relationships, and the value of narrative approaches to understanding people and scripture offer important insights.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone active in ministry. This book is focused on youth ministry and is most appropriate for those who are active in that world; however the uniqueness of McKoy’s approach and the manner in which he explores the implications of social constructionism for ministry has a wider application.  Part two discusses the developmental stages which affect adolescents; yet the basic approach of focusing on relationships, retelling stories of people, capturing the story and moving youth to greater engagement with Jesus’ story is also applicable to just about anyone.  I re-read several sections of this book as  I thought about applications. You may not agree with every aspect of what you find here, but it is sufficently challenging. I give this book five stars:★★★★★

Thank you to InterVarsity Press for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.