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    Entries in Youth Ministry (11)


    2015 End of Year Book Notes

    In past years, I have shared my list of books read, highlighting titles I really enjoyed. I’ve also taken the time to link those titles to If you click a title from my website and purchase that book as a result, and if this happens enough, I receive a credit to that allows me to buy more books, which I, of course, delight in doing. As Erasmus remarked, "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes."

    This year, I won’t list all of the titles. Instead, I want to highlight a few themes. I’ve read some challenging academic theology this year, but much more fiction. I have spent time with a number of authors focused on the pastoral task. Among my favorite authors this year were C. J. Sansom and Rowan Williams.

    The first book I finished reading this year was Thomas C. Oden’s A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir. This book was a gift from my sister and brother-in-law, given last year. Soon thereafter, I finished reading John Wesley’s Works, Vol. 5. That was the culmination of work spanning several years. This volume features Wesley’s sermons. In contrast, one of the last books I finished was John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol. 1. I’ll move on to the second volume of the Institutes in the year to come. I also plan to read Barth’s Dogmatics.

    The above is preface, here are the themes. And I’ll include a short bonus on how I keep track of titles.

    Academic Theology

    C. S. Lewis once wrote, "I believe that many who find that 'nothing happens' when they sit down, or kneel down, to a book of devotion, would find that the heart sings unbidden while they are working their way through a tough bit of theology with a pipe in their teeth and a pencil in their hand.” I have not spent time with a pipe this year. But I have held a pencil, and a few works of challenging theology.

    Stanley Hauerwas’s The Work of Theology was my most anticipated read. I have attempted to read everything he has written. I also read The Holy Spirit, which Hauerwas co-authored with William Willimon. Both books released this year.

    I mentioned Wesley and Calvin above, and I will continue to read them both. Other notables this year were Robert Jenson’s Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God, and George Eldon Ladd’s Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God. I read Ladd, in part, because of my reading of Scot McKnight’s Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church early in 2015.


    Reviewing my reading list, this is where I am most surprised. I read a lot of fiction this year. The authors: Barbara Kingsolver, Stephen King, Michael Connelly, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, John Irving, C. J. Sansom, Willa Cather, Alan Patton, Andrew Klavan, and Sue Monk Kidd.

    Since I read a number of titles by Michael Connelly, both from the Bosch and Lincoln Lawyer series, crime fiction dominated my imagination. Connelly’s pacing, dialogue, and realism make for enjoyable reading.

    Reading novels has been shown to increase empathy (, a needed skill in pastoral ministry. Empathy is also a really good skill to have in life.

    Pastoral Theology

    Thomas C. Oden’s Pastoral Theology: Essentials of Ministry is the headliner. I consider this book indispensable for those in ministry. I bought a used copy a few years ago, and I’m glad I finally committed myself to reading it, for the rewards were many. If you are serving in ministry, or discerning a call, this book provides an excellent overview and theological foundation for the pastoral task.

    My favorite books this year that encouraged my heart: Dallas Willard’s The Allure of Gentleness: Defending the Faith in the Manner of Jesus, Bernard of Clairvaux’s On Loving God, and Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation. I enjoyed reading Rowan Williams’s books Meeting God in Mark: Reflections for the Season of Lent and Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another. And from a practical ministry angle, I was challenged by Andrew Root’s little books, Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry and Taking Theology to Youth Ministry.

    The best book I read on youth ministry this year was by Mark DeVries, called Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn't Last and What Your Church Can Do About It. I got to hear from him at the National Youth Workers Convention in Louisville, which was an added blessing. DeVries has written a youth ministry model book I actually enjoyed reading, which is rare.

    One Other Book

    Early in 2015, the world lost David Carr, a writer best known for his work with The New York Times. Carr’s death was unexpected. Many offered their remembrances of Carr on Twitter. Which led me to watch the documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times ( I was then led to read Carr’s book The Night of the Gun: A reporter investigates the darkest story of his life. His own.

    While I can’t say everyone should read David Carr, I’m glad that I did.

    How I Keep Track of Titles

    According to my record, this year I read 78 books, along with countless articles, blog posts, and what I’ll call online fodder. I would do well to spend less time flitting between Twitter and Facebook, and more time with classic literature and works of theology, with a pencil in hand.

    I’m not the best at annotation, and while I own a book journal, I do not use it regularly. I have one notebook that I have numbered and sectioned, according to my needs. I have tabs for notes, quotes, ideas, lists, goals, and books. My book tab is last, and I work from the last page of my journal, backwards and toward the front. I number my list by fives, and record the author and the title. If I think a book is exceptionally well written and impactful, I place a star by the title.

    Here’s a picture:

    I love to read. I have a few titles, primed and ready, on my nightstand, at my desk, and in my office.

    I can’t wait to see what next year shall bring.


    When the Talk is a Bust

    As a youth and college worker, I teach lessons and preach sermons.

    Sometimes my talk is a bust.

    My students don't always say so. They are kind. Neither do my adult leaders, even when I ask for feedback.

    But I know. Deep down, I know.

    So what do I do?

    I dust myself off and prepare for the next talk.

    I don't quit.

    As a pastor, I remind myself that my acceptance before God is not depend on my performance, but has been secured by Christ's redemptive action on the cross. I remind myself that God is sovereign, and that the Holy Spirit provides us with the words we need. That's good medicine.

    It is that freedom that enables me to study harder, to think more carefully, and to attempt great things for God. Any success that I witness is a gift from God.

    If you're a youth or college worker, don't get discouraged. If you are a Bible teacher or a preacher and you  feel as though you are failing, don't quit.

    Dust yourself off. Kneel in prayer. Ask God for guidance. Trust in God's grace. Press on.

    Keep running the race.


    Book Review: Zondervan's NIV Teen Study Bible

    Every time I visit a bookstore, I take a look at the Bibles on sale. Zondervan's NIV Teen Study Bible is widely used by young people. Whenever I have a student ask for recommendations for an age appropriate Bible, I want to be able to point them to helpful resources. This edition is solid.

    Teenagers have basic needs. The translation needs to be readable and accessible. The text notes need to be exegetically sound and practically helpful. Basic historical information makes the stories come alive, and this edition includes this kind of help. And, if possible, teen study Bibles prove essential when application is made to life today. This Bible makes a run at each of those aims, though the notes, application, and commentary in this edition is by no means exhaustive. Good teachers and secondary resources add perspective and depth of insight, and I trust that if your teen is reading this Bible, those will be available.

    One notable aspect of this version of the Bible is the inclusion of The Apostles' Creed as a theological rubric that guides the reading and understanding of the text. For creedal traditions, this will be a welcome feature. For church traditions which pay little mind to the creeds, this could be a cause for concern. In the early pages of this Bible, the creed is accompanied by Scripture references. I think this was a good move on the part of the editorial team.

    Concerning look and feel, my copy is a hardcover edition, which feels sturdy. The pages also have a good weight.

    Here is some information on specific features:

    • Big Picture Book Recaps: Tucked inside each book, there is a "Panorama" heading. In a sentence, the student is reminded of the primary theme.
    • Keeping Q & A Personal: Throughout this Bible, there are letters written addressing teenage concerns. The "Dear Jordan" inserts provide wisdom on moral dilemmas or theological searching.
    • Key Concept Exposition and Summaries: "To the Point" and "Instant Access" provide illustrations or direct applications of key passages or verses.
    • Unpacking the Apostles' Creed: This Bible begins with a copy of the Apostles' Creed, and the corresponding Scripture passages. Students are given both a basic theological framework through which to read the Bible, and guidance on where to find the foundations for these beliefs.
    • Book Overviews: Each book of the Bible starts with an overview, giving the reader an idea of what they will encounter. These are brief, have a basic outline, and provide a little bit of historical context. Would be complemented nicely with a commentary, Bible dictionary, or other resource.
    • Trivia: Insets raise questions and offer answers. Trivia questions relate directly to the text at hand, so if students are reading, they can search for answers, or check their reading retention and comprehension.
    • Full Color Maps: Patriarchs, Exodus and Conquest, 12 Tribes, Davidic and Solomonic Kingdoms, Life and Times of Jesus, the Missionary Journeys, and First Century Jerusalem. Those maps parallel the Bible stories most teenagers will explore as part of a Sunday School or midweek gathering.

    I'd recommend this Bible for teenagers. It's colorful, interactive, and constructed with youth in mind.

    Note: I received this Bible from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for a review.


    There are lots of reasons to despair. Give us a reason to hope.

    Last Wednesday Joshua Luton at The Apprentice Institute wrote an inspiring meditation on youth and the future of Christianity. Read the entire piece, "The True Narrative About Young People in the Church."

    His central claim, "High school and college age members of the body of Christ don't want to leave, they want more."

    I happen to agree. There is more than enough negativity on offer. But God is good, and deeply loves the young people whom you know. One of the great discoveries I have made over the past fifteen years of working in ministry is that young people are searching for sound answers to life's great questions. They have genuine curiosity about the Bible and a deep desire to understand the spiritual life, and to live it richly as Christians. They want to be challenged and invited to use their gifts and talents as part of a community. And they want to love and serve others as a response to the love of God revealed in Jesus Christ.

    We often underestimate our students.

    Instead of complaining, build relationships, reach out to young people, and walk alongside them. Witness to Christ. Answer the questions they are actually asking (you might want to ask). And be open about your journey of transformation and change as a disciple.

    What you'll find will be refreshing. Jesus Christ is still calling disciples from among youth and college students. And Jesus is still calling us to point the way to him, to lead, to invite, to teach, and, most importantly, to model our faith.


    Emerging Adulthood, Causes for Conern, and the Practice of Asking Questions

    Over the course of this past year, I've taken the time to get to know a number of new friends ages 13 to 25. If you've paid any attention to the headlines, there is a growing concern for those in this age bracket, not only in my denominational tradition, but in all of American Christianity (see the Religious Landscape Survey from Pew here). Though it is an oft repeated statement that the church of every age must reach the next generation, recent statistics suggest that fewer young people are taking the claims of Christianity seriously in America, evidenced partly by the decline of conversions and baptisms among millennials. The message of the gospel has been obscured or is being rejected.

    For over a year I have been on the front lines in a new context, doing my best to build relationships with youth and emerging adults. I have listened to their beliefs, questions, perceptions, and troubles, and attempted to create a forum, or public commons, where we can explore concerns together. It's difficult work, but deeply rewarding.

    The articles cited above present a refrain so common I have come to expect it: "Young adults are abandoning Christianity." And we need to be wary when we hear these warnings. The research isn't always sound (see this book, which I wish more pastors would read).

    Dramatic wailing leads to a good click-through rate for online publications, and is intended to inspire action when repeated in congregational life. But the most common responses I have encountered are mourning, grief, and anger. Disillusionment, disappointment, and sometimes fear. And any response born out of fear, and not love, will be lacking and lead to a multitude of errors.

    The problems have to be diagnosed, and diagnosed accurately, before an effective response can be deployed.

    And there's the rub: most of us don't know how to respond. We don't know the real and practical steps we can take to be good neighbors to youth and emerging adults. I would encourage humility, curiosity, and compassion. God is sovereign over all things, human beings are each created in the divine image, and the work of salvation is the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit drawing all people to the Son, to the glory of the Father. Our calling is to witness--a much richer vocation than we have assumed. Perhaps one of the greatest keys to effectively responding to youth and college students is a deep faith in God resulting in an abiding peace, and the willingness to be engaged.

    Causes for Concern

    While keeping tabs on denominational developments and trends in American religiosity, I have also been reading Christian Smith's work Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (Oxford University Press, 2011). For anyone working in college and youth ministry, it's an indispensable sociological study of the prevailing beliefs, practices, and worldview of those entering adulthood. It is also sobering, for Smith and his team suggest that the prevailing beliefs of emerging adults are inherited and assumed due to the influence of the existing adult culture. Our unwillingness to face the problems of emerging adulthood is likely rooted in our denial that the problems of youth and emerging adults are, in fact, our own. "We have met the enemy, and he is us."

    Smith's research uncovers five primary areas of concern: 1) moral relativism stemming from radical individualism; 2) an addiction to consumerism and the inability to envision a need for restraint; 3) routine intoxication; 4) hurt and regret resulting from unhealthy sexual relationships; and 5) little or no vision for the common good, leading to civic and political disengagement. The first step in addressing these five concerns is admitting they are a very real part of young adult experience.

    Let me expand these five areas of concern. Youth and college students are asking questions about the foundations of morality. Generally speaking, I have found that they possess a set of values inherited from education in the public school system or picked up through cultural osmosis via the brine of popular music, movies, television, magazines, and social media. Emerging adults also possess economic power, either through their parents or via credit. Possessions are seen as symbols of status or totems of happiness.

    Youth and college students are also subject to numerous temptations related to drugs, alcohol, and sex, which is nothing new as a supposition, though Smith's research reveals trends that are alarming. And because of strong commitments to individualism and moral relativism, emerging adults lack a framework for navigating these temptations. They are ill-equipped. And lastly, while youth and college students have a desire to change the world, there is much work to do in helping young people move beyond their individual concerns to a commitment to the common good.

    In listening to students, I know that these concerns are very real. My congregation is a stone's throw from a university campus in my community. We are an outpost of the kingdom of God, strategically placed, and have a great opportunity to serve emerging adults. I take this very seriously, because I want our congregation to be a good neighbor to the youth in our city, but even more so to the university students pursuing their vocation in our immediate area.

    The Practice of Asking Questions

    In response, as a practice I ask questions. I listen. Some of my new friends know I like to talk. But my efforts will be in vain if I do not address the reality these students are facing.

    If you care about youth and college students, ask a lot of questions. Ask what people are struggling with. Ask about the objections your committed students are facing at school and in their social circles. What do people find compelling about Christianity, and what do they find problematic?

    Then, return to the Scripture and the riches of our tradition. Mine wisdom and bring it back. Refrain from judgmentalism and moralistic chatter. Restate the questions to your hearers, so everyone knows, precisely, what the problems are, and how we are attempting to address them. Then, solicit feedback. There may be better answers on offer, even in your own congregation. Students may be able to tell you how they are applying and thinking about the gospel. They may be able to testify how certain answers are effective in ways beyond your suggestions.

    When you hit on a helpful approach, share it generously with your students, and give credit to those who have found ways to overcome a challenge and live faithfully to Christ.