One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself, and one of the most underrated responsibilities we have as youth workers, is to read. And yes—you heard me correctly. Reading is a responsibility we have as youth workers—not to know everything there is to know, but to be willing to continually educate ourselves and learn from other people who’ve labored on our behalf to discern the obstacles we face in ministry, the questions we should be asking, and the practices that will enable us to faithfully participate in Christ’s ministry to the world.
Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “But who’s got time to read? I’m too busy getting stuff done to sit and read a whole book.” I’d like to suggest that you may not have time not to read. As youth workers, we extend ourselves—often, to our limits. We rarely have time to analyze everything on our own and do our own research. We need each other. We need other people who are passionate about faithfully engaging in the task of ministry. Perhaps especially, we need those who’ve dedicated years of their lives to researching the questions we don’t have time to answer on our own. Enter the practice of reading.
So my challenge to you, in 2016, is to start a reading list… and, more importantly, starting reading the books that are on it! To help you get started, here’s a short list of books you may not have gotten around to reading quite yet.
Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus
by Morgan Schmidt
Morgan Schmidt should be considered one of the most creative up-and-coming minds in youth ministry. In Woo, Schmidt teaches us what it might mean for us to actually honor the desires of young people and to trust that God has something to do with why those desires exist in the first place. This book doesn’t offer a lot of methods or strategies. What it does offer might be even more valuable: a posture for ministry that takes the youth in youth ministry seriously.
Saying is Believing
by Amanda Hontz Drury
In youth ministry, we spend a lot of time talking to young people. At youth group gatherings, camps, conferences, and church services, we’re really good at telling young people about Jesus. But we’re not so good at listening. Generally speaking, we don’t spend enough time actually allowing young people to talk about their experience of God… nor have we really figured out how to do that. In Saying is Believing, Amanda Hontz Drury—who is truly one of the top minds in youth ministry right now—teaches us the importance of testimony: allowing and helping young people share their story and talk about God’s action in their life.
“The Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry”
series by Andrew Root
Reading is a responsibility we have as youth workers. Whatever you do decide to read, may you continue to learn and to discern your role in God’s ministry to the world—especially to the young people in your life.
Theology can be tough reading. And sometimes it’s not obvious how theology would (or should) impact the way we do ministry. In this series of short books, Andrew Root helps us think theologically about ministry… and he does so not through dogmatic sketches or explanations of doctrine but though story telling. In this series you’ll follow a young youth worker named Nadia as she navigates the common but challenging theological questions of youth ministry. It won’t take long for you to see yourself in Nadia’s experience and to begin thinking through your own theological questions about ministry.
Beyond the Screen
by Andrew Zirschky
This book is on my reading list for 2016. I haven’t read it yet, but I am familiar enough with Zirschky’s research and his ability as a writer to confidently say that this book will profoundly impact the way you think about the role of technology and social media in your ministry. Zirschky approaches the challenges posed to us by technology with a level head. He doesn’t demonize technology, nor does he demonize the young people for whom it is so ubiquitous. Instead, he sees young people’s use of technology and social media as a real source of meaning and a real location of divine action. If we can patiently look through the screen, to the real desires and passions beyond it, we may discover that the church has something to learn and something to offer.
In The Name of Jesus
by Henri J. M. Nouwen
This is not, strictly speaking, a “youth ministry” book. Nor is it as new as the other books on this list. But In The Name of Jesus is one of the greatest contributions from one of the greatest pastoral guides in history. Nouwen surprises us on every page as he helps us navigate three great temptations in ministry: relevance, spectacle, and power.
I offer these books as a suggested starting place for your ministry reading list. There are a million other books that would help you to discern best practices and to think theologically about your ministry. Whatever you do decide to read, may you continue to learn and to discern your role in God’s ministry to the world—especially to the young people in your life.
Wes Ellis is a Member in Discernment in the United Church of Christ and an M.Div. student at Princeton Theological Seminary. He has served in youth ministry and adult Christian education in UCC, UMC, and PCUSA settings, as well as evangelical ministry settings. He is passionate about theology and youth ministry and is convinced that the two belong to each other.