Building one’s library is an essential aspect of any youth worker’s job. In this resource essay, we will explore several of what I think are the best books, periodicals, and websites of which anyone seeking to do youth ministry should be aware. As one who finds his theological home in the Wesleyan tradition (specifically the Church of the Nazarene), some of the resources I choose to focus on will have a decidedly Wesleyan emphasis to them. (Although truth be told, there aren’t as many specifically Wesleyan resources in youth ministry as we might like. Consider this a hint for some of you to expand that list.)
Theological Models and Programming
Mark DeVries, Family-Based Youth Ministry (InterVarsity, 2003).
Over the last two decades, there has been a movement to rethink youth ministry, as our adolescents have been leaving youth ministry and not returning to the church. DeVries offers a model that involves adults from the church connecting in discipling relationships in order to connect adolescents to the larger life of the church and thus provide potential for their faith to become lifelong. Although not strictly a theological analysis, this book does offer an approach that takes ecclesiology seriously in the formation of people.
Andrew Root, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry (InterVarsity, 2007).
This book reframed the whole idea of relational ministry by convincingly demonstrating that much of what we do in that name is actually nothing more than a transaction (e.g., “I’ll do this for you, and in return, I expect you to do this for me”). Drawing from the fields of Bible, theology (specifically the Christology of Bonhoeffer), history, sociology, and educational theory, Root presents a new vision for what relational (i.e., incarnational) ministry should look like. Although written from a Lutheran perspective, the basic concept is a thoroughly Wesleyan one.
Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford University Press, 2005).
Based on a national study of thousands of teenagers and their religious and spiritual lives, this groundbreaking book put into concrete terms what many in youth ministry had been feeling for some time, namely, that the assumptions we had been operating on for so long regarding youth were no longer valid and, as such, teenagers were not sustaining faith long-term. These teenagers were actually embracing the faith of their parents, but as Smith points out, that’s not necessarily a good thing, as that faith rarely resembles the life of faith called for in Scripture. As a sociologist in religion, Smith doesn’t claim to offer theological analysis of the findings. However, the findings themselves are important to understand in order to process theologically.
Anne E. Streatty Wimberly, Karma D. Johnson, and Sandra L. Barnes, Youth Ministry in the Black Church (Judson, 2013).
Using ethnographic research focused on the challenges facing the Black Church in its ministry to youth, this interdisciplinary book shares the realities present and the challenges that must be addressed. The authors offer tools to help the reader critically assess his or her ministry in light of the theology of hope the authors embrace.
Journal of Youth and Theology
This international peer-reviewed journal aims at furthering the academic study and research of youth and youth ministry. What sets this journal apart from others of its ilk is that its research articles mainly have theology (practical, systematic, and biblical) as a core discipline, while also seeking to include interdisciplinary contributions.
History of Adolescence and Developmental Issues
Mark Senter, When God Shows Up: A History of Protestant Youth Ministry in America (Baker Academic 2010).
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This famous quotation by George Santayana sums up the need for this book: unless we understand youth ministry’s past and how we got to where we are today, we are bound to keep making the same mistakes and never discerning how youth ministry must continually be aware of changing culture and thus how to respond accordingly to reach and nurture adolescents.
Crystal Kirgiss, In Search of Adolescence: A New Look at an Old Idea (The Youth Cartel, 2015).
For much of the last 100+ years, youth workers have bought into the notion that adolescence is a recent social construct that originated in the late 1800s. However, Kirgiss, drawing from historical literature and documents, suggests that this season of life change we call adolescence has actually been around much longer than we assumed. This book should be read in conjunction with When God Shows Up in order to arrive at your own conclusions regarding adolescence.
Mark A. Yarhouse, Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture (IVP Academic, 2015).
Few issues are as misunderstood in the 21st-century church as the issue of gender identity. Yarhouse is one of the few who both understands the issue and can speak to the church about its role in ministering to this group. More and more youth pastors are encountering students who identify as transsexual or genderqueer. Given the complexity of this issue, and the fact that the average youth pastor has little or no training in this area, this book is an excellent start in helping one determine how to address this issue in her or his congregation.
Journal of Adolescence
Primarily seeks to look at adolescent development between puberty and the attainment of adult status within society, with particular focus on personality, social, and emotional functioning. The aim of the journal is to encourage research and foster good practice through publishing both empirical and clinical studies. Although the journal is not Christian, the research provides valuable insights that can help youth workers better understand the adolescents with whom they are working.
Understanding Youth Culture
Len Kageler, Youth Ministry in a Multifaith Society (InterVarsity, 2014).
This book states explicitly what we know implicitly — we live in a multifaith world. As such, it is important for Christian youth workers to discover what youth workers from other religions are doing to attract and convert adolescents. In addition, this book provides wonderful helps for Christian youth workers to better understand how they can help the adolescents in their sphere of influence come to understand and love Jesus.
Andrew Zirschky, Beyond the Screen: Youth Ministry for the Connected but Alone Generation (Abingdon, 2015).
Anyone who works with adolescents recognizes the impact of technology. And our standard response is often to demonize its impact on our youth. However, in this seminal work, Zirschky suggests that youth are using social media in an attempt to create what Danah Boyd calls “full-time intimate communities.” He artfully makes the case that teenagers largely use social media for the potential to foster “presence-in-absence.” Teenagers don’t want technology. They want the belonging and intimacy with others that it promises. This book will help you re-envision the impact of technology and especially social media on our youth.
A company that bills itself as the leading authority on Millennials, YPulse provides insights to marketers on what this group wants and needs. Although much of its material is subscription-based, there are significant amounts of free material available.
Center for Parent and Youth Understanding
CPYU is dedicated to helping parents, youth workers and educators understand how culture impacts our young people by offering cutting-edge information, resources, and analyses of various cultural issues from a Christian perspective. The goal is to help them increase the effectiveness of their ministry to adolescents.
Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry (Upper Room, 1998).
This book helped redefine what youth ministry was for an entire generation by moving the discussion away from programming as the primary focus of youth ministry and instead seeing the primary role of the youth worker as one who willingly chooses to invest in the lives of adolescents by becoming theotokos (a Godbearer) and pointing them to God. Now 17 years old, the book continues to be a standard in youth ministry. Dean and Foster are both United Methodist and write in that theological vein.
Mark DeVries, Sustainable Youth Ministry (InterVarsity, 2008).
DeVries writes out of both personal experience (over 25 years in the local church) and his work as the founder of Youth Ministry Architects (a coaching service), where he has worked with hundreds of churches, helping them discover how to build sustainable youth ministries. In this gem of a book, you’ll discover how to build a youth ministry from the ground up, one that will withstand the changing culture and most importantly, create a culture and environment that allows students to grow deeper in their faith.
Mark DeVries and Nate Stratman, Building Your Volunteer Team (InterVarsity, 2015).
The importance of building a youth ministry volunteer team cannot be overstated. Yet, far too many youth pastors believe it’s not worth the time and hassle to do it, or simply think they can do it better and faster. The reality, as this book makes clear, is that unless we are utilizing volunteers to work alongside as we minister together to young people, we are minimizing our effectiveness and ability to do evangelism and discipleship. This book is full of practical helps in forming, training and nurturing a healthy volunteer team.
Kara E. Powell, Brad M. Griffin, and Cheryl A.Crawford, Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition (Zondervan, 2011.
This resource is based on recent studies that indicate 40-50% of adolescents who are connected to a youth group through high school will not continue with their faith in college. Providing a theological framework, as well as practical ideas, this book seeks to find ways to reverse that trend and help students develop a faith that sticks throughout life.
Mike Work and Ginny Olson, Youth Ministry Management Tools 2.0 (Zondervan, 2014).
For many youth workers, the administrative side of ministry is difficult. This resource provides youth workers with a plethora of helpful forms, ideas, case studies, and practical advice for actually managing your ministry. The book comes with a CD that allows you to download and print out over 100 forms that will be invaluable for helping you become more adept at administration.
This practical journal offers discussions of important topics in youth ministry (sexuality, working with parents, student leadership, youth minister salaries, etc.), articles on professional development as youth workers, and plenty of youth ministry resources such as Bible studies, insights into youth culture, games and activities, and reviews of the latest youth ministry books and tools.
This resource offers similar content to Group Magazine.
Designed for those in the Wesleyan tradition, Barefoot is a “one-stop shop” for all your youth ministry programming. A subscription-based service, the website provides multiple curriculum lines, youth worker training, training for student leaders, spiritual formation content for both youth workers and students, management and communication tools, and much more.
The reality is there are tens of thousands of good resources available. In addition, each year there are hundreds of new youth ministry resources that come into being. As such, the moment this essay is submitted, there will probably be a new resource that should have been included. Given the incredible speed with which youth culture and thus youth ministry changes, it is important to regularly be reading the most recent literature, studies, and resources in order to ensure one is as up-to-date as possible on these issues in order to ensure we can continue to minister effectively to those God has entrusted to us.