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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

"Teenagers Matter" (Mark Cannister)

TITLE: Teenagers Matter: Making Student Ministry a Priority in the Church (Youth, Family, and Culture)
AUTHOR: Mark Cannister
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014, (260 pages).

Is your Church average population getting older? Is there a decline in the number of teenagers or young people in your congregation? Have you ever wondered how on earth is your Church going to reach this particular age group more effectively and successfully? How has youth ministry changed over the years? These questions are dealt with ably by Gordon College Professor of Christian Ministries, Dr Mark Cannister. Also an elder and Sunday School teacher at Grace Chapel, Dr Cannister combines his formidable knowledge and experience with a deep love of people, and in this case, young people. He gives a breathtaking overview of youth ministry via four roughly sketched time-tested strategies.
  1. Late 1800s: Clarity of Purpose
  2. 1920s: Authentic Leadership
  3. 1930s: Transformation of Lives
  4. Post 1940s: Genuine Relationships
He proves the importance of "genuine relationships" through the breakfast meetings which had proven to be a hit among the teenager groups he led. Following this, he provides seven broad potentials when student ministry gets prioritized.

First, student ministry will thrive as churches and organizations move away from a "good enough" situation toward a comprehensive strategy that involves the entire Church, not just a department or a separate ministry. People will work together as one body focused on a single goal: Reaching people for God. He distills the many purposes into five components: worship, discipleship, evangelism, fellowship, and ministry.

Second, transformation of lives occur as false dichotomies are taken down, strategies of "balance" give way to "synergy," and faith formation happens with a recognition of the four different "identity statuses." Those who are uncommitted with regard to faith matters are termed as a "diffusion" status. This is also called "extrinsic faith." Those in the "foreclosure" status are people who conform to expectations of the parents, teachers, leaders, peers, etc. They simply follow along what is expected of them.  Those in the "Moratorium" status begin to wrestle with self-identity and faith matters a bit more. Such people may ask questions about faith and the contradictions they have encountered. The final status is "Achievement" where commitment is intrinsic and faith is tied closely to self-identity. Cannister spends quite a bit of time to explain the model arguing that understanding "identity statuses" will help leaders appreciate the changes happening within teenagers.

Third, student ministry priorities will naturally lend toward better resources for student ministry. As student ministry is frequently of an outreach nature, focusing on student ministries and reaching out to teenagers will help avoid situations where resources are being redirected toward self-sustaining activities. Rather than simply hiring a youth worker to serve X number of youths in the Church, why not look beyond the X toward the Y and Z and minister in faith by staffing for growth and outreach? Youth ministers need support from the other staff. The ministry must be stacked with a community of volunteer leaders. Efforts to integrate the youth ministry to the rest of the Church must be intentional and supported by leaders.

Fourth, teenagers become part of the Church core, not the peripheral. From membership to intergenerational bonding, communication is key. While there is a need for age-related ministries, there is also a need for intergenerational bridges of communications. One example is the intergenerational small groups.

Fifth, programming will be simpler as the focus shifts toward the understanding of calling, the focus on building, and the priority of sending. The process of faith formation takes precedence over programming details. Rather than focusing on programs just to keep up with the latest trends, work toward growing the support base and optimal stewardship of available resources.

Sixth, focusing on student ministry also means parents matter. Parents are partners in ministry. Their role in parenting their children is key to the development and faith of their children. Communicate with parents. Encourage and equip them. Work with them.

Seventh, focusing on student ministry helps unleash the next generation to do God's work. As youths experience healing, restoration, and the power of the gospel, they too would want to share that along with others. Youth ministries can equip and empower the household of faith and members of the Church.

So What?

What's the matter with teenagers? Actually, the problem is not theirs. It is very much the rest of us. With statistics and real life data to support the worrying decline of the numbers of young people in churches, many churches are indeed concerned about reaching out to this crucial group of future leaders. Unfortunately, many of the problems lay not in the teenagers per se, but the way churches are being run. Some churches fail to understand the nature of youth ministry as "moving targets" and thus unable to adapt to the rapidly changing demographics and tastes. Other churches prefer to invest minimally just to provide babysitting services for adult members of the Church. Still, others blame the culture, that the world is becoming more influential and youths are getting more worldly. Still, churches fail to perceive appropriately the need to vary their strategies in reaching out to this teenager group. Enters this book with a powerful and paradigm shifting view of why teenagers matter and how Churches and leaders can do to bridge the generational divide. At the heart of the book is that teenagers matter, and they matter enough to require churches adapt their strategies to prioritize student ministries not just for the sake of the Church or the gospel, but also for the sake of growing disciples in the Name of Christ. The Church need it. The gospel needs it. Teenagers need it.

This is not just another book about teenagers or youth ministry. It is a book about cultivating God's heart in us about bringing young people into the presence of God. The promise of this book is three-fold, aptly described by Cannister as "bold leaders, teenagers valued, church transformed." That looks impossible at first, but with God in faith, anything is impossible. In fact, this may very well determine the future of the Church. The best time to do so is right now. Thanks Dr Cannister for this invaluable book, filled with much expertise, experience, and empowering words. This book may very well be a must-have resource on the shelf of every Church leader.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Baker Academic and Graf-Martin Communications in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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