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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

"Youth Ministry in the 21st Century" (Editor Chap Clark)

TITLE: Youth Ministry in the 21st Century: Five Views (Youth, Family, and Culture)
AUTHOR: Fernando Arzola, Chap Clark, Brain Cosby, Ron Hunter, Greg Stier
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2015, (204 pages).

Five contributors, five views, five counter-responses per view, but only one shared concern: How to reach out to the youths of the 21st Century better and more effectively? Inspired by a 2001 book published under the title "Four Views of Youth Ministry and the Church," the intent is to update the views as the world becomes more complex. Instead of going forth to present more practical models, there is a shift toward a firmer footing on theological considerations. Instead of simply the "what" and the "how" of doing youth ministry, the view is about the "why" and "where" of application. Instead of having young people coming into our churches, we have an era where young people are leaving churches in droves. We have the rise of the Nones. There are new challenges that demand a good responses. Thankfully, we have five in one book. The five academics, practitioners, and authors agree about the need for "theological, psychosocial, and ecological grounding" for the work of youth ministry. Greg Stier (Gospel Advancing View) is founder and president of Dare 2 Share ministry which focuses on equipping youths to do evangelism, out of which discipleship would flow. Fernando Arzola (Ecclesial View) as Associate Professor of religion at Nyack College sees formal teaching as the key strategy for nurture and discipleship of youths. Ron Hunter (Family Focused View) is director of Randall house as well as the Director of the D6 Conference. Brain Cosby (Reformed Youth View) is Lead Pastor of Wayside Presbyterian Church and visiting professor at Reformed Theological Seminary. General editor, Chap Clark (Adoption Model) is Professor and Chair of the youth, family, and culture department at Fuller Theological Seminary.

The first view is Greg Stier's "Gospel Advancing View" which basically believes that Jesus himself was a youth leader! The ones called to change the world are all youths. The goal is not evangelism but nurture of teenagers who would do the work of witnessing and the sharing of the Word. It is essentially discipleship where the vital elements are: 1) equipping for relational ministry; 2) sharing of stories; 3) persistent gospeling activities at youth meetings; 4) empowering and focusing on the 10%; 5) gospeling everything; 6) Prayer. Criticisms come fast and furious leaving Stier to acknowledge that his model while is high on the "go" portion, may be deficient in the "grow" aspect.

The second view is Brian Cosby's "Reformed View" which seeks to put youth ministry under the umbrella of distinctively reformed theological doctrines via the "means of grace" of prayer, Word, sacraments, service, and gospel community. Faithfulness is more important than success. If the Bible provides the "content and method," the means of grace provide the how to go about youth ministry. The criticisms tend to be about the overwhelming slant toward Reformed theology in an increasingly nondenominational world; the danger of disconnecting the church from the youths if one was to shove theological content down the throats of the young; doctrinal polarizations; etc.

The third view is Chap Clark's "Adoption View" which believes that we need a community of faith to raise a young in faith. He goes through a historical overview from Mike Yaconelli's experiment model to Doug Field's Purpose Driven Youth Ministry. He cites Mark Senter III's three statements about youth ministry which make a lot of sense. 1) Youth Ministry begins when adults enter in; 2) Youth Ministry happens when adults help the young to mature in Christ; 3) Youth Ministry ceases when the adult-youth discipleship relationship breaks down. The idea of a family adoption model shows us that youths do not grow on their own. They need an interested adult or mature spiritual person to guide them. The responses are gracious and humble as the other respondents applaud many things learned from Clark. Some have even added new dimensions to understanding the adoption model! Clark then summarizes his view as "inviting our young into the calling, life, and work" of the kingdom.

The fourth view is Fernando Arzola's "Ecclesial View" tries to put youth ministry back under the purview of the Church. The concern is that modern youth ministries tend to be separated from the main church ministries and are in danger of missing out on the rich history and traditions of the church. The Orthodox perspective needs to be reappropriated, not abandoned. Youth Ministry must includes the four creedal characteristics: 1) Oneness; 2) Holiness; 3) Catholicity; 4) Apostolic. Thus, youth ministry is less about entertainment but ecclesiastically grounded. While heavy in theology, the criticisms are on the practical aspects of how. In response, Arzola maintains that the lack of applications should not undermine the focus on theological grounding.

The fifth view is Ron Hunter's "D6 View" which is short for Deuteronomy 6. The key emphasis is for parents and teachers to consistently teach, model, and build relationships with the young, a form of generational discipleship. It is a team effort. Parents must be coached to be coaches. Students need "vital concepts, character building, and biblical values." Parents are the primary spiritual caregivers. If Arzola is heavy on theology, Hunter's view is heavy on family focus.

So What?

Each view has both strengths and weaknesses. The responses of each contributor to each proposed view are rich and varied. Like iron sharpening iron, not only did the five authors learn from one another, they helped nuance the complexity and the changing needs of youth ministry. Readers can benefit from the academic, the practical, the issues, and the historical lessons we can learn from. Although the editor has explained the exclusion of other prominent youth experts like Doug Fields and Kara Powell, I still believe that there is room for a sixth view. A dedicated website has been set up for readers to check out as and when there are updates.

Youth ministry remains one of the most, if not the most, challenging ministries in any Church. Sadly for some, this segment has largely disappeared. Some churches bring in "superstar youth pastors" and some passionate volunteers to run the ministry. Others use big budgets, sophisticated programming, but still find it challenging to cultivate spiritual maturity among the youths. The goal of this book is not to convince us of any one view, but to provide five basic ingredients for us to learn of, so that we can discern and develop a combination that is appropriate for our congregations. I believe that this book is needed for at least three reasons. First, youth ministry is big. Just because the youth departments of many churches are not growing does not mean that there is a shrinking youth population. There will always be young people. We must not forget that children will eventually grow up, and when they do, will there be a ministry that can help them grow? Second, youth ministry is complex. A pastor friend of mine tells me that youth ministries need to be re-invented every two years. While I may dispute the exact number of years, I would concur with the need to look at re-inventing ourselves regardless of whether the tool is working or not. With a complex youth ministry, there is lots of room for five different views, even more. The range of options available to us will suddenly become broader. For youth ministers and volunteers, this book will give a good overview of the different views so that they can have maximum number of resources available for their use. Third, youth ministry is vital. This cannot be over-emphasized as the young will form the leadership core for all of our churches. There is no running away from aging. Even the most faithful and fervent leaders will grow old. The gifted will gradually age and fade away. What remains will be those who have been discipled in Christ. This book is not about whether we agree with all, with some, or with none of them. It is about being humble enough to acknowledge that youths all over the world are important. We need one another. Thanks to the five authors, readers will benefit from the plethora of knowledge and experience that the Church so badly needs.

Rating: 4.75 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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