Recently Read: October 2017

I’ve ploughed through a few books recently. I was hoping to write more detailed reflections on them, but alas, I’ll have to do with these summaries for the moment.

Recently Read - Oct 2017

Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love In The Church As A Celibate Gay Christian by Wesley Hill

This is an excellent book. It really outlines a clear and attractive theology of Christian friendship. Friendship, true Christian friendship, and what that means and looks like, is not often talked about in church. This book does a great job describing a vision for friendship that is separate to small talk and serving together in some form of ministry. It is about hospitality, love for the other, and the elevating of friendship to a similar level as we evangelicals enjoy elevating marriage. It really is a profound book with plenty of ideas about how we can be better friends and provide opportunities for friendship in the life of the Christian. Unfortunately, some readers will be put off by the author being gay, celibate, or Christian. In some respects it doesn’t matter how he labels himself, he gives a good treatise on friendship and is a valuable read.

Here I would love to include a couple of quotes, as I underlined heaps of the book, but it was so good that I gave the book away to a close friend. Ironic.

Disappearing Church by Mark Sayers

This seems to be the best I’ve read from Sayers. He pinpoints culture, analyses the way churches have sought to be relevant to culture, and then calls for a coming back to Word and prayer for the Christian and the Christian church. It is excellent in its cultural analysis and provides plenty of food for thought in how to live in a post-Christian, secular society. His main point is that we should be seeking to have a resilient faith, built upon understanding the Word and seeking God in prayer. You can read a more detailed reflection on Disappearing Church here.

The Glue: Relationship As The Connection For Effective Youth Ministry by Mike Stevens

Read this post for a fuller reflection on the book.

As I wrote in an endorsement for the book:

“Whether you are leading a youth ministry in a small or large church The Glue is worth reading and reflecting on. Mike helps you understand the bigger picture of relational discipleship as well as providing detailed ideas to help your youth ministry move forward. This balance is fleshed out further through focussed questions at the end of each chapter, which were certainly helpful for me in processing what I was reading. The Glue is definitely worth reading.”

Discipleship by Mark Dever

Here’s a little book that helps anyone wishing to improve their discipling of others. The obvious case for making disciples is made and then the ‘how-to’s’ are provided. Because I’ve read a lot of Dever, and this kind of discipleship, then I understand how to go about it. For those who are unsure this is a good primer and will provide the foundations and the practical. It’s really as easy as meeting with someone, opening the bible with them, and simply talking and listening to one-another. This should really be a standard text for anyone wishing to disciple/mentor/coach or whatever you want to call it. If I was running an internship or ministry apprenticeship this would be on my reading list.

Here It Is: Coaching, Leadership and Life by Paul Roos

This was a fantastic biography by Paul Roos and gives insight into his coaching and leadership principles as an AFL coach. The fact that I enjoy sport and listening to Roosy on the radio helped me to buy the book in the first place. I kept seeing clear applications to youth ministry in much of his approach so I wrote a little something on that too. Go there for further details about the book.

The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

I made it through to the 100 page mark and called it quits. It is a well regarded memoir, highlighting the racism and casual racism of Australians in the 1980s to today. I’ve got no criticism of the book, I just didn’t enjoy it and wondered where it was heading.

Strange Days: Life In The Spirit by Mark Sayers

This was full of cultural analysis, as per usual from Sayers. Strange Days is more about living in the tension of the world but seeking to be set apart from the world as a believer. The book examines the biblical text of what it means to live in exile, what it looks like to live in the world today, and then how to think as a Christian in these tension-heightened days. Like Disappearing Church, which I preferred, it is full of ideas, analysis, and application.

Lion by Saroo Brierley

What a memoir! This is the story of Saroo, who became separated from his mother at five years of age. He became lost in Calcutta and was eventually adopted by an Australia couple in Hobart. The story is just phenomenal. It’s an emotional rollercoaster at times, but written in a very positive and encouraging way. It’s a must read. You may have already seen the movie. I haven’t.

What have you read recently?

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Disappearing Church by Mark Sayers

I’m not even a fanboy but it seems I have found myself reading everything Mark Sayers has written. OK, not ‘Vertical Self’, but ssshhhhh. Anyway, his books make me think and for that reason alone I find them useful.

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Over a month ago I finished reading his book, ‘Disappearing Church’. And perhaps it’s because he writes as someone living in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne, or because I need a simplified version of various cultural and philosophical ideas, I find myself wrestling with his ideas. My understanding of what Sayers says in this book is that the church needs to be less concerned about being culturally relevant, and build greater resilience and understanding in the Gospel and who it (the church) is. This is in order for believers to be able to live as a minority in today’s secular world, being and producing resilient lifelong disciples of Jesus.

Early on Sayers states his aim for the book,

“This book will argue that we cannot solely rely on the contemporary, Western church’s favoured strategy of cultural relevance, in which Christianity and the church is made “relevant” to secular Western culture. Instead we need to rediscover gospel resilience. To walk the countercultural narrow path in which we die to self and re-throne God in our lives as the supreme authority…Living with gospel resilience in the corrosive soil of Western culture requires a posture of living as a creative minority. Throughout history God has replenished cultures, through the witness of minorities of believers who hold true to their beliefs while blessing the surrounding culture. It is to this position we must return.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 12)

The book is broken into two parts.

The first is similar to his other books where he examines culture. In Disappearing Church Sayers focusses on dissecting what a post-Christian culture looks like. He makes the case for how Gnosticism and the self has become central to Western thinking. He also writes at length about how the church of the past few decades has been seeking to stay relevant to culture. This effort has resulted in the poor effort of liberalism, millennials leaving the church in droves, and sustained modern criticism of the Christian worldview in society.

In part two Sayers pivots to show what a resilient faith looks like. This resilience is rooted in a deep faith centred in the Word and prayer. A fair amount of time is spent on acknowledging that we live in such an individualistic society and self-centred world that what Jesus calls for is in direct opposition to this. The aspects of grace given to believers, and the call of God to deny yourself in love and sacrificing for others are two examples of a counter-culture faith. This leads to an understanding that God is not a bit player in life, but the centre of it all. To follow Jesus means He is made central to every aspect of life. He becomes the heartbeat of life and makes life relevant to us. Therefore, in acknowledging the grace of God we are to subordinate ourselves under his Lordship. Essentially the biblical call of following and obeying. As he writes,

“To be shaped by grace in a culture of self, the most countercultural act one can commit in the third culture is to break its only taboo: too commit self-disobedience. To acknowledge that authority does not lie with us, that we ultimately have no autonomy. To admit that we are broken, that we are rebellious against God and His rule. To admit that Christ is ruler. To abandon our rule and to collapse into His arms of grace. To dig deep roots into His love. We don’t just need resilience; we need gospel resilience.” (Mark Sayers, Disappearing Church, 76)

This is an excellent book and I don’t think I can do it justice in 700 words. I appreciated the ideas, of which there are plenty. Of all of Sayer’s books I have found this most helpful. I believe he helps the church navigate a post-Christian culture and live as deeply rooted, faithful, followers of Jesus. In essence, he is calling people back to the historical faith, to be diligent and disciplined in seeking after God through the Word and prayer. Jesus is to be relevant in private and in public, the centre of individual faith and their church communities.

I would highly recommend the read.

The Glue by Mike Stevens

Mike Stevens recently self-published a youth ministry book for youth pastors and youth ministry leaders. “The Glue: Relationship As The Connection For Effective Youth Ministry” is a helpful volume in thinking through the practicalities of youth ministry. It is a good addition to the youth ministry literature, and terrific to have another youth ministry resource produced here in Australia. Here are a few of my reflections on the book after reading it recently.

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In this book, Mike seeks to put his ideas about youth ministry leadership onto paper. He gives us a view into the way he thinks about youth ministry and its leadership, suggesting what might be most useful for us as youth pastors, leaders, and churches.

What I found most beneficial in this book was to be reminded again of the importance of relationship in leadership, and in the developing of leaders. The relational element of the leadership development process is what stood out to me the most. While there is much to think through practically, which Mike outlines throughout, it is relationships that make youth ministry an actual ministry. Relationship is central to any youth ministry, both relationship with God and with one-another. And so, the main aim of this book is to remind us that youth ministry is relational ministry. This is front and centre throughout, and is the core of each chapter (or section).

Clearly the book is focussed on being practical. There are sections and sub-sections on being a disciple, personal development, developing others, youth ministry foundations and the like. But within each chapter there are also short and sharp tips for anyone in youth ministry. This includes, how to communicate with leaders and parents, why camps are important, what questions to ask in beginning at a new church, how to finish a role well etc. The book aims at being practical and it does just that. This is opposed to being more theological in nature. There is brief mention of theological principles and foundations, which is quite common in youth ministry literature, and 99% of the word count is spent on application and concrete youth work. It’s clearly a practical youth ministry book.

A unique aspect to this book is the reflection section at the end of each chapter. These reflection pieces enable the reader to dig deeper into the content and see how it applies to their context. I found these reflection sections a worthwhile addition to this book, with good questions asked of the reader. I think is particularly useful for youth leadership teams who may work through this book together and make the content specific to their ministry or church.

I liked the reminder about relationship being central to youth ministry. Often we can quickly lose sight of the relationships we are building as we plan and prepare for the upcoming youth group event or small group. But, I also appreciated the sub-section on “The Four Big Asks of Youth Leadership” (p87-100). Here Mike outlines the clarity in which we need to communicate to our youth leaders. After all, what exactly are we asking them to do, say, on a Friday night? Mike summarises his answer to this in four parts: (1) Lead from your growing relationship with Jesus, (2) Follow up young people, (3) Prepare for Game Time (i.e. a youth group night or event), and (4) Deliver on Game Time (i.e. be punctual, present, willing to serve, and take initiative). This is not only an example of the practical nature of this book but also highlights the thinking and clarity we should be seeking to lead from.

The Glue is a very easy read and is written like a series of blog posts, which I believe some of these chapters were originally. As I mentioned earlier, I think this is a good addition to the numerous books on youth ministry, particularly for us here in Australia. It is more for youth pastors and youth ministry leaders, but would be helpful for parents and the wider church too. Unless you’re already across the basics of a theology of youth ministry then I’d recommend reading this alongside “Gospel-Centred Youth Ministry” or Andrew Root’s “Taking Theology to Youth Ministry” series.


It would be worth me disclosing that I do in fact know Mike! We have been colleagues for a few years now within the wider Baptist movement here in Australia. But even though I do know him, alas, I was not paid or given any sort of favour for this reflection! If you’re considering buying this book I’d recommend you get it directly from his website, as that’ll help him cover his self-publishing costs. Enjoy.

Here It Is: Paul Roos, Leadership, And Youth Ministry

I recently finished reading the latest book by Paul Roos, “Here It Is: Coaching, Leadership and Life.” Paul Roos is a very successful AFL coach and highly sought after for his man-management and leadership coaching. This year I’ve enjoyed listening to him in the commentary box and was intrigued to read how he approached coaching and working with teams.

I often wonder how closely coaching an elite sporting team and being involved in Christian ministry align. Obviously, there are significant differences, and the markers of success are worlds apart. However, leadership is still leadership and so part of reading this book was to gain insights for youth ministry. As I read the book I was constantly thinking how his principles for leadership applied to youth ministry. I found much of what he talked about helpful because (1) I enjoy sport and AFL, and (2) I could see his approach being similar to other things I’ve read or heard regarding ministry.

Below are 10 ideas I found helpful. I wonder if they impact the way we approach youth ministry ourselves?

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(1) The Importance Of Relationships

Roos emphasises relationships as the key to success at a football club. He played at a time where it was ‘old school’ football. A time where the players would simply train, turn up to play, and do whatever the coach would ask. Often there was little relationship between players, coach, and other staff. After observing this as a player he decided to approach things differently and have a focus on positive inter-club relationships.

In youth ministry (and church ministry) it’s all about relationships. I’ve been reminded by this in other ways recently, and will hopefully elaborate on that in coming posts. But, needless to say, everything in youth ministry is about relationships. It’s about relationship with God and relationship between people. It’s about relationship with pastoral staff, it’s about relationship with leaders, and between leaders. It’s about relationship with young people and the relationships they have between themselves. It’s about relationship with everyone. Youth ministry is about relationships.

(2) The 25-points

Within a month of finishing up as a player Roos wrote down 25-points that were essentially values and standards he would articulate and live out as a coach. These 25-points include the majority of the points I am drawing out here, but the point is he actually wrote down the values he wanted to keep to and they helped guide him in his coaching.

I wonder whether we as youth ministry write down standards and values that guide us in our leadership? It is worth considering what is most important to you, and where you believe leadership in youth ministry should be focussed on. When being interviewed for the role I currently have I took with me a sheet of paper that had some key scriptures for the way I approached ministry and also seven, what I called, ‘Pastoral Pillars’ that would be my guide as a Youth Pastor. The headings for each of these were: (1) Relational, (2) Disciple Development, (3) De-Program, (4) Leader Development, (5) Mission Posture, (6) Framed Risk, (7) Grey OK. This helped me articulate where I was at and also informed the committee who they were getting. I found it helpful. I think they did too. Do you have something similar?

(3) The Calm Leader

Roos played in an era where coaches going off their head was common practice. Giving a good dressing down, dragging the players off the field and onto the bench when they made a mistake, and generally trying to motivate players through yelling and shame. Roos saw this wasn’t benefiting anyone, particularly in keeping morale up, developing players, and providing motivation. His response was to make sure he kept himself calm. He made sure he was emotionally stable in his leadership and provided confidence in doing so. He didn’t want to react in an emotionally volatile way when winning or losing.

In youth ministry, are you a stable and calm leader? A big influence on me has been the idea of being a ‘non-anxious presence’. That is, someone who is calm, not anxious, and emotionally stable during times of upset, crisis, and conflict. I have wondered whether this can be detrimental when certain situations call for passion, enthusiasm, and excitement. But, in general, a person who leads in youth ministry needs to be calm and in doing so inspire confidence and trust in their leadership.

When a kid has fall and breaks their foot at a youth camp, be calm and deal with it appropriately. When a leader seems to be going through some sort of crisis and requires some extra attention, be calm and deal with it appropriately. When a parent doesn’t like an action that has been taken and let’s fly with their complaint, be calm and deal with it appropriately. In youth ministry, we need calm, non-anxious, leaders who in doing so help inspire, motivate, and build trust with people around them.

(4) The Time It Takes To Develop People

Roos understood that it takes time to develop players. He comments that the age of great learning for a footballer is 18-22 years old. They get drafted, and then take years to develop in their skills, learning about the game, and general aptitude for elite AFL football. Recognising this, Roos seemed to do a few things. First, he made sure the players understood his game plan, their role in the team, and the skills required for top level football. Second, he took time in bringing them into the elite league of the game, often keeping them in second tier competitions for longer than other coaches would. There is the implication that it takes a number of years to develop as a player, helping this development from a young age was his goal. This was clear within his chapters on leading the Sydney football academy for talented teenagers.

In youth ministry, it takes time to develop faith and to develop in leadership. I think faith could be explored separately to this, but leadership and learning the ropes of youth ministry can begin to be taught while students are still going through youth group and the youth ‘programs’. The youth programs can be tools for discipleship, leadership development, and possibly even church leadership too. But even if we’re intentional it will take time. As hard as it sounds, not all people will have the character or aptitude for youth ministry leadership, I don’t think God has made everyone equal in this regard. However, there are plenty of people who one may not think as ‘youth ministry potential’ who are able to learn and grow in their leadership skills. This simply takes time.

(5) Everyone Has A Role

Following on from development is also the question of role. Roos outlined clearly how everyone in the team had a role. Sometimes this was different to what the player had always known. The player may have believed that getting 30 possessions a match was his role, but actually, his role was part of a larger system, the team system, to which they all played a vital part. If that player only had 20 possessions but played their role as they were supposed to then the team had better success than if they went it alone, believing they had to win the game for the team. Roos believes that everyone at the football club has a role and it needs to be defined. Everyone from the President, CEO, Senior Coach, Assistant Coaches, and the players. In some ways, this aligns with another of his values, which was to deal with every player individually, knowing their personal strengths and weaknesses. This avoids lumping everyone into the same box. It is about getting the most out of each person.

I wonder how we view our youth ministries? Do we do that for our students? For our leaders? For our wider church? The Youth Pastor has a role, that seems to be more defined than others in the church. But, I would argue that just as Paul in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 writes about the body of Christ, so too, everyone in the church has a role in regard to youth ministry. It’s just not defined or communicated. Therefore, rather than getting every youth leader to be involved in everything on a Friday night perhaps some people are better at talks and should those gifts more often. Perhaps others are good at social media and should look at being communication co-ordinators. Perhaps others are good at running games, explaining them well and getting the group involved. Perhaps others are good at administration and should be looking at the database and helping people in that way. This would help with leadership development, understanding of the various facets of youth ministry, and also help with delegation.

(6) Team Formed Standards And Values

A key aspect to Roos’s approach with coaching was to involve every one of the players in determining what the team stood for. The team would have a pre-season camp and flesh out what their values and standards were. This would include values like honesty, hard work, and a never give up attitude. As these values made their way through the team the players themselves would be the ones enforcing the standards. In this way, everyone is invested in the performance of everyone else. Not only on the field, but also off it.

Could this be a way forward for youth leadership teams? I know I’ve done this a little with my youth leadership teams. We’ve created some leadership commitment guidelines to help guide what it means to be a leader in the youth ministry. I’m sure this could be enforced more, and with each other helping to lift their game in various areas. As an example, one of these guidelines is child safety. If a leader goes outside the bounds, say, initiates a hug with a student, and another leader sees this, they would then pull them up for it. If there is feedback given in terms of the talk or a game, then another leader can do that – encouraging them and also helping them to improve. I see big advantages when the leadership team is invested in creating the standards and values of the ministry.

(7) A Yearly Review

Each year Roos would sit down with each individual player and work through strengths and growth areas.

In youth ministry this would be worth doing also, not only together as a team but individually. As a Youth Pastor I would expect to catch up with my leaders reasonably regularly anyway. But, there could be an intentional one-on-one at the end of the year. This could touch on topics such as discipleship growth, spiritual disciplines, church involvement, and an area to grow in next year.

(8) The Attitude That Rubs Off

Roos knew that his attitude would rub off on the players. As the central leader of the club his attitude meant everything. He made sure he was positive and had a positive outlook on the club, the players, and what they could achieve. This doesn’t mean he never made critical judgements about what was going on or was disappointed in players actions. He simply wanted to be positive in his attitude no matter the result.

Youth ministry isn’t in the win-loss premiership game, but we still have indicators that mean we are satisfied or dissatisfied with the way things are going. At the end of youth group leaders can be up and about because they believe the night went well. Or, they can be flat and a bit disappointed. A process for assessing each youth event and program is vital. But, even more so, the positive attitude of the main leader keeps the big picture in mind and helps other leaders assess correctly. The attitude of the Youth Pastor or key leader has a big impact.

(9) The Game Plan

Once all his big blocks of values and standards, attitude and roles were in place Roos also had a game plan to win each match. This game plan seemed to be the same from year one to year ten. It didn’t seem to change much. However, there was a plan. As it has been said, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail”.

It is important to plan in youth ministry. Not just planning a few months out but also having a plan for each event, small group, or youth group night. It is important that everyone on the team knows that plan. I am one who prefers to have those plans early in the week. Others prefer to bring the plan to the night an hour before we start. In any case, a basic plan for us on a Friday night is (1) Welcome, (2) Games, (3) Talk, (4) Discussion Groups. We may also include a time for snacks or for making sure a couple of leaders are at the door when parents arrive for pick-up. After the night is done and things are packed up we as leaders gather and chat through the highlights and lowlights of the evening. It is important to have a plan for youth ministry, one that is broad and one that is specific.

(10) Communicate, Communicate

With his commitment to relationships Roos had an emphasis on communication. He kept it simple and constant. Communication between everyone was vital is sustaining relationships and also reinforcing the values and standards of the football club.

If there is little communication the youth ministry will not go well. There is communication needed between many different parties and in a variety of ways. Communication between Youth Pastor and leadership team and pastoral team. Communication between youth group leaders and parents and students. Communication between youth ministry and wider church. Any relationship you can think of relating to youth ministry requires some form of communication. It is an important part of the gig. And at the end of the day, it is another key aspect to building relationships.

Hudson Taylor On Love

“One thing, and one thing only, will carry men through all, and make and keep them successful; the love of Christ constraining and sustaining them is the only power. Not our love to Christ, nor, perhaps, even Christ’s love to us personally; rather His love to poor ruined sinners in us. Many waters will not quench that love, nor floods drown it. Pray that this love may be in us…”

This is Hudson Taylor, as quoted in ‘By Love Compelled‘ by Marshall Broomhall, p12-13.

Recently Read: June 2017

I’ve been holiday and managed to finish a couple of books. Here’s some thoughts about them.

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Killing Calvinism: How To Kill A Perfectly Good Theology From The Inside by Greg Dutcher

Now here is a book for Calvinists.

If you’re wanting to explore what Calvinism is then go elsewhere, just as the author says in his introduction. But, if you’re a Calvinist who doesn’t want to be a tool then please read this book. It will be very beneficial for you.

It’s a short book, around 100 pages. There are 8 chapters, each outlining how to ruin Calvinism and its appeal. Implied in each chapter is a call to gracious humility, calling Calvinists to be more generous and winsome in communicating and teaching biblical doctrine. At the end of each chapter there is an appropriate prayer to pray as well.

It’s part biographical, which adds to its readability.

I thought is was worth the read.

“The sovereignty of God is truly awesome in its power to put new life into the sinner’s soul. But God saved us to “see and savor” much more than just his sovereignty. While relishing the sovereignty of God in salvation is good and healthy, relishing only God’s sovereignty is unhealthy and lopsided…This world desperately needs to see a robust, healthy Calvinism that celebrates the fullness of God’s ways and works – not a lopsided Christian who cannot get off the hobbyhorse of God’s sovereignty.” (p42-43)

Changing The World: Through Effective Youth Ministry by Ken Moser

I was gifted this book at Christmas off the back of a fellow Youth Minister’s recommendation. I finally got around to reading it and I would recommend it to others.

This is really a foundational youth ministry textbook. You could use it in the classroom, with an intern, or with a group of youth leaders.

There’s 15 chapters, making up 150-odd pages.

The author’s contention is that all youth ministry should be focussed on discipleship. The focus of any church-based youth ministry should be targeting those who are part of the church, such as teenagers of church families. This begins with developing a group, no matter how large or small, that grows through the teaching of God’s Word and community together. From this foundation the youth ministry grows organically through the evangelism and mission of those within the youth ministry itself.

I tend to agree with the majority of what Ken Moser, the author, writes. He goes hard against an entertainment model of youth ministry that essentially means the church is running a baby-sitting club on Friday nights. However, he goes so hard against it that at times it feels like this model of youth ministry would be the most boring thing ever. I’m not convinced that youth ministry is solely bible studies with light refreshments and the odd social tacked on once every few months.

In case I’m being too unfair, I do think it lays out a good foundation for discipleship and rightly highlights the need for strategic youth ministry. There are also a few resources provided in the latter chapters to help someone fresh in running a youth ministry.

It would make my top 5 books on youth ministry.

“As I reflect on youth ministry, I am absolutely convinced that ministry to young people is about grabbing hold of this world with the gospel of Christ, shaking it alive and placing it on the road toward eternal life. In short, youth ministry is about changing the world for Christ. Nothing more, nothing less. There is an urgency to our job, be clear on this.” (pXII)

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just by Tim Keller

I’m blown away by this book and I haven’t even finished it yet. In fact, I don’t think I’m even a third of the way through it.

This book is simply making the case that speaking and acting for justice in our world is a natural part of what it means to be a Christian. Whether it is an international cause or simply caring for your neighbour, the bible speaks constantly of the need to care for others and help meet their needs.

Already I am heavily convicted by this book. It is deeply biblical and provides an excellent case for compassion ministry, particularly through the church.

I look forward to finishing this one and seeing what happens in my own life in response to it.

“A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers’ hearts are not right with God at all, that their prayers and all their religious observance are just filled with self and pride.” (p50)

“The disposition of one’s possessions signifies the disposition of one’s heart.” (p51)

“Anyone who has truly been touched by the grace of God will be vigorous in helping the poor.” (p54)

“The Biblical perspective sees sexual immorality and material selfishness as both flowing from self-centredness rather than God-centredness.” (p55)

This has now gone on longer than I had hoped. Anyway, I also attempted to read The Messiah Code, a novel written by Michael Cordy. I tried. I really did. I made it to page 80 and gave it back to the op shop. It wasn’t great.

Have you read anything interesting lately?

Growing Young – Final Reflections

This is post nine in a series of reflections on the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church. For an introduction to the series please read part one and continue reading the reflections in part two, three , fourfivesixseven, and eight.


Over three months ago I started a series of reflections on the book ‘Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies To Help Young People Discover And Love Your Church’. The sentences have been underlined, the pages have been marked, and the book has now been read. Each reflection worked through each chapter, giving thought to the main research and learnings from the Fuller Youth Institute team. Much has been learnt and there continues to be much to learn from this work.

This final post about Growing Young seeks to evaluate the book and the research as a whole. While each chapter has its own learnings it is valuable to end this series with a broader scope, looking at what to take away and what to leave behind.

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From the outset it is important to say that this book needs to be read for what it is. It is a book summarising research on what keeps ‘young people’ at churches. Despite the title’s byline it isn’t seeking to push a particular youth ministry philosophy. Furthermore, the research cuts across denominational and theological lines because it is summarising the results of said research.

At the same time, because of the way this research has been put together it can come across pragmatic in nature. The main point of each chapter implies what churches should focus on, implication being that overtime a church may well ‘grow young’. For example, in the chapter ‘Unlocking Keychain Leadership’ the main idea is to equip and grow young people to be leaders in key areas of responsibility. In ‘Fuel a Warm Community’ the emphasis is to be a church that is genuinely caring of students in every principle and program. In the chapter ‘Prioritising Young People (and Families) Everywhere’ the key idea is is to look at the structures and systems within the church to help facilitate integrated ministry and partnering with parents. The inference being that by doing these things your church is more likely to ‘grow young’.

However, the research findings doesn’t mean that a church should begin implementing a certain structure, program, or idea for a select period of time. No, this book is really talking about cultural change. This cultural change is focussed on growing young as a church and the principles behind it are based on the solid research from the FYI. To implement this kind of cultural change will take many years to implement and be a painful process for many congregations.

Another way this book is pragmatic is at the end of each chapter. Helpfully, the authors have included some reflection questions and ideas at the end of each section for reflection and application. By doing his the book becomes a help in encouraging churches to grow young.

In one sense Growing Young doesn’t promote a particular ministry philosophy but the way it is written means that there is a ‘system’ that can be formulated through it.

I have written extensively about the strengths of the book and each chapter in my earlier reflections. So it is worth asking how this book could have been more helpful, particularly for those of us in youth and young adult ministry.

First, I’d say, and say this very gently, that when reading a book like this those of us in youth ministry can be prone to affirming everything without sifting it through the lens of the Bible. Of course, there is the assumption that everyone who reads this is a professing believer. Yet, as I’ve pondered this research further I’ve come away thinking ‘so what?’

Of course, we want more young people in churches. We want young people to be involved in the things we do at church. We want young people to meet Jesus and know that they can have a relationship with him. We want young people to grasp the Gospel and realise that God is God and we are not. We want young people to understand that God is a personal God whom we worship, enjoy, and follow.

The danger with a book like this is that we can take the ideas, insights, and inspirations and attempt to make the church younger without making it more faithful.

I can walk away from this book thinking that my youth and young adult ministry can get bigger and more influential within the church by implementing these things. Instead I want my youth and young adult ministries to know Jesus more and grow in faith and godliness. Why can’t we use the Bible as the ‘strategy’ rather than seeking a temporary solution that seems to fit with the cultural milieu?

This is not to say culture is unimportant. I’m not saying that. We are living in a culture which requires a certain cultural response. But, if we believe that it is the Word of God that speaks, and that through that speaking God creates, and that through that creation young people’s hearts are opened to the Good News of what Jesus has done, then this becomes a central cog in the youth ministry wheel. Off this cog are the systems and processes and ideas that this book talks about.

So how does this research affect me as a Youth and Young Adults Pastor going forward?

  • This book has provided excellent food for thought.
  • It has given a framework to assess the youth and young adult ministry I currently lead.
  • The emphasis continues to be on the long-term, not on short-term fixes.
  • The research provides data regarding youth ministries and churches.
  • It continues to affirm the much needed work of youth ministry within churches.

Finally, before this post gets far too long, this is an excellent resource for any youth leader, parent, church leader or Pastor in any church. For those who’ve been in the youth ministry world with a discipleship and mission mindset there won’t be too many surprises, but the framing of these things is excellent. I’d encourage you to read the book and talk with someone on the leadership team at your church about it.

Further Resources:

The NYMC Podcast = Episode 15 + 16 – This two-part podcast delves into each chapter of Growing Young and discusses the research at length.

Book review of Growing Young by Seth Stewart

Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast (106): Kara Powell On How Many Average Churches Are Actually Reaching Millennials

Book reflection by Trevin Wax


Here are the links to the series of reflections on the book:

  1. Growing Young
  2. Growing Young – Keychain Leadership
  3. Growing Young – Empathise With Today’s Young People
  4. Growing Young – Take Jesus’ Message Seriously
  5. Growing Young – Fuel A Warm Community
  6. Growing Young – Prioritise Young People (And Families) Everywhere
  7. Growing Young – Be The Best Neighbours
  8. Growing Young – Growing Young In Your Context
  9. Growing Young – Final Reflections