Another book review from the Youth Cartel! Just a reminder here is the outline of the book reviews I’m doing…
Intro– Where was I as I read this book, context, life, etc.
Summary– Trying my best to be short and sweet to summarize the book as a whole (we’ll see how long this gets).
Quote– I’ll pull a couple of different quotes and expound on them.
Conclusion– This will be different than the summary as I will reflect on why this book should be read
I can’t quite put a finger on when I started reading this. It must have been somewhere in between moving to CR from Rochester due to the publishing date. So, if that is the case as we will say it is, I was in the midst of creating a new flow of ministry. Both at my new congregation as well as for me personally. I was dreaming of what might be coming in the year ahead as well as intentionally planning how to set up this ministry. This book was a gentle reminder of the world we live in, regardless of our context or profession.
Brock takes a look at some of the common themes within American adolescents today, from over busy and over scheduled, to addiction and social networking. The world of today’s adolescent is far far different than any adult, parent or youth worker can imagine. It is different than when I was in middle school and high school, let alone the differences for parents of teenagers. We would be foolish to brush this to the side and not take the differences seriously. (I don’t care how much you think teenagers today are pampered or “have it better than”, these changes are impacting them differently than in the past.) As we look at what youth ministry is like in the future, Brock outlines the role we will play, or need to play. Part sage, part tour guide, and part “space for grace” maker. We need to embrace where our youth are coming from, not shove them into the round hole we’ve made, we need to embrace where they are going after youth group, and I think this book will help shape and frame how we move forward! (Chapter 4 section titles: Embrace Christian Relativism, Embrace Tolerance, Embrace Spirituality, Embrace Intellectualism, Embrace Mystery, Embrace The Miraculous, Embrace Answers- this chapter alone is worth reading.) The way forward includes getting outside of the church building and expecting our youth to come to all of the events and activities we plan. It also includes taping into the innate idea that our youth already know how to serve others, it is part of this generations DNA, we need to help them connect it to their faith in real ways!
So think about this for a minute: What perspective, view, and posture did the Israelites have while living in this foreign land and pagan culture? Think of Daniel and his quiet, humble, wise strength. What we see transpiring here in Babylon is not altogether different from the ever-changing cultural landscape in which we live today. Think of the different communities, along with the various religious traditions that accompany them. We must be thoughtful. We must be prayerful. The trouble is that many churches, and many individual Christians, still believe that the prominent mindset in our culture is Christian.
Chapter 1: What is the World Coming To?- pg 36
I’ve written on this topic before, or at least commented on it somewhere, but Brock does a great job of referencing the Biblical heroes of the Old Testament which brought a new perspective to me. While I get a bit uneasy with the terms “foreign land and pagan culture” in reference to the world today (see a past post on God’s Kingdom coming here), I think his point on how the Israelites and Daniel respond to the culture surrounding them is important for us to remember. We live in a post-Christian world. Debate it all you want, it is a reality. Christianity is no longer the only religion practiced in our communities nor is it the only religion practiced at our schools. We can either grind away at the death of prayer in school, or recognize the beauty of our creative and redeeming God. Regardless of how we respond, post-Christendom is where we live our lives and we need to learn a new way of responding and loving others.
However, youth ministry has never been about giving information; it’s about so much more than that. The world needs great youth workers who will teach students how to think, not spoon-feed them what to think. We need savvy youth workers who will journey with kids in today’s complex world and teach them how to humbly engage in the culture’s toughest questions. Why? Because our students are asking the exact same questions. Youth workers need to be great tour guides, pointing out things that kids would have missed otherwise.
Chapter 3: The Way of The Sage- pg 62
How to think vs. what to think. If you’ve read any of the previous posts on Confirmation, this is where I struggle so much. For decades we have taught youth what to think or believe about God. We have done a poor job of opening the door and letting them think and come to their own understandings. When what they have been taught is challenged and crumbles at their feet, their faith usually suffers and they walk away altogether, because what they are learning no longer fits into the neat little “Jesus” box we’ve created for them. Teaching youth how to think about difficult things will continue to help them construct meaning and makes the process an ongoing, life long experience! It blows up the box of what we thought we knew and creates more space for God to impact us through the Spirit.
In a post-Christian world, we’ll run into all kinds of students. Students who are angry, who doubt, who are hurting and addicted. We’ll run into students who are led by their emotions, who are stressed-out, who have the weight of the world on their shoulders, whose families are messy, and who have believed cultural lies. In the midst of this pluralistic world, all of these students are trying to figure out who they are. They definitely don’t need to feel like they must try to live up to one more adult’s expectations. We should create an atmosphere where students feel free to express who they are in the moment and what they believe this afternoon–even if it’s all going to be different tomorrow. In the midst of the adolescent roller coaster ride, the grace we give them might be one of the only places where they’ll find it.
Chapter 6: Creating An Environment of Grace- pg 114-115
By far one of the most important ideas surrounding this book is the idea of showing grace. I used to be in the boat of an “us” vs “them” approach to ministry. “Us” being the ministries of the church, “them” being anything that interfered with my ministry schedule. “Us”- Sunday morning worship, Wednesday night youth group/confirmation, summer mission trip, etc. “Them”- Weekend basketball/soccer/baseball tournaments, weeknight practices/rehearsals/homework. I remember time and again saying, “Oh so you’re choosing choir over God?” or “Yeah, no, it’s cool homework is more important than God.” (If you say these types of things to youth, even if you are joking, please stop. It is damaging the idea of God’s grace offered to everyone.) These statements do not show grace. Instead of the “us” vs “them” approach, what if we made the “them” a part of the “us”, and I don’t mean by starting our own leagues or musical groups so we can control the schedules and the philosophy of the group, but by equipping our youth, families and other members to be ministers outside of the church! Give them grace (or a prayer) if they are going to be away at a tournament and wish them luck (and a prayer) for a great experience with the community that surrounds them! Doing these things will ignite their desire to know God no matter where they are or what they are doing, because they will start to believe God cares about what they are doing no matter if it is at church or on the soccer field or in the music room.
I’m not sure I can write a good conclusion on this one as most of my thoughts are above. If you are interested in understanding how youth ministry can engage in a post-Christian world, this book can bring some helpful insight and you can have a toolbox of helps to move forward. This book has helped me better understand how my strategy of exploring faith and engaging with the world around me needs to be continually challenged and tweaked.
What piqued your interest above? What are your thoughts on post-Christendom?