Sunday, September 07, 2008

Review: Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli

It seems I'm often a bit late in reading books in a topic/area that everyone else has already read. Oh well. I finally read Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus by Mark Yaconelli. And I'm so glad that I did - I can say, right off, that this is an excellent book, that anyone working with young people should read this book, and that really, it applies in so many ways to ministry as a whole that anyone in ministry in the church should really read this. I think it's that important and that well written and touches so correctly on the culture we have built up in the church.

The basic premise is that we tend to face youth ministry with a sense of fear, because: "We don't know how to be with our kids. We don't know how to be with ourselves. We don't know how to be with God." (19) I still vividly remember maybe my second Sunday in my first appointment, when I was thrown into a room full of high-school students who had just learned of the death of classmate. I was supposed to help them. I felt like I was the one who needed help! They terrified me - I didn't know how to be with them. I muddled through, and in their graciousness, things worked out. But I think Yaconelli is right here. He talks about the undergirding fear that rises up in conversations about youth ministry, in both adults and youth. Adults seem to fear youth. And youth fear that they'll have to hid themselves, their real thoughts and experiences, to fit into a program. Yaconelli talks about the difference between anxiety-driven and love-driven youth ministry. Youth saying, "Don't be afraid of us."

Yaconelli asks parents and potential leaders to identify what they really want out of a youth ministry. Is it just to keep kids "nice and safe?" Lots of programs seem to reflect this goal. What is, truly, your deepest hope for young people? (64-65) Our deepest hope is probably much more than that they are nice and safe youth.

Practically, (but always in a contempletive way, rather than a do A B C and you'll get your solution way) Yaconelli talks about a process of identifying adults to work in youth ministry. He talks about how to nurture adult leadership and nurture the place of youth ministry in a whole congregation. And he talks about youth leaders helping youth to notice God in their lives, name the presence of God that they find, and nurture this relationship with God.

I wish I was writing a better review - I don't feel like I'm conveying how great I think this book is. I found myself moved to tears more than once. I found myself thinking that the principles here apply to ministry as a whole, not just youth ministry. I found myself thinking that I want all the folks in my congegation, youth workers and otherwise, to read this. So don't take my (poorly written) word for it - check out this book. I don't think you'll regret it.

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