Category Archives: books

Recommended Graduation Gifts for Teenagers

Slide1we have a few resources either published by The Youth Cartel, or developed by me (marko) and sold by The Youth Cartel, that are worth your consideration as graduation gifts (either for individual students, or for a youth group context). as is always the case with stuff we sell in our store, excellent bulk pricing discounts are available.

The Amazing Next, by Brock Morgan. honestly, there are so many cheesy high school graduations books on the market. most of them fall into one of two categories: (1) inspirational drivel, or (2) “this is our last chance to cram some apologetics down your throat so your freshman philosophy professor doesn’t undo everything we’ve tried to teach you.” both categories are lame, and both don’t get read by actual teenagers. that’s why we worked with Brock to develop this book. we wanted a grad book that was fun, honest, helpful and–most of all–would get read rather than shelved. i love this book, and the response (it released last year) has been overwhelmingly positive.

The Way Bible. i was the general editor on this baby, and it took 18 months of my life. we wanted (we, in this case, being me and Tyndale Publishers) to create a bible that was truly honest and helpful for older teenagers and young adults. almost all ‘teen bibles’ have a target of a 15 or 16 year old. we had 17 – 20 year olds in mind when creating this. it’s full of evocative black & white photography, book intros and a variety of other elements all designed to connect young adults with scripture. this isn’t a study bible — it’s a reader’s bible (and as such, the new living translation is perfect). it’s available in softcover, hardcover, and a black leatherlike cover. (i’ve bought copies of this bible for the guys in my 8th grade small group as a gift — don’t tell ’em.)

Ignite Bible. i was a general editor on this bible also — and it is specifically focused on middle schoolers (so this would NOT be a good choice for high school graduates — but, instead, for kids graduating from grade school into middle school). softcover and hardcover available.

4 Excellent Teen Devotionals for Summer Use

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with the recent release of two very unique devotionals for teenagers, the Cartel now has four excellent options. i think each of these would be fantastic for a variety of summer youth ministry programming:

  • weekly program
  • students completing on their own (since they have more time in the summer)
  • as an aspect of summer camp, or follow up
  • as an aspect of a missions trip, or follow up

all of these are priced low, and have bulk discounts available. all our devotionals work great for individual use. but we don’t actually publish them unless they will work great in the context of youth ministry.

Soul Pirate Handbook, by Luke Lang, is our newest release. it’s a fun and engaging pirate-y approach to considering the good life that Jesus offers us. this would be ideal for middle schoolers and younger high schoolers.

The Real Jesus, by Jen Bradbury, is–in my opinion–about the most theologically rich devotional for teenagers you can find. and it’s pedagogically powerful, in that it very intentionally invites teenagers to bring their own thoughts and insights to the question Jesus asked Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” this devo is perfect for high schoolers and even college students.

Ordinary Time, by Erik Willits engages with the liturgical calendar (for those from non-liturgical churches, ‘ordinary time’ is the name of this season we’re in over the summer). this is a more reflective and contemplative devotional. and, really, this is an all-ages resource (as are the others in this series: Lent and Advent).

Finally, The Zombie Apocalypse Survival Manual for Teenagers, by Jonathan McKee. this is our best-selling book for a reason: teenagers love it. it’s part fiction, part devo, all awesome. if you have teenagers who wouldn’t normally engage with a devotional book, this will be the exception.

 

2 sentence book reviews: YA Fiction and Fiction

30 book reviews this time around, over five days of posts. as always, i allow myself two sentences (unless otherwise noted):
– the first sentence is a summary of the book.
– the second sentence is my opinion of the book (complimented by the star rating).

my opinion:
– just because “Leaders are Readers” is a cliche doesn’t make it untrue.
– and, people who want to grow choose to read widely.

in this current series:
YA Fiction and Fiction (6 books, today)
Illustrated Books and Graphic Novels (7 books, tuesday)
General Nonfiction (6 books, wednesday)
Ministry and Theology (7 books, thursday)
Christian Nonfiction and Parenting (4 books, friday)

Young Adult Fiction

king dorkKing Dork and King Dork Approximately, by Frank Portman
4 stars each
king dork approximatelya high school outsider wrestles with identity, connecting with his dead father, weird parents, friendship, and girls, through his witty and skewed lens, fueled by literature and rock-and-roll. fantastic writing and character development, though seemingly embracing anarchy over hope.

Fiction

the fifth gospelThe Fifth Gospel: A Novel, by Ian Caldwell
5 stars
a vatican priest must unravel a complex threat to the church in order to save his own life (and maybe his faith). ten years after caldwell’s The Rule of Four, this brilliant thriller is part gripping (fictional) story, and part glimpse into life in the vatican.

beautiful youBeautiful You: A Novel, by Chuck Palahniuk
2 stars
an average young woman gets caught up in a billionaire inventor’s pain-filled pursuit of world domination and revenge. as is always true of palahniuk books, this is filled with biting social commentary (this time about control and sexual obsession), but is so over-the-top that it dramatically decreased my engagement (i almost stopped reading it multiple times).

secondhand soulsSecondhand Souls: A Novel, by Christopher Moore
4.5 stars
in this sequel to moore’s A Dirty Job, a major shift seems to be underway in how souls are dealt with after death, and the unlikely team of san franciscans in on the transition must once again save the world. pure, weird fun: nothing more and nothing less.

bream gives me hiccupsBream Gives Me Hiccups: & Other Stories, by Jesse Eisenberg
5 stars
a wide variety of fictional short stories with deep wit (more than LOL humor). i was blown away by eisenberg’s writing and insight, and loved this book.

The Life Book and National Evangelism Week

thelifebook-book-coverhey youth workers: have you heard of The Life Book? it’s a nicely designed gospel of john with additional comments and interaction bits, aimed at teenagers. it’s designed as a simple, non-coercive ‘gift’ for teenagers to give out to their friends and classmates. and thanks to support from the Gideons, it’s completely free. in fact, more than 1.3 million teenagers have given out more than 19 million copies of The Life Book since 2010.

there are certainly a couple levels of benefit surrounding this. first, it gets the gospel of john into the hands of teenagers who would never step into your church or youth group. but it’s also a pretty cool discipleship step for christian teenagers, an onramp to having spiritual conversations with friends. this sort of verbal articulation of faith, we’re finding (most notably in mandy drury’s research on the importance of ‘testimony’ in adolescent faith formation) is critically important to developing a faith that last beyond youth group attendance.

i like the people at The Life Book also. they’re not weird. they’re good hearted, genuine people who really care about teenagers. so i feel good about telling you about them. we’re doing some stuff with them at our event, The Summit, this year also. and for those of you who order anything from The Youth Cartel store in august and september (and as long as our supply lasts), you’ll find you get a copy of The Life Book with your order.

so i’d totally encourage you to do a couple things:

  1. order copies of The Life Book for your group to give out.
  2. consider linking your distribution week with others during National Evangelism Week (NEW), september 20 – 26.

for more info, or to place an order, click here.

here’s some info straight from the peeps at The Life Book:

For National Evangelism Week:

  • We just made it up. Why? We thought it would be awesome if we all focused on both Evangelism and Prayer during the week of See You at the Pole.
  • Imagine one week focused on Evangelism and Prayer. September 20th- 26th, 2015
  • Make your request for Free Life Books by August 31st (that’s next monday!) to get them in time for this week.

FAQs

  • What is The Life Book? The Life Book contains the Gospel of John (ESV) and includes interactive student comments and scripture helps for issues students face. Over 1.3
    Million students have handed out over 19 Million Life Books since 2010.
  • Can students give them out beyond National Evangelism Week? Yes. Feel free to request 2500 Free Life Books and have your students hand them out all throughout the
    school year. This is a great way to foster an evangelistic mindset in students. (Our experience recommends you request 25 Life Books per student in your youth group to
    hand out.)
  • Is it really free? Absolutely. No strings attached. We are wholly funded by The Gideons International.
  • Is this only for churches? Yes. We can only provide free Life Books to Church pastors and youth leaders.

Hopecasting excerpt: Exile Island

I’m very excited to be kicking off a 5-week sermon series at my church this weekend, based on my book, Hopecasting. I’m preaching the opening weekend, and am looking forward to hearing how the senior pastor and youth pastor handle the other four weeks. As I started to prep, I remembered that I’ve had this excerpt from the book in my blog drafts for a long time. So I thought I’d get it up and out there! A funny little story from my own pre-teen years.

We all experience exile. And we all want Hope. So if I’m correct that Hope comes to us in exile, why does Hope seem so elusive?

When I was about ten years old, my family stopped by my dad’s office on our way to some sort of church gathering. I distinctly remember what I was wearing that day (brace yourself): white dress slacks, white shoes and a white belt, nicely accented with a maroon dress shirt. I was the perfect picture of a 1970s preteen, dressed to impress.

My dad’s office was in the middle of some woods, but there was a subdivision being built nearby; and what preteen boy can resist the pull of exploring a construction site? I had a friend with me that day, and we asked if we could explore while my parents did whatever it was they needed to do. My mom’s cautious approval came with a clear directive: “Only if you do not get dirty.”

Off we went, fully intending to keep the white pants white.

hopecasting.coverOn the construction worksite, we found a mostly-frozen-over mini-pond of awesomeness. A muddy area had apparently been partially flooded during the winter months, and was actively thawing on this springtime Detroit Sunday. There was a large ice island in the middle, with a bit of a causeway leading to it. Of course, I quickly found myself planting a stake (literally) in the ice island and claiming it for the motherland. Only then, amidst the revelry of conquering, did I notice that the causeway had disintegrated after I’d crossed to the island.

I panicked. Do I stay out here on this ice-island, maintaining the whiteness of my clothes and the purity of my intentions to behave as instructed? What other options were there? I didn’t want to be on the island. But both staying put and doing anything else seemed to only have tragic outcomes.

I felt a shift under my feet. At first, I thought the island might be breaking into pieces; but instead, the whole berg was slowly sinking under my weight. Brown, muddy water started flowing over the edges toward my outpost in the middle.

My friend was trying to help, I’m sure. But when he pushed a large, floating wooden door toward me and yelled, “Use this as a raft,” neither of us were thinking very clearly. Needless to say, I took a mud bath that day.

I was on that exilic island by my own doing (our exiles are sometimes, though not always, due to our own choices). But I quickly wanted out. In my panic, I jumped for a promise that couldn’t deliver.

When we’re in the midst of the pain of exile, Hope can seem impossible. We’re desperate, and therefore highly susceptible to the lies our culture tells us about how to extricate ourselves.

Really, since an influx of Hope is about opening ourselves up to the influx of God’s presence, the enemies of Hope are wolves in sheep’s clothing, encouraging us to retain control.

We humans have developed myriad ways of keeping God at arm’s length during our times of exile. We buy into these false solutions because we believe they’re less risky than completely opening up to a faithful confidence that God continues to author the story.

Why We Published This: The Amazing Next

when The Youth Cartel first decided to start publishing, my friend brock morgan contacted me about a nonfiction book for teenagers he wanted to write. brock is one of the best youth speakers i’ve ever heard, and is particularly gifted at storytelling (great stories, told very well). in a nutshell, this proposed book was a collection of his best stories with spiritual implications. i was being less picky in those earliest days (we wouldn’t publish this book today, as it doesn’t really fit our publishing direction), and we agreed to move forward with the book. i think we even contracted it; but we didn’t have a timeline, and brock got busy with other stuff, and the book didn’t get written. later that year, brock spoke at the very first Summit on Activating the Hearts of Teenagers Who Don’t See a Need for Jesus; and i immediately knew that talk had to become a book. a year later, that book released as Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World!

fast forward a couple years.

i have always been a little annoyed by graduation gift books. i think the concept is fine; but i’ve felt that most of them feel more like greeting cards. and they tend to either be overly earnest, or too heavy-handed. i wanted the Cartel to publish a grad book that teenagers would actually want to read; one that was honest, encouraging, challenging, and fun to read. i imagined a book with a large scoop of sass, with the silly title This is Your Graduation Gift (that was the working title FAR into the process, until we were in cover design on that title and it came out that no one else–adam, brock, and our managing editor tamara–liked that title at all). i imagined a book with variety — some regular chapters with advice or discipleship stuff, some interviews, some blank pages for interaction, some quotes or poems, some humor, some weird extras.

9781942145097cover-frontso i asked brock if he was up for re-imagining his original book idea into this vision. and he loved it. i knew he was exactly the person to pull this off. and he totally nailed it. The Amazing Next: Waking Up to the Journey Ahead is now real, and i’m super pleased with how youth workers are responding to it.

here’s the official product description:

The new go-to gift for the graduate is not a book of promises or a list of life hacks (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It’s a collection of stories, interviews, and journaling prompts woven together by veteran youth worker Brock Morgan to wake high school seniors up to the world of imagination and wonder—a life of faith lived to the full—that awaits them once the cap and gown have been put away.

and here’s the back cover copy:

So you’re a graduate. And a lot of people who love you are probably itching to tell you how to get this NEXT stage of your life right, maybe some of them are even hoping this book will do it for them. But there’s something you should know right now. This book is not a list of rules for spiritual growth; instructions on how to claim your best life now; or a formula for success.

Instead, this is a safe place to process your fears; read stories about freedom, imagination, and wonder; and consider a calling to live your life with the fullness God intended. Open it up, put your finger on a chapter (any chapter), and awaken the grace and hope you’ll need in the days ahead.

you can check it out here, and even download a sample. we’re offering fantastic discounts on bulk orders.

Hopecasting excerpt: The Happy Police (A Hope Enemy)

a selection from Hopecasting:

As someone who’s spent thirty-three years in youth ministry—the majority of that with middle schoolers—I’ve certainly experienced my share of embarrassing ministry moments.1 But most of them have centered on malapropisms or other verbal blunders. Only a handful of times have I experienced the sort of embarrassment that made me angry.

I was a rookie junior high pastor at a large church in the Midwest. Our aging outreach and evangelism pastor, a wonderful and gracious man, held massive sway in the church due to his history and alignment with the church’s values. So when he told us all about an “opportunity” to host an event to evangelize business leaders in our community, the other pastors went along with it.

The event centered on bringing in a known motivational speaker who happened to be a Jesus-y person in private. Though no one on our leadership would have used the term, we were going to employ
the classic bait and switch approach to evangelism. Youth ministries have done this for decades, so I’m quite familiar with it (“Come for the haunted house! Then we’ll trap you in a room and scare you into heaven!”). Full disclosure: I wasn’t that uncomfortable, at that time in my maturity and spiritual journey, with a bait and switch. But I still felt it should be handled with a bit of finesse.

I’ll call the motivational speaker Bobby W. Clark, which is not his real name. He has long since passed away, so my purpose in telling this story is not to denigrate the name of a dead privately Christian motivational speaker but to illustrate our confusion about Hope and optimism.

The W in his name—whatever it stood for on his birth certificate—was part of his schtick, and he went by Bobby “Wonderful” Clark. As I would come to find out, he was a very minor celebrity who’d been working the corporate pump-’em-up circuit longer than I’d been alive. The plan for our church’s event was this: Host a nice dinner in a hotel ballroom, with the opportunity to hear this Wonderful business speaker. Guilt our church members, particularly those with influential business roles, to invite (persuade) multitudes of business associates to attend. Slip in the gospel. And, BAM, more business leaders in heaven!

I wasn’t in business. I didn’t have business associates. But my wife did. She was a low-level but professional employee at a natural gas trading company (yes, fodder for lots of jokes about “natural gas” in my junior high ministry world). So I did what I thought I was supposed to do: I pressured my wife to pressure her business associates to attend this Wonderful opportunity. And a few of them, very reluctantly, came along.

The food was good enough. But good old Bobby: well, let’s just say the operative word in that phrase was “old.” Seriously, I think he came out of retirement for this gig so he could afford another golf trip to Florida or something.

I have two extremely groan-worthy memories of that night, even though it was well over twenty years ago. The first of those memories was the root of my anger-tinged embarrassment. Bobby’s bait and switch was just the worst I’d ever seen. After offering literally three minutes of business-y clichés (shorter than his introduction by the evening’s emcee), he launched into a horribly hackneyed and manipulative presentation of the gospel complete with a simultaneously high pressure and confusing prayer of salvation. My wife and I were both horrified. Our church had traded on her friendships with colleagues and given them nothing more than a caricature of their worst assumptions of what the night might contain.

But my second memory of that night is the reason I tell this story. Bobby had a signature move. Really. Like, no one else could do that move without someone saying, “Hey, that’s Bobby W. Clark’s move!” I think there’s a little twisted part of me that admires anyone who has a signature move. Except…

Bobby’s signature move went like this: he would say something like, “I’m Bobby Clark, and I’m here to tell you that Life is Wonderful!” When Bobby said this last phrase (which he said multiple times during his talk) he would kick one long leg (he was really tall) high in the air. It was a bit startling the first time you saw it since it’s not a common movement for a man in a business suit.

But remember, Bobby was old. And his signature move required a bit more coordination—even athleticism—than Bobby possessed by that night. The first time he attempted the kick, right after he was
introduced, there was a long pause between “I’m here to tell you that life is…” and “wonderful,” with the leg kick. It was like he had to coax his body into action. On his first attempt, he only got his leg partially up in the air, and stumbled to the side. The audience silently willed him to move on, but he was not going to leave without executing his signature move.

It took him three tries. But he got it. And with newly reinvigorated confidence, Bobby busted out the leg kick three or four more times during his talk, rivaling even the Rockettes.

happy cageMr. Wonderful was selling us a very, very subtle lie that even he likely had no awareness of: pretending you’re happy makes life better. The core of Bobby’s motivational schtick was simple: choose to be happy, select the perky option, pretend that nothing’s wrong, ignore your pain, and you’ll be more productive and garner success.

I like happiness. Nothing wrong with that. And I generally agree with the sentiment that Life is Wonderful. But leg kicks and smiles won’t close the gap between the life I’m living and the life I long for.

Several years ago now, a little book called The Secret sold millions and became a runaway New York Times bestseller. The essence of The Secret was simply this: visualize the positive future you want for yourself, claim it to be true, and it will come to be.

And while Christians might have chafed at that message (for good reasons), we have all too often taught a version of the same. Sure, we spread a little Jesus mayo on that self-actualization sandwich. We say it’s God who brings the blessing, not our own efforts at positive thinking. But really, what we’ve often taught (and thought) is only a tiny shade different: our positive thinking allows God to bless us.

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Christian Nonfiction

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today we wrap things up with two christian nonfiction books. in both of these cases, i wrote official endorsements; i’ll forego my normal two-sentence reviews for the endoresments:

fellowship of differentsA Fellowship of Differents: Showing the World God’s Design for Life Together, by Scot McKnight
5 stars
*note: this book releases on february 24
my official endorsement:
One of my life values is that uniqueness is better than conformity, firmly believing (though I realize this is strong) that conformity only leads to death. This isn’t merely a selfish value, reflective of my undeniable quirks and general non-compliance. Instead, my work with church leaders shows me, over and over again, that healthy thriving churches are not only places of diversity, but they love that about themselves. A Fellowship of Differents will feel like a commendation to churches who already live in this tension, and like a loving and prophetic intervention for those who wrongly worship the god of sameness. Scot brings us story and biblical teaching about who we–the church–can be, at our very best.

Magnificent Mark: Unlock Your Awesomeness and Make Your Teenage Years Remarkable, by Danny Ray
4 stars
*note: this book releases in april
my official endorsement:
My favorite Bible verse in John 10:10, where Jesus tells us that he came “that they may have life, and have it to the full.” That fullness of life–what I long for–is a life available to teenagers. Jesus didn’t come to give us a life of drudgery or rules or religious performance. Magnificent Mark points readers to that full life, a life of purpose and passion, adventure and meaning.
magnificent mark

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Church Ministry or Youth Ministry-Related

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today’s reviews are a mash-up category — some church ministry books and some youth ministry-related books (i call some of these ‘youth ministry-related,’ as they’re not really youth ministry books, but are books i’m reviewing for youth workers):

it's complicatedIt’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by danah boyd
4.5 stars
research-based explanation of how and why teens use social media from the world’s leading expert. even though the book gets a bit repetitive at points, i wish i could get every parent of teenagers and every youth worker to read the introduction to this book.

bonhoeffer as youth workerBonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together, by Andrew Root
5 stars
rather than my normal two sentences, here’s the official endorsement i wrote for must-read youth ministry book:
“Wow. I have, quite literally, never read a youth ministry book anything like this: full of history and story and theological articulation and implication. Absolutely fascinating.”

got religion?Got Religion?: How Churches, Mosques, and Synagogues Can Bring Young People Back, by Naomi Schaefer Riley
5 stars
a journalistic overview of young adult ministries in various faiths, highlighting case studies of what’s working. story-driven and easy to read, i’ve started regularly recommending this book to those who care about the faith of college students and young adults.

brainstormBrainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel MD
3 stars
understanding the teenage brain from a perspective of its power, specialization, and potential. often boring (i found the exercises to be annoying and useless filler) and off-subject, there are some stunning gems in here for those with the patience to sift.

more than just the talkMore Than Just the Talk: Becoming Your Kids’ Go-To Person About Sex, by Jonathan McKee
4 stars
rather than my normal two sentences, here’s the official endorsement i wrote for this parenting book:
So many books on this topic are written by people who don’t actually interact with real teenagers. But McKee is a practitioner first, a frontline youth worker with current and regular interactions with Christian teenagers wrestling with the intersection of their faith and their sexuality. Never condescending to teenagers or parents, Jon brings his blunt and honest writing style to a subject I wish more parents were talking about with their teens.

wrapping up this series tomorrow with two christian nonfiction books.

2 Sentence Book Reviews: Nonfiction

i’m overdue for some book reviews, and will be posting reviews of 23 books this week. as i’ve done in the past, i’m posting two sentence book reviews. in each case, the first sentence is a summary of the book; and the second sentence is my thoughts on the book. i include a 1 – 5 star rating also. and occasionally, i’ll have an additional note.

today’s reviews include 6 nonfiction books:

war of artThe War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield
5+ stars
understand and overcome your internal resistances to creative output. this is a must-read for anyone doing sort of work that is even remotely creative, which, really, should be pretty much all of us.

homeschool sex machineHomeschool Sex Machine: Babes, Bible Quiz, and the Clinton Years, by Matthew Pierce
4 stars
self-published, hilarious, autobiographical stories from the author’s teen years. so, so funny (particularly for those of us who grew up in the sometimes odd world of christendom); my only complaint was that i wanted it to be three times longer.

finding the space to leadFinding the Space to Lead: A Practical Guide to Mindful Leadership, by Janice Marturano
4 stars
the subtitle says it all: this book is about learning how to be present in the context of leaders. easy to read through a christian meditation lens, i found this book to be wonderfully helpful, and have used it now with a couple of my coaching groups.

henrietta lacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
5 stars
well-researched history and science about the most common cells in medical research, which were harvested, without permission, from a poor black woman. i’ve rarely read a book with such a stellar combination of science and story, all written in a compelling and accessible style with tons of subtext and ethical challenges.

dueling neurosurgeonsThe Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness, and Recovery, by Sam Kean
5 stars
the history of neuroscience, told via fascinating case studies. if you’ve ever thought about reading a book to understand the human brain better, but were worried it would be too technical or boring, this is the book you should read.

kingdom of iceIn the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette, by Hampton Sides
4.5 stars
exquisitely detailed history of a failed polar voyage in the late 1800s. the quantity of detail was so well crafted that it never left me wanting less.

on deck for tomorrow: five church ministry and youth ministry-related books