Category Archives: books

Why We Published This: The Jesus Gap

9781942145028.main.1000february 22, 2014 (less than a year ago): the first Open Grand Rapids. i wasn’t there, but adam mclane was. late in the day, he sent me a text telling me everything was going well. but he also said that the presenter who totally blew everyone away was a chicago area youth worker named jen bradbury. he told me how jen has presented on her original research about churched teenagers and their christology. he suggested a publishing chat was in order.

1:30pm, february 27, 2014: i chatted with jen. wow — yes, it quickly became clear that jen’s research (as part of her MA in youth ministry leadership at huntington) had raised some important issues about christian teenagers and jesus. it was 100% clear to me that we needed to help give jen a platform to speak to youth workers about what she’d discovered. and, thankfully, jen wanted to jump in.

february 28, 2014: jen sent me most of a full book proposal. at least it had the pertinent bits. it was a fantastic start. we chatted again that day and i made a handful of minor suggestions.

march 3, 2014: jen sent me a revised proposal based on my input, as well as a sample chapter.

march 10 i emailed jen with this: “jen bradbury, how is it that you are just now surfacing as a voice that needs to be heard in the world of youth ministry!? seriously — you are the real deal. your expanded TOC is excellent, and is SO CLEARLY a book that needs to be written and read.”

within another week or two, we had a signed publishing contract with jen. she wrote like a mad-woman, and turned in the manuscript in mid-june, and after some frenetic months of editing and design and printing and stuff, we released The Jesus Gap: What Teens Actually Believe About Jesus in early October.

for those not familiar with book publishing, let me clarify: that’s an insane timeline.

but we pushed hard and fast because we were 100% convinced this was a book that needed to be published, and that it was a book that every youth worker simply must read. after all, if the majority of our teenagers have massive misinformation about who jesus was and is, then what the heck are we even doing? the beauty of jen’s book, though, is that while her research reveals some surprising and frustrating–even discouraging–news about what our teenagers actually believe about jesus, there are totally actions we can take to address the problem. in other words, it’s a hopeful book.

here’s what andy root (in my opinion, one of the top three minds in youth ministry) had to say in the foreword he wrote:

So here we stand, needing not simply to help our young people possess information about Jesus, but rather to invite them to experience the living Christ. We are asking them to take these experiences of Jesus’ presence and absence in their lives and reflect on them through Scripture and church tradition—not in order to know information, but to give testimony to the depth of their experience. And this, in my mind, is the gap—the gap between young people’s experience of the living Jesus and their ability to give coherent and thoughtful reflection upon it. If we can help them do this kind of reflection, it might transform their lives and be a rich blessing to the church.

Reading Jen’s book will prove helpful to bridging this gap. It will make you think; and most importantly, it will move you into the depth of ministry where the living Jesus is always present, taking what is dead and bringing it back to life.

and here are a few other opinions:

Jen Bradbury is seasoned, wise, and warm, as might be expected of a youth minister. She’s also a tenacious researcher with mad writing skills and a desperately important problem to dissect. That’s why The Jesus Gap managed to exceed my expectations. This book needs serious attention from anyone who loves Jesus, loves kids, and loves the Church. There’s hope in these pages!
– Dave Rahn, Sr. VP, Youth for Christ/USA, Director, MA in Youth Ministry Leadership at Huntington University

The Jesus Gap is a must-read book for four reasons. First, it discovers, critiques, and champions the place of Christology in youth ministry. Second, it is a rare gem: National research done with rigor that helps us find a confident way forward. Third, it was written by a veteran youth pastor with a proven and current record of fruitful leadership. Finally, Jen Bradbury is a gifted thinker and leader in youth ministry who leads, teaches, and nurtures as well as any I’ve seen. You can be confident of the quality of the data, the theological wisdom, the practical application, and the integrity and Christ-centeredness of the one who writes.
– Terry Linhart, PhD, Author and Educator at Bethel College – Indiana,

In The Jesus Gap, Jen Bradbury offers deep insight into the way teenagers view Jesus. Full of important questions and a critical look at what we are telling teens about him, Jen offers a wealth of practical ways we can positively impact what our youth believe about Jesus. Regardless of your denomination or the size of your ministry, this book is filled with valuable wisdom for how pastors or parents can play a key role in strengthening the faith of our youth. I am left feeling hopeful that when we introduce teenagers to the true Jesus, we will open the door to a faith that will last a lifetime.
– Doug Fields, Author of Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, Co-founder of

so, yeah — here are my questions to you, dear blog reader:
1. are you a youth worker?
2. if you answered ‘yes’ to question 1, have you read The Jesus Gap yet?
3. if you answered ‘no’ to question 2, what is your frickin’ problem?

(oh, two more things: we asked jen to speak on this subject at The Summit last november, and her excellent, short talk is available here. we want to take another step and help your teenagers come to know and experience the real jesus; so we’re just starting the development of a Jesus Gap devotional, with jen as the author. watch for that to release sometime in 2016!)

Why We Published This: THINK Volume 1 (Culture)

and finally, this is #5 in a little series explaining why The Youth Cartel chose to publish the five products we’re releasing this week. first up was gina abbas’s amazing new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry. then i wrote about jake kircher’s pot-stirring but pragmatic book, Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World. yesterday i wrote about Sam Halverson’s new book One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church, a book that is 100% timely and 100% helpful. yesterday, i wrote about the most creative youth ministry resource i’ve seen in a very long time; jake bouma and erik ullestad’s Hypotherables. and today we circle back to jake kircher…

THINK Volume 1: Culture

v4on a long car ride from Open Boston to jake’s church in connecticut, he shared with me how his new england students–unique in how post-christian they are–had completely stopped responding to any sort of traditional curriculum. over time, he’d developed a different approach to teaching times–one that respects teenagers’ ability to consider and process and seek. using something closer to a socratic method held up to scripture, jake had developed lessons that were (as i saw when he sent me samples) very unique–really unlike other curriculum. they aren’t traditional “say this and have students do this” lessons. instead, they are guided discussions, fair in presenting differing opinions and thoughts (and even theologies), while seeking truth in scripture.

i could tell it was an approach that plenty of other youth workers would want to try.

as i wrote a few days ago when i introduced jake’s book Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World, i told him, on that car ride, that i thought the curriculum sounded like it had potential; but that i also felt he should write a short ‘manifesto’ type book that unpacked the theory and approach. so that’s what we did. Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World is both a complementary book to Brock Morgan’s excellent Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World (which is why we chose a similar title), and also an expanded framework and justification for what has become the THINK line of curriculum.

we’re planning on releasing four volumes of THINK, each with an umbrella theme to group the lessons. first up is THINK, volume 1: Culture.

here’s the official product description:

Today’s teenagers won’t accept merely being told information or the party line. They want to wrestle and explore—they want to be contributors and help develop their own set of beliefs. So rather than leave this process of exploration until their young adult years, a time when many of them will have left the Church, what if we purposefully came alongside our teens and helped them explore and own their beliefs while they’re still teenagers? That’s what THINK is all about.

THINK, Volume 1: Culture explores six divisive cultural topics from a biblical perspective: science versus creation, tattoos, alcohol and drugs, media, abortion, and tolerance/absolute truth. THINK is different from other curriculums because the goal is not to teach teens the correct answers. Instead, the intention is to invite your youth into a discussion with Christ, the Bible, and other people (including their peers, leaders, and parents) that will result in the best sort of spiritual wrestling match.

We can’t continue to spoon-feed our youth the answers they “need” to survive college or be a good person. Instead, we have to make the shift toward helping them own biblically informed views and opinions. THINK will deepen and personalize teens’ faith and give them the tools and resources they need to engage issues from a biblical perspective.

THINK, Volume 1: Culture includes:
• A detailed overview of how to use THINK, as well a short leader video to frame your thinking
• 6 lessons that each contain—
• A leader’s guide with a list of resources and Scripture passages you can use to prepare
• Sample emails to parents
• Social media blurbs to promote the topics with your teenagers
• Multiple options to start and end each lesson
• Thorough discussion guides with multiple questions and resources for each Scripture and subtopic
• A handout (which you can revise so it better fits your group) that will help teens continue exploring the topic on their own
• A short video that provides insights and tips for how to facilitate the discussion of each lesson

and here’s what people are saying about it:

I hate it when I read a book that I absolutely love and wish I’d written it myself. This was my experience when I read THINK, Volume 1: Culture. Not only is it full of real-world issues, but at the heart of the teaching is a thoughtfulness that meets a felt need in the lives of today’s students. I highly recommend this book and the whole THINK series. In fact, I’m ordering copies for my team, and we’re going to be using this material with our youth group!
Brock Morgan, Author of Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

Jake Kircher has done a masterful job of exposing the weakness of a teaching model that relies solely (or primarily) on the presentation of a series of beliefs that are to be taken at face value, rather than discussed, chewed on, and argued about. Jake offers us a better alternative in the THINK curriculum. Granted, the facilitator model of teaching is often more uncomfortable and definitely not as “neat and tidy” as a more traditional style. But, as those of us who’ve been in youth ministry for many decades can attest, teenagers who haven’t been challenged to think deeply about their personal beliefs and struggle with them on some rational level probably won’t hold on to them very tightly—or for very long. THINK will help them do both!
Mark Orr, Founder and Executive Director, REACH Youth New England

THINK is a much-needed resource for working with today’s teens. It gives youth leaders direction in discussing some of the hard questions our students ask, and how to do it in a way that gets them thinking about their faith and why they believe what they believe. Teenagers are grappling to know how to live for Christ when some issues seem hard to discuss. THINK provides ideas for how to show teens what God says in His Word about these tough topics, while providing the space they need to hear Him for themselves.
Leneita Fix, Co-Founder, FrontLine Urban Resources; Coauthor of Urban LIVE Curriculum (Simply Youth Ministry)

i really encourage you to check it out. download a free sample, or buy the whole downloadable volume 1 here. this isn’t your mama’s curriculum!

We We Published This: Hypotherables

this, my friends, is #4 in a little series explaining why The Youth Cartel chose to publish the five products we’re releasing this week. first up was gina abbas’s amazing new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry. then i wrote about jake kircher’s pot-stirring but pragmatic book, Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World. yesterday i wrote about Sam Halverson’s new book One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church, a book that is 100% timely and 100% helpful. today, it’s on to jake bouma and erik ullestad’s…

The questions are hypothetical. The conversations are real.

hypotherablesjake and erik approached me a long time ago about a different product, one that we ended up shelving for reasons that had nothing to do with jake and erik. but i’d seen enough to know: these guys have the ability to offer some truly unique, creative and helpful tools for youth workers. so in a move that’s fairly rare for us, i told them: we want you to write for the Cartel. get back to me with ideas and we’ll pick one.

when they got back to me sometime later, Hypotherables was on the list.

and let me say this: as a old curriculum writer who knows that there’s very little that’s truly unique and inventive in youth ministry curriculum (or any sort of church ministry curriculum for that matter), Hypotherables is like nothing you have ever seen. it’s that creativity, along with their depth, that caused dr. andrew root (author of some of the most insightful and important youth ministry books in the last decade) to say, about Hypotherables: I’m happy to say, of this curriculum, I’m a BIG FAN.

Hypotherable is a made-up mash-up word, combining ‘hypothetical’ and ‘parable.’ this resource is a collection of inventive stories (with multiple means of sharing them) that are specifically designed to get teenagers talking about moral and ethical issues.

here’s the official description:

What if there were a resource that not only made expressing an opinion less intimidating, but actually made it fun for people to explore and expand theological concepts in community?

Hypotherables is a radical new spin on youth ministry curriculum that uses original, compelling stories to stimulate spirited group discussions about a range of spiritual topics. Everyday faith issues like evangelism, honesty, temptation, and grace are reframed in the form of captivating stories culminating in a HYPOTHEtical question for the group to discuss—free from the fear of “wrong” answers. And because each story is an imaginative modern paRABLE—full of twists, turns, drama, and comedy—leaders can easily take the conversation even deeper. The informative sidebar commentary and convenient discussion guides make it nearly effortless to draw out rich biblical truths from the layers of metaphor embedded within each story.

This product is a digital download containing 10 one-of-a-kind hypotherables. Each session comes with:

• A high-definition narrated video of the hypotherable
• A slide presentation (in both Keynote and PowerPoint formats) for leaders who wish to narrate the story in their own voice and style
• A Script + Commentary with the story, slide change cues, and informational remarks
• A Conversation Catalyst with follow–up questions, thematic talking points, relevant Scripture references, and a closing prayer

It’s draining to be constantly creating or seeking out fresh new ways to spark meaningful faith conversations with your group. But it doesn’t have to be. With Hypotherables, the questions are hypothetical, but the conversations are real.

and here’s what a few pretty freaking sharp people are saying about it:

Every teenager is different, and many learn better when they experience something on their own. Hypotherables gives students a chance to interact with hypothetical situations in the real world—with peers and leaders they trust. I love the idea of creating a safe space where there are no wrong answers…of building a space where teens can find the right answers for their unique situations on their own. I can’t wait to use this resource with our students.

The videos, scripts, questions, helps, and fun facts put the students in a unique learning experience where they get to “what if” about “what could be.” They get to use their imaginations and ideas to activate their own faith in the future. With Hypotherables, Jake and Erik are bringing something incredible to the youth ministry world.
Brooklyn Lindsey, Justice Advocate, Nazarene Youth International

With very little exception, I’ve never been a big fan of curricula. As a youth worker I found them restrictive, as a theologian I encountered them as theologically thin. This was true until Hypotherables. I’m happy to say, of this curriculum, I’m a BIG FAN. In this curriculum you’ll discover freedom and depth that promises to leave a lasting impact on your young people. Jake Bouma and Erik Ullestad are two of the most creative young leaders I know, and in Hypotherables you’ll see both their passion and talent in technicolor.
Andrew Root, PhD, Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry, Luther Seminary; Author of Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker (Baker Academic, 2014)

In my fifteen years of working with youth, more and more I’ve realized that youth don’t want, or need, to hear any more lectures or youth group talks. Rather, they need opportunities to be engaged in meaningful and creative conversations and discussions that allow them to practice and experiment with their developing faith. With the release of Hypotherables, Jake Bouma and Erik Ullestad have provided youth workers with a tool that will help create space for just those kinds of transformational discussions.
Rev. Adam Walker Cleaveland, PC(USA) Minister and Blogger

Hypotherables is a download-only resource. check out a free sample session here, or get the whole shootin’ match.

Why We Published This: One Body

this, my friends, is #3 in a little series explaining why The Youth Cartel chose to publish the five products we’re releasing this week. first up was gina abbas’s amazing new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry. and yesterday i wrote about jake kircher’s pot-stirring but pragmatic book, Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World. today, we’re on to Sam Halverson’s…

One Body: Integrating Teenagers into the Life of Your Church

9780991005086-frontfirst, a bit about why i wanted to publish sam. i got to know sam a couple years ago when he participated in the Cartel’s Youth Ministry Coaching Program. sam was already a veteran youth worker with about 20 years of experience. but he’s committed to growth, and YMCP proved to be a significant year for him. one of the many results is that sam made the move to becoming the youth ministry dude (not his official title!) for the north georgia conference of the united methodist church. but during that year, i also saw deeply into sam’s heart and mind. he’s a gifted and insightful youth worker. and we found that we shared a passion for spurring youth workers to consider breaking down their youth ministry ghettos, their silos that keep teenagers isolated from the rest of the church.

about a year ago, april diaz wrote Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker for us. it’s a “manifesto of integration” (which is the subtitle). sam and i started talking about him writing a bit of a “sequel” or expansion of april’s book. while april’s book is a shot across the bow, sam book is deeper and wider, and gets into more pragmatic implications (this was by design–april’s book was intended to be short and go for the jugular).

this is a critically important subject for youth workers. and, really, it’s a bit of an identity crisis for us. we often have this broken-but-symbiotic relationship with our churches: they want to hire pied pipers, and we’re happy to take the money and run a silo’d youth ministry. integration is messy, full of complications and resistances, and feels counter-intuitive as it is–to a small degree–working our way out of parts of our job.

sam does a great job of setting up the problem, unpacking solutions, and providing a raft of ideas.

here’s the back cover copy from the book:

Most youth groups function like a parasite within the body of the church: a separate organism that relies on its host for resources, but isn’t integrated into the whole. Strong language? Sure. But it’s accurate. And if left untreated, this parasitic relationship will lead to unhealthy results for both youth ministries and churches.

One Body addresses how even the most active youth ministries can unknowingly hinder the development of their adolescents by preventing them from being integrated into the body of Christ. It also reveals practices that hinder growth within the body and suggests some exciting ways to connect the stories and lives of the youth and adults in your church.

Let’s get teenagers out of their ministry silos—their youth group ghettos—and start building relationships beyond the youth room. Let’s dream together of moving our congregations toward a better understanding of their biblical call to disciple and be One Body with youth.

and here’s what others are saying about sam’s book:

Our churches have become silos, and in this thought-provoking yet practical book, Sam Halverson calls us to do something about it. One Body is a necessary read for all who believe that people and relationships are more important than programs.
Chanon Ross, Ph.D., Director, Institute for Youth Ministry, Princeton Theological Seminary

It’s now almost universally agreed in the world of youth ministry that we’ve got to stop isolating our teenagers from the rest of the church. Isolation hurts teenagers and hamstrings the church. But up to this point, we’ve had few prototypes for making that seismic shift. With One Body, Sam helps us imagine a church without generational isolation and makes a compelling, practical case that integrating teenagers into our congregations really can happen. I can’t think of a single church that won’t benefit from this book.
Mark DeVries is the author of Family-Based Youth Ministry, the founder of Ministry Architects, and served 28 years as a youth pastor in Nashville, Tennessee.

Sam Halverson offers biblically grounded, theologically rich arguments for why churches must move away from the silo model of ministry that perpetuates the isolation and alienation of youth from the church, while providing compelling examples and ideas to show us how this can be done. Anyone committed to building a church alive with the energy and prophetic insight of young people should read this…and then show it to every leader in their congregation.
Dr. Elizabeth Corrie, Assistant Professor in the Practice of Youth Education and Peacebuilding and Director of the Youth Theological Initiative at Candler School of Theology, Emory University

download a free sample of sam’s book, or buy the whole thing on The Youth Cartel site.
or, get the kindle version or physical copy from amazon.

Why We Published This: Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World

uh… a week ago i posted a ‘why we published this’ about gina abbas’s amazing new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry. and i said i was going to post every day that week a “why we published this’ about one of our new resources. but then i didn’t post again. my bad. weak internet during my travels conspired with a schedule that was more full than i’d planned to result in a goose egg. so, now, i resume this li’l series with…

Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World: Cultivating Exploration and Ownership

teaching teenagers in a post-christian worldlast fall, jake kircher drove me from Open Boston to his church in CT, where i spoke to teenagers, then taught a parent seminar. we had a bunch of time on the road; so when he told me he had a product idea for me to consider, i told him to take his time. jake wove a story about the need he’d discovered with his post-christian teenagers for a different approach to curriculum. as he shared what he’d developed, and why, i responded with something like,

“jake, i think this sounds great; but i think there are two separate resources in this: a curriculum line using this approach, and a short ‘manifesto’ book describing the approach in more detail than a curriculum intro allows for.”

jake considered that for a few weeks, and we were off to the races. later this week i’ll post about jake’s THINK curriculum. but here’s the manifesto–an articulate, challenging, pithy-but-practical book about a teaching approach closer to the socratic method than a propositional throw-down. i’d imagined jake’s book as a sister book to brock morgan’s exceptional book Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World, as they’re addressing some similar contextual realities. so we titled jake’s book with a ‘companion’ title to brock’s.

here’s the back cover description:

Youth workers are in a tough spot these days. On the one hand, we’re finding that teenagers who have little to no church background and Bible literacy tend to be hyper tolerant of all religious views except for Christianity. On the other hand, students who grew up in the church and have heard all of the “right answers” are still struggling to articulate their beliefs and live them out day to day.

When these two realities combine in youth ministry, they can make teaching teenagers about spiritual things an infuriating experience. It can feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall.

It’s been said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So maybe it’s time we try something different when it comes to teaching theology to our students. That’s the hopeful change that Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World addresses.

As a follow-up to Brock Morgan’s exceptional Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World, this book will help you shift from being a content dispenser to a conversation cultivator. It’s time we stop treating teenagers like consumers—even when we really believe in what we’re selling. Instead, let’s create learning environments that lead to faith exploration and ownership.

and here’s what others are saying about it:

In Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World, Jake Kircher calls us to reset how we communicate the truth of Scripture to teenagers. We need to clear our memories and adapt our approach to their real world. It’s not the world many of us grew up in. Jake’s style is transparent and humble. He advocates an organic style of ministry that acknowledges and draws on the worldviews and learning styles of students. What he says should be carefully considered by youth leaders—especially those of us whose faith was nurtured in the “God said it…I believe it…that settles it” era. It’s a helpful and provocative read.
Doug Clark, Director of Field Ministries, National Network of Youth Ministries

As you read this book, you will hit bottom with Kircher and then begin to see youth ministry from a new perspective. It’s a tough perspective. You can’t just pour the essence of this book into your cup of ministry, add water, and stir. This is a call to leaders to give up all the superficialities, competitions, and idols of our present ministries and accept a radical relationship with Christ, with the intention of showing young people the difficult cost and high value of discipleship—a radical relationship with Jesus. Only this way can young people escape the limitations and bondage of a post-modern, post-Christian age. It is a self-critical approach to ministry—one in which we need to learn and determine our goals through self-reflection and out of deep relationships with youth, discovering with them what life is all about and how true, loving relationships grow. This book might be too searing and personal, a little too radical and honest for you—though I hope not; because it’s also disarmingly practical.
Dean Borgman, Charles E. Culpeper Professor of Youth Ministries, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary; Founder and Director, Center for Youth Studies

How refreshing to get advice from someone who’s right in the thick of the challenge of sharing faith with young people. Jake writes from the perspective of an experienced youth pastor who knows that the old methods of teaching teenagers are increasingly ineffective. The goal remains the same: for teenagers to develop a deep commitment to God that will last a lifetime. But standing up front at a youth meeting and telling teens what to believe isn’t working. Instead, Jake gives us inspiration and practical guidance to teach teenagers who are immersed in modern culture and, of course, the digital world. This is a place where having the space to explore and ask questions is a critical element of the journey to truth, and Jake’s advice will ring true to anyone wondering how to help young people find faith in a postmodern world.
Chris Curtis, CEO, Youthscape

Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World is a quick but important read for far too many of us youth workers who declare we have a plan for ministering to youth, but deep down we aren’t really sure that what we’re accomplishing will last. Jake Kircher is not afraid to be honest about his youth ministry past and what he believes today.
Mike King, President, Youthfront, Author of Presence-Centered Youth Ministry

I loved this book and I highly recommend it. Jake Kircher understands today’s culture and gives us wonderful insights on communicating with teenagers. This book is well researched and no doubt will give you many effective tools to speak to this generation.
Jim Burns, Ph.D., President, HomeWord; Author of Teenology and Confident Parenting

Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World is a must-read for youth workers who are in the trenches. Jake Kircher has written an honest and practical book full of thoughtful and deliberate strategies for guiding teenagers’ spiritual formation in today’s very complex, post-Christian world. Kircher can do this so well because he is immersed in this paradigm shift as he ministers to teens in the Northeast. His personal accounts resonate with my own and, most likely, with those of any youth worker who is passionate about leading students into life-giving faith. My recommendation is that you buy a copy of this book for yourself—and then buy six more!
Brock Morgan, Author of Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World

Teaching is often missized in youth ministries. We either give it grandiose value, or we’re entirely too dismissive of the power of the spoken Word. Jake Kircher is clearly a gifted practitioner, and he does a skillful job of right-sizing the importance of teaching in our ministries. This work is a masterful combination of stating the inaccuracies of our theology and practices, while offering creative, practical insights for how to do it better.
April L. Diaz, Author of Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker; The Youth Cartel’s Director of Coaching

Teaching Teenagers in a Post-Christian World is an engaging and compelling journey of ministry transformation with huge kingdom implications. I enjoyed Jake’s personal, even vulnerable, approach as he moved his youth ministry to one characterized by “exploration and ownership.” My favorite chapter is chapter 5, “Why We Discourage Exploration.” We don’t mean to, of course; but we end up, as he aptly describes it, making our students listeners, not livers of the Christian faith. I love how Jake’s book is filled with fresh hope for youth ministry—and the whole church!
Len Kageler, Ph.D., Professor of Youth and Family Studies, Nyack College; Author of Youth Ministry in a Multifaith Society

download a free sample and/or buy the physical book from The Youth Cartel site
buy kindle or physical copies from amazon

Why We Published This: A Woman in Youth Ministry

A Woman in Youth Ministry: Honest Insight and Leadership Wisdom for Real People

a few years ago, before The Youth Cartel was publishing stuff ourselves, i had coffee with a local youth worker named Gina Abbas. i’d sorta known of gina–at least i knew her name–but we didn’t actually know each other. but when we met for coffee, i could quickly tell she was a seasoned youth ministry veteran with something to say. she’d been consistently blogging at her “a woman in youth ministry” blog, which was starting to cause a few challenges (everything from raised eyebrows to outright conflict) at her conservative church. we processed a bit, and got to know each other, and that was about it.

not long after that, gina showed me the proposal for a book she’d been thinking of. i signed on as her literary agent, and after we tweaked and polished the proposal, i started shopping it around. but, alas, three factors wonderfully conspired against finding a publisher for her book:
1. the youth ministry publishing world has been wildly unstable and shifting for a number of years, with many publishers not sure what they’re hoping to publish, and others mired down in a quicksand of cumbersome processes.
2. gina’s book was honest. some would call it edgy (which, in this case, was code for “more honest than we’re comfortable with”).
3. and, gina didn’t have a national platform with built-in sales guarantees.

but: that’s exactly the sort of book and author the Cartel decided we needed to publish (look at morgan schmidt’s book for an example). and when we decided to start publishing, i told gina, “enough of this shopping around to publishers who don’t see why this is both an important book and a needed book; let’s publish this ourselves.” and, i am very happy that gina agreed.

A Woman in Youth Ministry.covernow, a couple years later, gina’s book is real, and one of several titles we have releasing just now. it is at times winsome, even funny; and it is at times confrontative and challenging; it is at all times honest and helpful. this is a book that every woman in youth ministry would benefit from. but it’s also a book that male youth workers need to read if they hope to understand some of the unique challenges their female peers face.

here’s the book’s summary, from the back cover:

If you’ve ever been boycotted for being a girl, pumped breast milk on a church bus, gotten fat from eating too much pizza, or wondered if women really can do youth ministry (even when they get old)…

Whether you’re a single or married female in youth ministry, with or without kids…
Whether you’re a part-time, full-time, or volunteer youth worker…
If you’re serving in a tiny church or a ginormous church…
Or even if you’re a guy who wonders how he can better partner with women in youth ministry…

A Woman in Youth Ministry is for you.

This book is full of stories and rants and blessings and cone-of-silence honesty. Gina Abbas is a storyteller, a listening ear, and an honest coach. She pulls no punches and bares her deepest pain and joy. And—over and over again—Gina provides encouragement and practical help for youth ministry leaders who sometimes feel like they’re going it alone.

and here’s what others are saying about it:

“I wish we didn’t need this book. Really, I do. I wish the current Christian culture were such that a book like this would be completely superfluous. But it’s not. It’s needed—desperately needed. As a youth ministry professor at Indiana Wesleyan University, I’m constantly having conversations with young women who want to know, “Could I be a youth pastor, too?” I look forward to handing them a copy of Gina’s book so they can get current, firsthand information about what it’s like to be a woman in the trenches of youth ministry. Gina’s conversational style is full of insightful stories and wise tips to help bolster her readers’ confidence. While it’s true we learn a lot from experience, Gina’s vulnerability allows us to learn from her experiences as well. This is a must-read for any young woman who wonders whether God could use her to minister to his children.”
Dr. Amanda Drury, Assistant Professor in Practical Theology and Ministry , Indiana Wesleyan University

“‘It’s hard to be awesome when you’re too busy.’ This line from Gina’s book rang so true for me. With creativity, honesty, humor, and meaningful advice from her own story, other voices, and God’s Word, Gina weaves together a beautiful addition for women in leadership. May we–as individuals and as the church–slow our busyness so the kingdom can be even more awesome.”
April L. Diaz, Author of Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker; Director of Coaching at The Youth Cartel

“The challenge for women in ministry today is not just confronting the overt ways women experience inequality (still very present), but also naming the latent ways inequality is perpetuated in ministries’ unchecked assumptions, expressed through programs, postures, relationships, language, and theology. Gina’s story is exactly that–a journey packed with encounters, ideas, and questions worth considering. Women and, more importantly, men should read this book and let Gina be another (or maybe their first) female ministry conversation partner.”
Steven Argue, Pastor and Theologian-in-Residence, Mars Hill Bible Church; Adjunct Professor of Youth Ministries, Grand Rapids Theological Seminary; Advisory Council Member, Fuller Youth Institute

“I wish A Woman in Youth Ministry had been available when I began my career in youth ministry. I desperately emulated the male youth pastors I knew because I was unsure how to be a woman in youth ministry. This book would have saved me considerable grief and heartache, and enabled me to feel less alone. Gina’s stories and wisdom will, no doubt, provide many female youth workers with a road map for how to confidently live into their calling as women in youth ministry. But don’t be fooled by the title. This book isn’t just for women. It’s also for male youth workers who want to partner with their female colleagues more effectively in order to do God’s kingdom work.”
Jen Bradbury, Director of Youth Ministry, Faith Lutheran Church; Author of The Jesus Gap

“If you’re a woman in youth ministry, or know a woman in youth ministry, this book is essential reading. Gina’s writing is warm, honest, and encouraging, with a little bit of rear-kicking. I loved how she opened up difficult but essential topics like education, pay, family-life balance, and boundaries. A Woman in Youth Ministry is a great resource for women in all levels of youth ministry leadership, from volunteers to youth pastors. You’ll return to it over and over.”
Emily Maynard, Blogger & Speaker

“I’ve never read another book like this. A Woman in Youth Ministry is a next-level glimpse into the journey of a youth worker—who also happens to be a woman. It’s a raw, heartfelt, practical guide to navigating the ups and downs of the youth ministry world. If you’re looking for a guide to longevity in youth ministry–you’ve found it!”
Katie Edwards, Saddleback Church

The Youth Cartel is unapologetically feminist. while we love our youth ministry friends in complementarian churches, and are committed to serving them, we stand very emphatically in a place of affirming women in youth ministry as equals.

honestly, i am really proud of this book. it’s an important book. and i deeply hope that lots of my youth ministry friends will read it and be both blessed and challenged by it: encouraged and equipped and made uncomfortable.

purchase A Woman in Youth Ministry from The Youth Cartel store, or download a free sample
purchase A Woman in Youth Ministry from
purchase the Kindle version of A Woman in Youth Ministry from

teenage brains wired for awesome stuff

brainstormreading Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel J. Siegel. it’s been on my ‘to read’ stack for more than six months.

it reminds me of the wonderful quote that dean blevins tossed out during our panel on teenage brains at the nywc last fall:

do we view teenagers as a problem to be solved, or a wonder to behold?

view this quote from the book through a “wonder to behold” lens:

Brain changes during the early teen years set up four qualities of our minds during adolescence: novelty seeking, social engagement, increased emotional intensity, and creative exploration.

yeah, i think i’ll have to blog about this more. but this is worth a mini-post by itself.

youth ministry books i’m always recommending

recently, someone in one of my coaching groups asked me to give a list of 10 or so youth ministry books that everyone should read. there are SO many great youth ministry books that it’s tough to make a good list without knowing the reader’s context and what would be most helpful to her. but, i do find that there’s a certain list of books that i end up recommending the most.

what any individual youth worker should read might be a variation on this; but here’s my books i recommend most often:

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Almost Christian, Kenda Dean. difficult and long read, but definitely one of the most important YM books in the last 5 years.

Revisiting Relational Ministry, Andrew Root. calls into question how we’ve “used” relationships as a manipulative tool, and suggests a new way based from a theological framework.

As for Me and My (Crazy) House, Brian Berry. fantastic help for thinking about how to balance family with the demands of youth ministry.

Leading Up, Joel Mayward. about having influence in your church when you’re not in a position of power. allegory from the perspective of a new JH pastor.

Masterpiece: the art of discipling youth, Paul Martin. frames discipleship as a process of helping to uncover teenagers’ unique selves, rather than a program of content.

Woo: Awakening Teenagers’ Desire to Follow in the Way of Jesus, Morgan Schmidt. you could call this “desire-based youth ministry.”

Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World, Brock Morgan. what YM look like when teenagers are truly postmodern. EXCELLENT and provocative.

Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker: a manifesto of integration, April Diaz. the subtitle says it all. short and to the point.

Sticky Faith, youth leader edition, Kara Powell and Brad Griffin. research-based implications of faith that lasts beyond youth group (and teenage years).

A Tale of Two Youth Workers, Eric Venable. a short allegory about processing teenage doubt.

Hurt 2.0 (the revised edition), Chap Clark. understanding the hurt and pain of today’s teenagers, with a look at their isolation.

2 sentence book reviews: parenting, church and ministry

yay! this is the week my readers either love or ignore (traffic tells me many are in the latter camp). i have found that writing reviews of the books i read really helps me remember them. and i hope it helps some of you make reading choices (and avoid others). i allow myself two sentences for each review (unless i’ve already written an official endorsement): the first sentence is a summary of the book, and the second sentence is my opinion of it.

here’s the plan for the week!
monday: 8 young adult fiction books
tuesday: 2 fiction books, 2 non-fiction books, and 2 graphic/illustrated books
wednesday: 10 christian living and theology books
thursday: 10 parenting, church and ministry books

Parenting, Church and Ministry

the catholic churchThe Catholic Church: What Everyone Needs to Know, by John L. Allen
3.5 stars
a journalist’s sympathetic-but-not-myopic overview of everything catholic. i’m glad i read this, even though it wasn’t always compelling.

youth ministry now not yetYouth Ministry: Now & Not Yet, by Matt Wilkinson
3.5 stars
reporting and reflecting on a survey of youth ministry practices among baptist churches in ontario, canada. of course, canadian baptists have to read this; but i found it insightful (particularly due to its research base) for all north american youth ministry contexts.

jesus centered youth ministryJesus Centered Youth Ministry: Moving from Jesus-Plus to Jesus-Only (Revised Edition), by Rick Lawrence
5 stars
a revised edition of a young ministry shaman’s gentle insistence that we focus youth work on the person of jesus.
my official endorsement (found in the book):
Well past halfway through the chapters of my life, i’m still trying to dislodge from my brain the flannelgraph childhood images of Jesus hovercrafting in his pretty blue robe across a glassy bit o’ blue. The longer I walk with Jesus, the more wonderful and mysterious he gets. In this book, Rick calls us to run–arm in arm with teenagers–to the epicenter of that mystery, that person, that incarnate child, that trouble maker, that up-ender, that ultimate rescuer.

freshmanFreshman: Making Faith Your Priority, Sophomore: Stepping Into Maturity, Junior: Making Sense of It All, Senior: Preparing for the Future, by Lars Rood
5 stars
30 day student devotionals focused on developmental and faith issues common to each particular grade of high school. brilliant idea, effectively executed–this is one of those “why didn’t i think to write these?” ideas that makes perfect and obvious sense.
(full disclosure: i agented these books; but i still love ’em!)

bold parentingBold Parenting: Raising Kids to be More than Just Rule Keepers, by Lars Rood
4 stars
easy to read and full of practical ideas, this short book encourages parents to hope that their teenagers would finish high school as more than merely sober virgins. helpful for parents, perfect for a parent small group discussion (or parenting class), and might give youth workers language for encouraging parents toward a higher goal.
(full disclosure: i agented this book; but i still love it!)

red cup christianAre You a Red Cup Christian?: How to Live a Stand-out Faith in a Fit-in World, by Lars Rood
4 stars
a student counterpart to the previous book, the author challenges high schoolers to do just what the subtitle suggests. easy to read, would be particularly great for juniors and seniors, on their own or in the context of a small group.
(full disclosure: i agented this book; but i still love it!)

get your teenager talkingGet Your Teenager Talking: Everything You Need to Spark Meaningful Conversations, by Jonathan McKee
4 stars
an overabundance of guided conversations for parents and teens.
my official endorsement (found in the book):
Calling this book practical is an almost-ridiculous understatement: it’s a bounty of creative starters for deep conversations between teenagers and parents! There are plenty of helpful, theoretical parenting books on the market; but Jonathan’s book isn’t merely one to think about, it’s a gift to be used.

2 sentence book reviews: christian living and theology

yay! this is the week my readers either love or ignore (traffic tells me many are in the latter camp). i have found that writing reviews of the books i read really helps me remember them. and i hope it helps some of you make reading choices (and avoid others). i allow myself two sentences for each review (unless i’ve already written an official endorsement): the first sentence is a summary of the book, and the second sentence is my opinion of it.

here’s the plan for the week!
monday: 8 young adult fiction books
tuesday: 2 fiction books, 2 non-fiction books, and 2 graphic/illustrated books
wednesday: 10 christian living and theology books
thursday: 10 parenting, church and ministry books

Christian Living/Theology

chilvaryChivalry: The Quest for a Personal Code of Honor in an Unjust World, by Zach Hunter
3 stars
formerly teenage abolitionist author zach hunter challenges his 20something peers to live with honor and character. good book, but sometimes felt like the publisher or editor should have pushed the author to focus more (still worth giving to 17 – 23 year-olds, though).

in search of deep faithIn Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity, by Jim Belcher
4.5 stars
the author and his family travel through europe, seeking insight from the stories and lives of a wonderful collection of faith heroes.
my official endorsement (found in the book):
Equal parts pilgrimage memoir, parenting book, theological reflection, and biography collection, Belcher weaves a particularly fascinating journey. That combination might sound strange; but it totally works, allowing us to view historical authors, theologians, artists and dissidents through the eyes of the author and his family, and reflecting on theological anchor points as if we were traveling with them.

the in-betweenThe In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing, by Jeff Goins
5 stars
life isn’t all mountain tops, obviously; so what’s the learning of that space between? full of great stories and profound insights, goins deserves to be read.
(full disclosure: i agented this book; but i still love it!)

thelogy of hopeTheology of Hope, by Jurgen Moltmann
5 stars? 2 stars?
sure, it’s probably the most brilliant theological exploration of this topic ever written, i suppose. but it sure revealed the limits of my capacity for pithy, mostly impenetrable, theological writing.

hope within historyProphetic Imagination, Hope within History, and Hopeful Imagination: Prophetic Voices in Exile, by Walter Brueggemann
5 stars for insight, 2 stars for style
absolutely brilliant colletions of essays that unpack what i have come to see as the biblical model of hope. my upcoming IVP book about hope wouldn’t exist without these books, of which Hope Within History is by far the best, imho.

surprised by hopeSurprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N. T. Wright
5 stars
briliant, wonderfully readable dismantling of multiple ways we christians (particularly we evangelicals) have gotten it wrong. really, i don’t know how to plead with thoughtful evangelicals more strongly to read this.

a better atonementA Better Atonement: Beyond the Depraved Doctrine of Original Sin, Tony Jones
3 stars
short collection-of-blog-posts-turned-ebook about atonement. unnecessary sloppiness found in many self-published ebooks, but was SO helpful to me and very much worth reading.

jesus feministJesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible’s View of Women, by Sarah Bessey
4 stars
a very personal (often autobiographical) exploration of feminism through a jesus lens, completely without anger or bitterness. this is a wonderful book that should be required reading for all evangelicals.