Tag Archives: young adult ministry

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.

escaping neverland (extended adolescence article)

some weeks ago, i spent an hour on a phone with a reporter for World Magazine who was doing an article on extended adolescence. i’m often a bit skeptical about what sort of reporting someone’s going to bring to this subject, since i usually disagree with the “why can’t this narcissistic generation grow up?” perspective i’ve seen so often. my belief is that adolescence has extended because we (adults, culture at large) have:

  • isolated teenagers (and now young adults)
  • increasingly treated teenagers like children
  • removed opportunities for teenagers and young adults to spend time with adults in the world of adults
  • ceased pretty much all practices of giving teenagers an opportunity to be “apprentice adults”
  • removed opportunities for responsibility and expectation
  • and, removed all the onramps to adulthood

not to mention the “it’s all about me and my needs” worldview that today’s teenagers and young adults have seen modeled for them their whole lives by baby boomer parents.

so i did the interview, mostly because i wanted to offer what i assumed might be a different perspective. i also suggested the writer connect with rick dunn (author of Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults), and i’m glad she followed through on that. the result, i think, is a good article. what do you think? responses, thoughts, reservations or disagreements?

peter panEscaping Neverland, by Caroline Leal

If the fictional character, Peter Pan—“the boy who would not grow up”—was alive today, he’d have little need to run away to the magical isle of Neverland to escape manhood.

“You no longer have to shut your eyes and pretend you are in Neverland—it is all around you,” wrote sociology professor Frank Ferudi in online publication Spiked. “Our society is full of lost boys and girls hanging out on the edge of adulthood.”

Meet Generation Peter Pan, the ever-expanding band of twenty-, thirty- and even forty-somethings living in a state of extended adolescence, avoiding the trappings of responsibility—marriage, mortgage, children—for as long as possible. Sociologists traditionally mark the “transition to adulthood” by the milestones of completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying, and having a child. In 1960, 77 percent of women and 65 percent of men had passed all five milestones by age 30. But among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so.

A survey conducted by the Pew Research Center in December 2011 found 53 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds are living with their parents or moved back with them temporarily during the past few years. In 2012, another Pew poll found that in 1993, 80 percent of parents with children age 16 or younger said they expected them to be financially independent by age 22. As of 2011, only 67 percent of parents agreed.

With more people embracing the Peter Pan promise to “never grow up,” researchers and psychologists believe a new life phase—emerging adulthood—has developed as social and economic forces make maturing more difficult in the 21st century. But Christian leaders contend otherwise, saying prolonged adolescence is avoidable through discipleship, service-oriented ministry, and higher expectations for today’s wandering “kidults.”

“Extended adolescence is a culturally created phenomenon we must respond to,” said Mark Oestreicher, author of Youth Ministry 3.0. “Culture is obsessed with perpetually infantilizing young people, so we’re creating the low expectations. The first step is to stop coddling them.”

With an extensive background in youth ministry, Oestreicher is a partner in The Youth Cartel, an organization that provides consulting and resources to help churches and businesses connect with young people. He believes the solution is not “adult” youth groups ghettoizing twenty-somethings from the rest of the church, but rather discipleship and mentoring with an intergenerational focus.

Oestreicher cites a real-life example reflecting his ministry vision: When he was a junior high pastor, the church usher team consisted entirely of men over 60 until an usher began involving his developmentally challenged grandson. The boy learned ushering and participated in the group’s barbecues and prayer sessions, and soon other ushers started involving their grandsons. Then the grandsons invited their junior-high friends to join. “Eventually the usher team became a group of old guys gently mentoring these junior-high boys, not just in ushering, but in life and spirituality,” Oestreicher said. “These young men were offered a chance to become apprentice adults. It’s a vision for how we can view young adult ministry.”

Some churches are already working to make that vision a reality. At Fellowship Evangelical Church in Knoxville, Tenn., 65 percent of the congregation is under 35. Its pastor, Richard Dunn, co-authored the book, Shaping the Journey of Emerging Adults, and believes ministry to extended adolescents isn’t rocket science: “It’s just discipleship.” At Dunn’s church, young adults are intentionally given opportunities to use their gifts in leadership positions alongside older adults who function as role models.

Fellowship Evangelical also has weekly “college life” groups of about 800 students. The young people split into groups with leaders for Bible study and mentoring. Some of the twenty-somethings in these groups have already been divorced, and a large portion are sexually active. “That brings a whole new set of complications for ministry to this demographic,” Dunn said. “We have to address those issues and be willing to walk with them in authentic, mentoring relationships. If you’re going to be successful, you need patience and a long-term focus.”

Greg Matte, who began as a campus minister at Texas A&M University, now serves as senior pastor at Houston’s First Baptist Church. He carried his philosophy for young adult ministry to the church, which has a singles group of about 1,000: “That’s where we see more of the prolonged adolescence happening,” Matte said. “But we’re intentional about not segregating them.” The singles are involved in many different activities in the church, regularly leading worship, teaching Sunday school, and working with seniors. And every Saturday, single young men join older men to serve different widows in the community, changing light bulbs, doing yard work, or pressure washing their houses.

“This kind of approach is relational and serving,” Matte said. “We don’t define our young adults by their marital status. We don’t babysit them. They mature in productivity and leadership.”

Beta Upsilon Chi (BYX)—the largest national Christian fraternity in the United States—also reaches out to the “kidult” crowd through activities designed to help them launch. Formed at The University of Texas at Austin in 1985, BYX is active on 28 campuses nationwide. Brian Lee, chief development officer for the fraternity, says young people today lack motivation, often defaulting to graduate school after college or moving in with their parents. “Because it’s culturally appropriate now, with no negative stigmas or a sense of failure attached, the pressure to grow up just isn’t there anymore,” he said.

BYX counteracts the extended adolescence trend through the rigorous process of service and commitment. Prospective members do community service projects like yard work, house remodeling, and other physical activities. During small group meetings, members share their struggles and hold each other accountable, a difficult process that spurs spiritual and emotional growth, Lee said: “If a freshman comes to college and wants to play video games for twelve hours and attend class for two, he’s not going to make it with us. They learn how to give, work and sacrifice, so they develop maturity and are prepared for a successful life outside of college.”

Young adults’ mental and emotional growth depends on their spiritual development, which is why Christian leaders should be on the frontlines of helping them transition from mediocrity to maturity, Matte said: “If you choose culture over Christ, you’re going to become an extended adolescent. Ultimately, the maturity of your faith determines the maturity of your life.”

young adults as youth ministry volunteers

in a recent edition of Slant33.com, i responded to this question:

If young adult brains aren’t yet fully formed (particularly in the areas responsible for wisdom and decision making), what implications does that have for working with young adult volunteers?

click through to see michelle lang and paul martin’s responses, but here’s mine:

Here’s a rub I regularly experience when talking to rooms full of youth workers. I’ll mention the new realities of extended adolescence, and the findings referred to in the question above. Then I’ll ask: how many of you are under 30? Usually, somewhere between 30% and 50% raise their hands. My regular gag is to say, “Well, it’s nice to have so many teenagers in the room today!”

I’ve never been (or at least haven’t been for a long time) one of those youth workers who thinks that only young adults make good youth leaders. I like diversity. But, there’s no denying that some of my most wonderful youth ministry volunteers over the years have been in the 18 – 25 year-old range.

And while I’d like to think my particular young adult leaders were always a serious cut above average, the reality I’d rather not admit is: they are – on average – physiologically limited in wisdom, decision-making, prioritization, impulse control, and a bunch of other skills I’d sure like my volunteer leaders to possess.

Part of my struggle with this, though, is that I’m still very unconvinced that the whole teenage brain thing is a nature thing (god’s design, you might say), and is more likely to be a nurture thing (the result of our collective restrictions on young adults, keeping them from moving into adulthood or using their brains as adults). And, as I’m buying into the notion that young adults (and even teenagers — particularly older teenagers) are fully capable — whether behavioral indicators show this or not — of “being adult”, I’m forced to wrestle with a few things:

  1. Extended adolescence is not the fault of young adults. Sure, there are slackers. I’m guessing there always have been. But I think it’s wiser for us to examine ourselves, our culture, our churches, our homes, and stop pointing the finger of judgement at 20-somethings. Collectively, we’ve created the culture that isolates teenagers and young adults from adults and adulthood; we’ve created extended adolescence. They’re merely living into our expectations (“You’re not yet an adult”).
  2. It seems possible for some (a few) post-high school teenagers and young 20-somethings to step into adulthood, in some cases very quickly, to reverse the extended adolescent trend, or at least side-step it. I’m not talking about those outliers who naturally move into adulthood “early” (by today’s norms), and would have in any culture, in any era; I’m talking about an average 18 or 21 year old newly leaning into the capabilities they already possess. What is required? In short: meaningful responsibility and expectation (can you see where this is going, as it pertains to young adults in youth ministry?).
  3. But don’t even start comparing your experience as a young adult in youth ministry, in 1982, to that of young adults today. Not the same thing, and you’re probably being revisionist in your memory anyhow.

A large church brought me in a couple years ago to help them think about young adult ministry. They knew things were not going well. But it was way bleaker than I expected, or, I think, than they realized. In a church of a few thousand, there were maybe 25 or so actively engaged 20-somethings. About a dozen of them attended a super-lame class on Sunday mornings that felt like death by crockpot. And another dozen or so found their primary connection to the church as volunteers in the middle school ministry. Of course, here’s the tension:

  • Many of the church leadership (but, to his credit, not the senior pastor) thought the best response was to hire a ‘young adults pastor’ and create (my words) a new pocket of isolation, keeping ‘emerging adults’ (the kinder term now being used to describe the third segment of the adolescent experience — formerly called ‘older adolescents’) disconnected from the adult world. Of course, this is all spun under the banner of “let’s create a space that’s uniquely theirs” (which often actually means, “let’s create a space for them so my space can stay uniquely mine”).
  • The young adults serving on the middle school team were the sharpest of the 2 dozen young adults in the church, and — on average — ahead of the curve on the plodding move to adulthood.
  • But, a church (that church) can’t say, “Our intentional ministry for young adults is to have them work with the middle school ministry.”

Or can they?

Maybe the answer to the question at the top of this page isn’t to “boundary” or limit young adults in youth ministry. Maybe we need to take the counter-intuitive step of giving them more responsibility. Or, just, giving them the responsibility we would give any adult, without a bunch of coddling and hand-holding.

Some might read this and respond, “Well, of course, we already do that.” Sure. Maybe you do (maybe you don’t). Maybe you never read about teenage brain development and extended adolescence, and maybe you never bought into the idea (or, I’m thinking: myth) that “this is just the way things are.” Or maybe you were never intentional at all, and were merely perpetuating stereotypes about who makes the “best” youth ministry volunteers.

But I’m thinking that meaningful responsibility, spending time with adults (on an age-diverse ministry team), all covered in a watchful layer of intentionality and a leaning toward developing volunteers of all sorts – well, that might just be the best young adult ministry possible.
What do you think?

only three days left to order your ‘extended adolescence symposium’ mp3 or ebook

i’m stoked. i wasn’t sure it would happen. but it did, thanks to some very gracious supporters who believe in what we’re doing.

so, yes, it’s official: the extended adolescence symposium is officially on.

i’m still a little in shock.

first, i thought it was such a crazy long shot that we could get our first pick of presenters. dr. robert epstein is a freakin’ grenade launcher. he has messed with my mind over the past year when it comes to thinking about adolescence and youth ministry and parenting. then there’s dr. jeffrey arnett, the dude who literally wrote the book (and came up with the phrase) on emerging adulthood. i think i’m a decent moderator; but when both epstein and arnett said they’d love to be a part of this thing, i knew we needed someone with much more significant mental chops. enter dr. kara powell. yup, her.

seriously, i designed this event for me! i want to learn from these people. i want to understand what’s going on in american adolescence. i want to more deeply think about the questions of why? and so what? i want to be challenge to rethink things. and, to be honest, i’m hoping to see a few sparks fly!

but the second shock was that people rallied to our kickstarter page and we have the majority of the funding we need to make this puppy a reality. i’ll try not to be hurt that no one opted in for the $500 steak dinner with me (sniff). i am a little surprised that no one wanted the $250 ‘lunch with one of the speakers’. heck, i think an hour with epstein or arnett or kara would, literally, be worth 5 times that, easily. but, hey, i’m not complaining. and mucho, mucho thanks to those who have pitched in, especially when getting the swag wasn’t your primary motivation (i know of many who just wanted to play a role in seeing this conversation take place).

next week, adam and i will launch a page on our website with regular ol’ ticket sales for this ain’t-been-done-before-and-might-not-be-again event. but, in order to get this thing approved on kickstarter, we had to come up with a couple non-event thingies. that’s where the mp3 of the event and the abridged ebook of choice quotes came from. but i only asked permission from the speakers to use their stuff for people who paid for it during the fundraising efforts on kickstarter.

in other words: the mp3 of the entire event, and the abridged ebook of selected content from the event will only be available until our kickstarter deadline this saturday, september 17. after that, we hope you’ll attend the event, but there won’t be any other way to get that stuff.

oh, and the regular ticket price will be $100. on the kickstarter site, you can still get ‘pre-sale’ tickets for $75. that price won’t be offered anywhere else.

so i’m just, ya know, givin’ you a heads up. (and, full disclosure, the money we’ve raised still won’t cover our actual costs.)