the top 10 books that have influenced youth ministry

my friend andy jack asked an interesting question quite a while ago. he posted his findings on a little research he did on the top 10 books that professors use in youth ministry education (as assigned reading in course work). as part of his master’s thesis research (andy has just started an Ed.D. at trinity, and is still a middle school pastor — gotta love it!), he asked a mess of youth ministry professors for their input on this list. the most common nominations, in order, were:

The ten most frequently used books, in order were Doug Fields, Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry; Walt Mueller, Understanding Youth Culture; Ginny Olson, Youth Ministry Management Tools; Tony Jones, Postmodern Youth Ministry; Richard Dunn, Shaping the Spiritual Life of Students; Kenda Creasy Dean & Ron Foster, The Godbearing Life; Doug Fields, Your First Two Years Of Youth Ministry; Richard Dunn & Mark Senter, Reaching a Generation for Christ; Kenda Creasy Dean, Chap Clark, & Dave Rahn, Starting Right; Merton Strommen & Richard Hardel, Passing On the Faith.

then, andy jumped off the christianity today list of the top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals, and is considering the top 10 books to influence youth ministry. these are not necessarily the top 10 books i’d recommend, of course — that’s not the point here. they’re also not the top 10 books that have influenced me in youth ministry. often, the books i’d recommend haven’t been as influential as i’d like them to be! but here’s my list of nominations, in no particular order:

Ideas, volume 1, edited by Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice. ok, i know, it’s funny to think of an “ideas book” shaping youth ministry. but, seriously, i think this one funny little mimeographed book with a hand silk-screened cover (in its first edition, that is), had a larger shaping role, for better or worse, than any other youth ministry book since. here’s why: without this little book, YS wouldn’t exist. yaconelli and rice compiled it, and literally sold it out of their trunk at a gathering of youth workers at a camp, and that was the nexus of youth specialties. i’m not saying YS is the only shaping force in youth ministry — but it’s been a major force (again, for better and for worse), and cleared the way for many of the other youth ministry serving organizations that exist today.

The Youth Builder, by Jim Burns. this book is still in print in one form or another. it’s not the influential book it once was; but there was a time (in the 80s, i think) when this book defined relational youth ministry in a way no one had previously put in print. and it had a HUGE influence on the world of youth ministry.

Purpose-Driven Youth Ministry, by Doug Fields. i’m pretty sure this would be the all-time best-selling youth ministry book (it’s certainly the all-time best-selling youth specialties title, at least for books that don’t have ‘ideas’ in the title). certainly, rick warren’s best-selling ‘purpose driven church’ had some influence on the sales and popularity of doug’s book. but it would have been a best-seller even without warren’s book, imho. there are plenty of naysayers and detractors. and that’s fine. but i still say pdym is one of the best books for thinking through priorities and strategy and values for the practical implementation of youth ministry in a local church context. i still hope we’ll see a revised version at some point (we’ve talked with doug about it for years).

Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, by christian smith. smith’s book was, i think, the most widely talked-about youth ministry book in the last 10 years. it’s functioned as the wake-up call to the broad collective of youth ministry, across denominational lines (and — this is rare — across the mainline and evangelical divide).

The Ministry of Nurture, by duffy robbins. at one point, every youth worker had this book on her shelf. it’s been through a couple major revisions, and still holds its own on the subject of discipleship.

Postmodern Youth Ministry, by tony jones. it’s likely not been the bestselling on this list, and i’m sure it’s presence on the list is even debatable. but the reason i list it is that i think it was the first book to truly strike out in a completely different direction, in terms of youth ministry thinking. i’m sure there are other examples, but tony’s book — even the saying of the name communicated ‘it’s time for change’ — was all about new direction, AND it sold enough and got talked about enough to have an influence.

i think i need to include one of kenda dean’s books — either The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry or Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church. actually, i think i’ll include them collectively. because i don’t think it was so much their message that made them influential. it was two other factors: kenda’s books showed us that it’s possible to be theologically deep AND be called to youth ministry. in other words, kenda’s books — i think — played a significant role in paving the way for the growing thirst for theological reflection in youth ministry. the second significant thing about kenda’s books is that she is a decidedly mainline author, teaching at a mainline seminary, and the darling of the mainline youth ministry world: but evangelicals have embraced her books (rightfully so).

and i’m going to go with Starting Right: Thinking Theologically About Youth Ministry, gen eds: kenda creasy dean, dave rahn, and chap clark. in my opinion, this was the first truly academic book in youth ministry. there were many books prior to this one that were used in academic settings, but they weren’t written for the academy. but ‘starting right’ launched the ‘ys academic’ line, and is still likely the line’s most deeply and exclusively academic work. there has been an explosion of schools offering majors or minors in youth ministry in the last 10 or 15 years. in many christian colleges and universities, youth ministry is the largest or fastest growing major. many of these school still concentrate their text adoptions on popular youth ministry books (see andy’s list at the top of this post); but those that are more academically rigorous tend to use ‘starting right’ somewhere in their curriculum.

Junior High Ministry (now in it’s 3rd edition), by wayne rice. i’m a little biased here, i suppose, since junior high (or middle school) ministry is the passionate calling of my life. but i’m including this book because wayne, as well as his book, validated ministry to young teens LONG before the vast majority of the church or even the vast majority of the youth ministry world was willing to do so. wayne’s book, in some ways, is the grandfather to all of us who specialize in the niche-calling of early adolescent ministry.

ok, that’s only 9. and i’m sure i’m forgetting some massively influential book or two — like great talk outlines for youth ministry or something. :) what do you think? did i miss something obvious? do you disagree strongly with any of my nominations?

36 thoughts on “the top 10 books that have influenced youth ministry”

  1. Can’t really argue with any of your choices, Marko, and would give kudos for including The Youthbuilder and The Ministry of Nurture, both huge in my life. I’d like to go even more old school and say that The Complete Youth Ministries Handbook, Vol. 1 (You gotta love that title- complete, Vol.1) by J.David Stone and friends was THE most influential book in my early ministry in the late 70’s. And for sheer practical application, my most used book over the last 5 years has been Laurie Polich’s Small Group Q’s from YS. Volume 2 coming anytime soon? :)

  2. This is so awesome. When I read the first list I was so bummed that Youthbuilder, Jr High Ministry, and Ministry of Nurture were not on there. Then reading your list pumped me up. Those three books probably helped me the most in my ministry formation. I also liked Duffy Robbins’ book, Nuts and Bolts of Youth Ministry back in the day. Man, I’m 32 and I sound so old. It’s also hard for me to not ignore Laurence Richards influence on youth ministry. HOOK, BOOK, LOOK, TOOK!!! :)

  3. They probably didn’t make to the states but pete wards youthwork and the mission of God and Nady Hickfords essential youth would probably make it to my list also…

  4. I agree with Eric about Duffy Robbin’s Nuts and Bolts. That book is still used as a text book for youth ministry programs all over the U.S. It just has good practical information in it that is still valuable today.

  5. i forgot to mention, thomas, that this is clearly a list of youth ministry books that have influenced youth ministry in the states. i was thinking of pete ward, because i know his books have been so influential in europe; but i didn’t include them, because they really haven’t been as influential here (they’re pretty difficult to find, actually!).

  6. I like your list. I’d take Starting Right off, though. I’d add Family Based Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries and “Building Community in Youth Groups” or “Youth Group Trust Builders” by Denny Ryburg

  7. Love the list especially the middle school books. I found Meeker’s- “Restoring the teenage soul” and Tim Smith’s “The seven cries of today’s teenagers” to be helpful in reminding me about the soul of teens. what are the top 5 books that are not youth ministry minded but helped you in youth ministry?

  8. I’m honored. I’d like to thank all of the little people who made this possible. Really, I couldn’t have done it without you.

  9. Actually Tony, Postmodern YM and Leonard Sweet’s SoulTsunami both had HUGE impact on changing the way I do ministry…so I am one of the little people! :)

  10. Junior High Youth ministry changed my life and my youth group. I ran into Wayne in line at a breakfast buffet at the YS conference in Pittsburgh and was honored to eat the same bacon.

  11. Great list Marko, and some great additions from the various comments also.
    I’ll throw my choices in also. Over here across the big pond the first book I ever read about youth work was Steve Chalke’s ‘The Christian Youth Manual’ It had a big impact in its time.
    Others –
    Essential Youth by Andy Hickford
    Youth Ministry Nuts & Bolts by Duffy Robbins
    When Kumbaya is not enough By Dean Borgman
    No Guts No Glory by Moser, Stuart & Vaughan
    Youth Culture and the Gospel by Pete Ward
    And though not a youth ministry book The Masterplan of Evangelism by Coleman had a massive impact on me.

  12. In the same vein as Paul’s last book, the non-youth ministry book that most influenced me is probably “Missionary Methods, St Paul’s or Ours?” by Roland Allen. Probably the best book ever written about youth ministry without the author realising it.

  13. Wow bro, there’s some serious thought in this list! Thanks for following through on your word to post it.

    I would personally add When Kumbaya is Not Enough By Dean Borgman and God at the Mall by Pete Ward.
    I hope that Mark Yaconelli’s Contemplative Youth Ministry and Mike King’s Presence Centered Youth Ministry makes my list down the road.

  14. Good list allright, i would like to see starting right at the top of the list though… youth ministry needs more theological thought. Also I am not so sure that PDYM has had a totally positive impact on youth ministry… there isn’t a lot in there about how to use scripture in youth ministry, reading PDYM it almost seems as though the Bible has very little to do with actual practice of youth ministry… In fact, I recently did some research and out of nearly 8000 pages of youth ministry philosophy written in the last ten years only 1.5% of them are talking about how to use the bible in youth ministry! That is crazy! Only 13 out of 31 surveyed books on philosophy of youth ministry addressed the role of Scripture in youth ministry. I think we have a defecit here. Surely the use of Scripture in youth ministry should be central to a philosophy of youth ministry?

  15. Well, I’m going to go back a few more years in youth ministry to name of couple of the books that were huge for me, like the mid 70s and early 80s. Both of these I read and reread and both have a connection for me with another book that’s just out, Mark Yaconelli’s Contemplative Youth Ministry. The first is Larry Richard’s Youth Ministry: It’s Renewal In The Local Church, and the second is Adolescent Spirituality by Charles Shelton. Both still deserve a look. In fact, I would suggest that some of the books on your list drew heavily from these books.

  16. I liked your list–a good collection of “oldies but goodies” and some of the newer youth ministry books destinied to be classics as well. I would add two books that were foundational for me in my youth ministry and teaching: “Back to the Heart of Youth Ministry” by Dewey Bertolini and “Create In Me a Youth Ministry” by Ridge Burns.

  17. I want to echo “Create In Me a Youth Ministry” by Ridge Burns.

    That one book saved me in youth ministry by allowing me to see a bigger picture when I was in a smaller place. I still think back to some of that I learned in there some times…

  18. Over the last couple of years two of the books I have been impacted the most are “Seven Checkpoints” and “Max Q” by Andy Stanley. These have been some perspective changers for me.

  19. I can’t argue with those books, but I would have to add The Seven Checkpoints and Max-Q by Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall. These books along with PDYM influenced my ministry the most.

  20. I’d have to throw in “Raising the Bar” by Alvin Reid as a book that has shaped the total atmosphere of my ministry. Students now come to church expecting to learn.

  21. I would include any number of Dawson McAllisters student manuals which are a great resource for teaching. And what about Rich VanPelts Intensive Care a true classic!

  22. Seven Cries of Today’s Teens – what an insightful book, for both youth pastors and parents – a must have in the library!

  23. If you don’t mind some input from the Catholics…
    I have a lot of resources that I keep on my blog for other youth ministers, particularly if they are Catholic, but I think you may find them helpful as well.

    One of the books, if you can get your hands on it is called the Educational Philosophy of St John Bosco. Bosco’s Catholic religious order is called the Salesians (after another Saint: St Francis de Sales) and their apostolate is youth and youth ministry. It may be out of print, but he was ahead of his time and his maxims, his sayings, his teachings are all quite relevant for today. One of his big things is “Reason, Religion, and Kindness” or, teaching the youth the faith, giving them the experience of faith and loving them into the kingdom as God the Father loves us.

    Another book that I’m sure is easy to find is called Growing Teen Disciplies by Frank Mercadante. Again, written from a Catholic perspective-he’ll talk about the Mass and such, but he’s right on the money. I believe it’s one of the text books used here at Franciscan University for the youth ministry concentration.

    I could give scads more, but one that has been essential to me-and essential to every Catholic parish doing youth ministry-is called “Renewing the Vision” which was put out by the Catholic Bishops of the United States. It gives a blueprint, if you will, or a skeletal outline of what all goes into youth ministry, such as the three goals of youth ministry and 8 Components used to acheive those goals: Evangelization, Leadership Development, Prayer and Worship, Service and Justice, Community, Catechesis, Advocacy and Pastoral Care. This involves more than just Sunday night youth group, and gets ministers to think more in terms of formation and the process of growing in the Faith rather than just “programming ” (which I just ranted about on the blog…guess it’s on my mind!)

    So, I hope this is helpful, from the Catholic girl!

  24. Not sure if it fits in the category of a Youth Ministry book, but one that has shaped the way I do youth ministry is David Elkind’s, The Hurried Child.
    Very good list though. I also hope Contemplative Youth Ministry makes the list down the road.

  25. oh, I second David Elkind … though I knew it as “All Grown Up and No Place to Go.” and while we’re on the secular kick, Patricia Hersch’s “A Tribe Apart” and Mary Pipher’s (?) “Reviving Ophelia” were so influential for me. at least one of those three would be on my list. though they don’t have a biblical filter, they gave me a deep look into the souls of young people.

  26. You don’t know how helpful this conversation is–we’re trying to compile a list like this at PTS as we speak–thank you!

    At the risk of broadening the conversation beyond evangelicals (not that I really know who fits in that category anymore)–a couple books Nobody Has Heard Of that have influenced us more than we realize: 1) from 1976, David Ng’s little book *Youth in the Community of Disciples* (Judson) was the first theological ym book, I think, ever published–he reinterpreted Bonhoeffer’s *Life Together* for youth ministry. But in so doing he modelled a way to think about youth ministry as…well… ministry; 2) William Myers, *Black and White Styles of Youth Ministry* (Pilgrim, back in print, originally published 1990)–reminds us that there’s a lot to learn from churches (like black churches) who don’t do youth ministry the way the “ym literature” suggests. Here we are, almost 20 years later, just beginning to catch on.

  27. I think that there are two books that really assisted in the changes that occurred in youth ministry during the early 90’s.
    1. Student Ministry in the 21st Century, by Bo Boshers – this was the first book that dealt with programming on a new level in ministry.
    2. Coming revolution in Youth Ministry by Mark Senter.

    Love the list and additional thoughts that everyone had on Youth ministry. Honestly just glad that youth ministers are reading.

  28. Pingback: ysmarko
  29. Some great ones listed here. Duffy’s Nuts & Bolts a must-have, and the Senter book Coming Revolution. Two that I have recently found great resource in are Working the Angles by Eugene Peterson and Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper. Both strong reminders.

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