Johnny's Reviews > Reaching a Generation for Christ: A Comprehensive Guide to Youth Ministry

Reaching a Generation for Christ by Richard R. Dunn
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it was ok
bookshelves: devotional, education, leadership

Reaching a Generation for Christ: A Comprehensive Guide to Youth Ministry is designed for volunteer, as well as full-time, youth directors in evangelical churches. Written just before the turn of the millennium (1997), the authors/editors (Richard R. Dunn and Mark H. Senter III) describe one overarching goal of a youth minister (or volunteer director/leader) as being an ethnographer of youth, a participant-observer (to use the anthropological designation) in describing the culture and subculture in which youth live, analyzing said culture/subculture in terms of base mechanics, interpreting how this culture affects youth, and predicts what will happen within the culture/subculture (p. 39). By meeting this goal, the leader can rationally approach planning from a legitimate methodology.

Naturally, this socio-anthropological approach isn’t all that is necessary for the youth minister/leader to conceptualize a distinctively Christian youth experience. The authors/editors of Reaching a Generation for Christ insist upon a theological framework for ministry based upon facts, feelings, and a proper relationship with God (p. 48), informed by the Bible as Scripture in terms of being active and dynamic in God’s revelation relevant to all of life (p. 56) with adequate attention to human needs and a self-worth that is not contingent upon one’s accomplishments (p. 58). Obviously, this must include a consideration of sin (though I thought the use of the old Calvinist terminology of “total depravity” (p. 60) was less than helpful, there is, indeed, an entropic nature of sin that must be counteracted and can only be counteracted by the purposeful energy/power of God working in a life) and lead to the experience of and exploration of the meaning of salvation (which “…not only forgives past human sinfulness…” but has present and future meaning as well (p. 62). Ideally, such emphases will lead to involvement in the church (and even other faith organizations) as part of a larger faith community (p. 64).

One can tell where the emphasis in the volume resides when the authors finally deliver a definition of “youth ministry” on p. 123: “youth ministry has to do with adults whose primary desire is to disciple students in their Christian faith; youth work is a broader term that does not necessitate Christian discipleship; youth movement in a Christian context describes young people discipling other young people, a process in which adults play a decidedly secondary leadership role.” The goal of youth ministry would then be to disciple students who will, in turn, become leaders in a discipling ministry where they continue to grow. At least, the first and last approach might work together.

The chapter on “How Should We Respond to Popular Culture?” (pp. 439-453) goes slightly off the rails in a literalist view of Adam and Eve that may be more off-putting to some than helpful. There are some helpful ideas in this essay, however. After a rather silly introduction where the author reacts immaturely to the trappings of a professional basketball game, there is a simple and useful definition of pop culture as “…all cultural products created by industry for mass consumption.” (p. 441) Further, the author is sophisticated enough to point out the interconnected nature of media (in all forms) and products in today’s culture (p. 443). He rightly identifies two typical approaches to popular culture within the church: 1) denial and censorship (p. 443) or 2) using the attributes and semblance of popular culture to attract youth. He concludes that neither approach works well since one can’t completely cut off exposure (even if you’re Amish—my observation, not his) and that there is “…a fine line between using popular ulture and being used by it.” (p. 443) He is quite right when he suggests, “The overriding message of youth media, then, is simply ‘you are what you consume.’” (p. 448) The most valuable idea in this essay was when he pointed out that churches expect youth to consume religious instruction and teaching rather than to produce it, but youth need more active approaches (p. 450). Combining these ideas with the idea of “challenging secular music” through the analysis suggested by Christian recording artist, speaker, and blogger John Fischer (pp. 468-469) can definitely help as both response to popular culture and means of connecting with those heavily influenced by such culture.

Though I will indicate misgivings later in this review/summary, I had tremendous appreciation for the very simple “one-eared Mickey Mouse” diagram, demonstrating the tenuous relationship of many youth groups to the overall church (p. 492). Not only does the chapter list numerous ways that youth and adults should worship and serve together, the suggestions aren’t hard to implement (for example, the sidebar has the almost obvious suggestion that each adult in the church “adopt” a specific youth to pray for throughout the year—p. 497). I also feel like the sample parental information and release form for retreats, conferences, and camps (pp. 580-582) will be quite useful for many reading this book. I wonder, though, why there wasn’t specific parental permission for medical treatment in the case of emergency (p. 582).

I particularly appreciated the essay on mission projects by Paul Borthwick. First, I appreciated his concern that the first thing youth groups and leaders think about is generally the exotic location. I liked the fact that he pointed to local possibilities, but I especially like the fact that he continually asked the question (both of himself and the potential hosts for a mission project team) of what this project would provide for the spiritual growth of the youth themselves. Frankly, his list of team requirements and follow-up for mission projects is simply the best I’ve ever seen and avoids so many potential problems (pp. 624-627).

One factor that caused me to appreciate this book less than, perhaps, I probably should have, was the use of a racist epithet on p. 208. The authors used an unacceptable term for Asian youth in their description of the “Youth Church Model.” The idea is that the youth spin-off a congregation in English, add the excitement of youth-oriented worship, and become the church leaders of the future (p. 209). It is my experience that this doesn’t work because the youth grow up and go to college. There they become enamored with a larger congregation which consists of college-university students (essentially, an independent youth group) and, upon returning to their home church, they find that they want to be served in the same way they were at their college-university church (especially if that church has a dominant ethnicity). So, instead of stepping up in leadership at their home church, they seek churches more like what they experienced in college or, more likely, drop out of church altogether in dissatisfaction.

Fortunately, while the chapter on “How Do We Minister to Youth in Ethnic Communities” (pp. 397-417) is rather vapid and unhelpful in its stereotypical platitudes, the sidebar on ministering to Korean Americans is replete with an honest perspective Although the author of the sidebar, Jacob Kwon Tae Joo, doesn’t really offer any solutions, he at least points out the problems of ethnocentrism, the exodus of Korean youth from church after college-university, ownership, and building a bridge between the youth congregations and founding, ethnic congregations. This sidebar is a very important corrective to the oversimplification of this chapter and the comments in the “Youth Church Model” mentioned earlier. It is interesting, though, that the authors/editors wrote specifically about Korean Youth and didn’t touch on the wider aspects (and similar ones) faced by Chinese-American, Filipino-Americans, Japanese-American, and Southeast-Asian (including Indians and Pakistani). And I don’t see anyplace in the book where it deals with those immigrant families who either travel back to the home country as a family or as individual family members on a regular basis.

Another factor with which I was, at least personally, less than happy turned out to be a comment within the sidebar on the Christian School movement. Although I certainly agree that teaching students to think is a vital part of education, I have seen lots of Christian schools and have yet to see one where the students are encouraged to think, whether that school be based on Accelerated Christian Education, Alpha-Omega, or denominational/parochial curriculum. Yet, on page 349 we read: “A primary ministry in the Christian school is to teach young people to think—not give pat answers.” My experience has been the opposite. Fortunately, some of the sting of this observation is mitigated by the section under the Bible teaching discussion, “Doubt Boldly.” Not only does the author give biblical examples, but makes the very cogent statement: “Consider, for example, the correlation between the mental and spiritual domains. Anytime someone does not know everything, doubts may arise.” (p. 371) In my experience, allowing believers to acknowledge, explore, and work through doubt is one of the most important aspects of critical thinking that leads to more effective theological/devotional understanding.

Sometimes, I found myself wondering what fantasy land these authors/editors exist within. On page 420, the fictional case study (a weak writing conceit that seems overused in Sunday School and devotional books, as well as those books about Christian Education) takes a hypothetical situation where a public school teacher invites the youth minister to speak about “religion and society.” In this fairy tale, the youth minister argues persuasively that “religion” isn’t helpful, but a session on Christ and Christianity would be. In this unconvincing fiction, the teacher is delighted with the youth minister’s hijacking of her lesson plans. As if! The truth is, if one is going to minister within the hostile territory of public school, one has to take the beachhead that is offered and subtly expand outward. In this case, the youth minister doesn’t even follow his own initial guideline “Am I being relevant to the needs of my audience?” (p. 421) because he isn’t addressing the subject, even initially.

Perhaps, the absolute dumbest idea (and despite having the best “lines” in the book, the least useful essay was on small churches and youth groups by Pamela T. Campbell) was on p. 534 where she suggests that youth leaders in small churches should “keep an eye open” for big events sponsored by larger churches in the area. From painful personal experience, I’d like to say that this is a brilliant way to recruit students for the larger churches. Not only will there be a larger pool of the opposite sex to attract one’s students, but one’s students will compare the activity disparagingly with what the smaller group has to offer. In terms of reading, I loved lines like: “The job of a youth worker has the intensity of an air traffic controller, the pay of a Peace Corps volunteer, and the respect of an NBA referee.” (p. 530) But the humor couldn’t compensate for the purely bad ideas.

My biggest problem with Reaching a Generation for Christ: A Comprehensive Guide to Youth Ministry from a personal perspective is that anthologies of essays and short stories offer too many convenient spots for setting the book aside and pausing. That’s good when the essays, stories, or fables are deep enough to force one to cogitate upon them for a significant time. For me (and it may just be “for me”), the essays in this book are designed to be so basic that, even when they offer worthy observations, they don’t engender the thought process that would help me put the ideas to work in my situation.

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Reading Progress

October 20, 2019 – Started Reading
December 20, 2019 – Shelved
December 20, 2019 – Shelved as: devotional
December 20, 2019 – Shelved as: education
December 20, 2019 – Shelved as: leadership
December 20, 2019 – Finished Reading

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