Monday, April 28, 2008

Youth Ministry Alternatives: An Extra Dose of Book Review

I became fascinated with Youth Ministry Alternatives almost from it's inception. Youth Ministry Alternatives is a line of books that Pilgrim Press began publishing in 2005. It's a series born out of what many in youth ministry circles have experienced as a lack of adequate models, alternatives, and theology about youth ministry. Many of us have experienced the phenomenon where every book published by Youth Specialties or Group, two of the largest-most popular youth ministry resources, seems not to fit our particular setting. The fit, or lack-thereof is sometimes because of theological differences, intellectual differences, or even because we're looking for something we can't particularly name, but we hope might be out there. This is the void that I think Pilgrim Press has attempted to begin filling with this line.

Practicing Discernment With Youth: A Transformative Youth Ministry Approach was the first book in the series. In this book, White shares a different approach towards youth ministry that is born out of a desire to help youth interpret and engage the world around them. It's a model that engages body, mind, and spirit. It's a model that, well, really isn't a model, per se, because of it's dependence upon the intentionality of those who lead youth to do so in the authenticity of their lives and because of it's dependence upon the unique environment in which youth are oriented in developing engagement with God and with the world.
I had the opportunity to both read this book and to study under White, and in my opporunities I began to find hope for those of us for whom nothing else fits. This model is not one of answers. If you're looking for a cookie-cutter approach to youth ministry you won't find it here. You won't find answers or solutions for your church here, though you may find some valuable tools. They'll be a little akward for you at first, but if you seriously engage them I think you'll like the results.You will instead find something far more valuable: questions. I found myself, after first reading, a bit disoriented in youth ministry. I found myself asking questions I had not asked before. I found myself beginning to ask better questions. And I found that the youth I was leading were becoming able to ask better questions. And better questions, I think, just might be the door to a better ministry. A careful walk with White through this model will not build or shape your program. It will instead build and shape you, orienting you around the questions.

Book, Bath, Table, and Time: Christian Worship as Source and Resource for Youth Ministry by Fred P. Edie is the most recent release from the line. Edie proposes in this book that youth have lost a bit of connection with the sacred, and the Church has lost the ability to help them connect with the sacred, in the instances and practices of youth ministry that disconnect us from our ancient roots. Re-discovery of the ancient roots takes place in orienting youth ministry practices around the ORDO, or the church's ordered life. Orienting youth around the ordo means a consistent and intentional engagement with Book (Scripture), Bath (Baptism), Table (Eucharist), and Time (Liturgy and the Liturgical Calendar).

Edie is clear in stating that orientation around the ordo helps foster faith in the means it has been developed for centuries, but perhaps now the Church is forgetting about. What's not clear, is exactly who Edie's target audience is. As one from a faith tradition that values the ordo I quickly grew tired and longed for Edie to tell me something new. And at 258 pages it's a long wait. For those who have neglected, lost touch with, or have never experienced regular institution of the ordo this could be a recommendable read, though don't expect a very direct means of making it happen for you. Edie's practical work is based out of a set-apart community of youth that gather yearly at a Divinity School and have the time, energy, and desire to engage in an almost-monastic setting for two weeks. In the every-day, nitty gritty, world of youth ministry in competition with scouts, sports, school, and everything else, his expectations are, I think, a bit unrealistic.

And just for the sake of information, Youth Ministry Alternatives consists of a total of four titles. The other two are Lives to Offer: Accompanying Youth on Their Vocational Quests, by Dori Grinenko Baker and Joyce Ann Mercer, and Branded: Adolescents Converting from Consumer Faith, by Katherine Turpin. I have not yet read either of these.

1 comment:

Bill Spangler-Dunning said...

This is a good list. Thanks, for adding to my reading list...