DeVries, Sustainable Youth Ministry

This book was recommended to me by some friends at an Episcopal church who had hired Youth Ministry Architects to consult with them on re-vamping their youth program. I am so glad they passed this book along: it was well worth the read!

Overview:

Mark DeVries Sustainable Youth Ministry offers a vision for building programs that thrive and succeed, even amidst constant leadership turn-over, over-scheduled youth, and tumultuous church politics. The best part about his book is that it doesn’t just talk about the challenges youth ministry programs face, it offers specific, concrete suggestions for creating change. DeVries writes specifically to a senior pastor audience as well as a youth minister audience, offering advice to each group of readers. He addresses a variety of topics:

  • Creating effective visioning documents
  • Creating a climate of welcome and friendship for youth
  • Self-care for youth ministers
  • Time management and scheduling woes
  • Recruiting and coordinating volunteers
  • Navigating church politics

Highlights:

Some delightful tid-bits to entice you:

Often we find that the apparent “failure” of youth ministry is caused less by an underperforming youth worker than by an overcapacity ministry. Assuming that a more organized youth worker is needed (or a more relational one, or a more magnetic one or…), overcapacity churches forget to ask the fundamental question of whether their performance expectations are even reasonable. (35)

Too many churches are looking for a dynamic, top-notch, committed, magnetic, relational, creative, organized, theologically informed, twenty-two-year-old who can present powerful, life-changing messages, and will gratefully work for $23,000 a year… But ironically, superstar youth ministries come from churches that spend their energy creating a climate and building an infrastructure in which moderately gifted, garden-variety youth directors produce superstar results. (44, 50)

What would happen, I wonder, if youth workers stopped fighting against numbers and started taking responsibility for determining what measurements will best help them track the results they want to achieve? Without clear and measurable goals, the youth ministry is evaluated by as many standards as there are people complaining. (67)

An environmental architect begins with the confession that we have no power to make young people grow… the environmental architect focuses on creating climate in his or her youth ministry, spending very little time worrying about the climate outside, those things that can’t be controlled, like busy kids, complaining parents, demanding senior pastors. (76)

It’s actually the unhealthy ministry that pivots around the youth worker’s ability to build relationships with every student. In this sort of youth ministry, relationships with other Christian adults are considered second-rate. … Having people who see their primary role as building relationship with kids is crucial to every youth ministry. But we have a name for folks who play that role, a name that just might surprise you: volunteers. (126, 141)

Questions:

Here are some questions that come up for me after reading this book:

  • How do we change the expectation (of churches, seminarians, senior pastors, and youth ministers) that youth workers will be short term, underpaid, and over-worked? How can denominational culture reverse the momentum of this tendency?
  • How do we make sure our youth programming stays relevant, interesting, and valuable for young people? How do we really tackle the difficult, dirty, often “un-churchy” issues that youth are really dealing with? How do we make church a place to which they turn for support?
  • How can we better integrate youth into broader congregational community? What value do youth bring to the church’s worship, fundraising, leadership, education, music, decision-making, special events, outreach, fellowship, or service?
  • On what should youth ministry programs focus: outreach in the broader community, leadership development of youth, fellowship and fun, Bible and faith education, community service and justice work? Which priorities tend to be the most supported by congregations? Which tend to be the least supported?

Rating:

**** (4 out of 5 stars)

This book is a valuable read for anyone in church ministry, youth-specific or otherwise. It you’re an over-worked youth minister in a floundering youth ministry, buy a copy for yourself, your church elders, and your senior pastor. If you’re a search committee looking for a new youth minister, this book may change your perspective on the vision you build for the future of your youth programs. Sustainable Youth Ministry offers so many helpful, practical suggestions, that it’s just impossible not to get something good out of it.

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