I work with youth for a living and have done so for almost 30 years! Because of that, I have read many books on youth and youth ministry. This book is rare in that it is one of only two to three that I can remember where the author provides a detailed and specific biblical framework for understanding and applying youth ministry.
Many books talk about youth ministry within social, emotional, or even political contexts. This book rightly places the context squarely within the Bible. While other aspects are important to discuss, study, and learn about, youth ministry tends often to be trend-driven (as with other ministries, I suppose) and the application of the Bible to daily living tends to get left behind.
Tim Gough, in his introduction, writes: “The Bible is like a large cavern filled with gold coins, jewels and priceless valuables, and we, as Christians, have been given shovels, wheelbarrows and JCB excavators in order to mine its depths and take home its treasures. Every time we delve into the Bible, we are the richer for it” (2).
Although this book is not a primer on youth ministry, the author helpfully offers a brief summary of the history of the main youth ministry models. But what I love most about this book is that it brings the reader’s focus front and center on teaching the Bible!
The author breaks the Bible down into eight different mandates and assigns books or groups of books of the Bible to them:
- Teach everything (Pentateuch)
- Disciple everyone (History books)
- Connect authentically (Wisdom literature)
- Cultivate people (Psalms)
- Prioritize participation (Prophets)
- Focus on Jesus (Gospels)
- Be missional (Acts)
- Love always (Epistles)
Additionally, within each chapter, the author gives an easy-to-remember acrostic that acts as a framework from which the reader can begin to logically organize the information shared. What I appreciated most about this book was that the author spoke transparently about many of his own failings during a long career in youth ministry and shared his thoughts on the future of youth ministry.
Of extreme helpfulness is the conclusion, titled “Youth Ministry for the Long Haul.” In my opinion, this information is worth the price of the entire book! In this section, the author masterfully ties the previous eight chapters of the book together and helps the reader to make sense of not only the information but also, most important, how to use it to more effectively teach youth the Bible and help them live it out in their own lives.
The book ends with a brief and painfully honest open letter to youth workers from a teenager, in which the teenager pleads with youth workers to make teaching God’s Word, the Bible, central in their youth ministry.
The letter was great to read, but I would have loved to see several more—maybe from youth of different ages. Additionally, I would have loved to have read testimonials from young adults and adults (from those who stayed “in the house” and from the prodigals who left) about their own experiences and perspectives on what the Bible means to them.
This book reminds the reader that “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17, NIV).
In a world of books for youth workers filled with references to popular music, movies, TV, and video games—and maybe a Bible verse thrown in near the end—this book is a breath of fresh air.