I have to confess, my reasons for first buying this book back when it came out in 2001 was twofold, I thought the cover was cool (and I still do) and because Tony Jones was also born in 1968 – there is something about that year!
Glancing now at those who contribute throughout the book, I also notice that Mark Driscoll is among them (a name I did not know back then), Mike Yaconelli, sadly no longer with us and the UK’s very own Pete Ward. So much has changed since this stuff was written – I am not even sure whether “where we are” can be called “post-modern” anymore, or if we are now in the new era of whatever properly comes after “modern”, or if Gen-Xers were just having a meltdown at not being able to lead churches yet and make the big decisions that we invented this idea of “cultural shift” to feel important and that we were living in a significant time, even if we didn’t feel significant ourselves . . . (whoa!)
Whatever your thoughts on the above, this is a great book! I still constantly refer to it as I think through discipleship in particular and how what we do must be holistic. This is probably the book that made me think that what we do needs to be “holistic”, so a big thank you for that. The books starts with two thoughts that I love :
1. What we try and do (and have relied on for years) when talking to young people about faith DOES NOT WORK ANYMORE.
2 This book is not going to give you a programme for what to do now that is GUARANTEED TO WORK.
I love that! This book is not a book of answers for how to do youth ministry now, it is more a conversation and a journey through the landscape, the territory we find ourselves in – it is a map, in that different aspects of culture are pointed out as we come to them, different challenges sit there in front of us, in black and white, daring us to navigate our way around them or through them or to turn back and not bother – but this is NOT a Sat Nav, which will get us to a pre-determined destination.
A load of ground is covered though, giving food for thought and inspiring us to take seriously the challenges of engaging in youth ministry today, and, whilst not offering programmes this book does offer us “hooks” to engage with those things that resonate with young people. Some of those things, spiritual practices among them may feel counter-intuitive, but they actually make a lot of sense as we grasp what has changed and the way everything within our lives and our culture that surrounds it is on “fast forward”. For example, the internet had more users in the first five years than the telephone did in the first thirty. Back when this was written there were no 3D Televisions or Smart Phones – in fact, the IPod had only just launched – offering the possibility of “1000 songs in your pocket” . . . . we live in a crazy accelerated world! Yet, one of the dynamics that Jones explores is how young people long to connect in ways that, to be honest, until I had read this book, I had not given much space or time to. Space and Time. Those two things . . . I was used to filling the evenings with activities for young people, full of choice, action, non-stop – a bit like their actual lives . . . everything “on”, music blaring, screens with videos, constant banter . . . space and time were a key aspect of the ancient practices, those spiritual habits done by Christians for centuries – what Tony does is articulate why there is a place for them today and why they resonate with young people. In the UK, if there is one part of the Church of England that seems to be seeing growth regardless of which part of the country it seems to be in Cathedrals. Many of these places have been places of worship and prayer for 1000 years or more. This creates a connection with the past, a rooted sense, meaning – that our young people crave. They do not want a trend, they want what is real.
All through the book there a great big themes being explored with Church history thrown in – this is like no other youth ministry book! I would argue that it takes the place and importance of youth ministry more seriously than any other book I have read about youth ministry. The Bible is explored, not with a wishy – washy approach but with a robust recognition of the power of the Word of God, whilst acknowledging our need to “bring it to life”, the narratives within scripture (great swathes of the Old Testament and the Gospels and Acts) are, I would argue, often seen as just that “stories”, whilst many churches that teach from scripture choose to hang out in letters that articulate doctrine. Yet, without the stories, without the stories that are passed from generation to generation that show the works and the wonders of God, his “deeds”, how are our young people to grasp how gobsmacking the doctrine of say, “grace” actually is?
There is great stuff too on community, (a topic I explored in a previous post) our need to be missional (in fact – lets just nail it, youth ministry IS mission, it IS evangelism), discipleship and bringing it all together what a holistic youth ministry looks like.
I think the reality explored in this book is bang on, I think the focus on values and ethos rather than programmes is also bang on. Programmes do not lead young people to encounter Christ, people do. This youth ministry book is about people, the conversation that takes place with the snippets from a whole variety of people is also about another dynamic that is essential to youth ministry . . . lets discuss, lets chat about it.
God himself does this! Isaiah 1 verse 18, “Come, let us reason together” – I love this and throughout the book, Tony is engaging with different voices who are challenging, inspiring and provoking all of us who read this book to work our what we MUST do if our youth people are going to discover, get excited about, and live out a Christian faith in the 21st Century.
I can’t commend this book to you highly enough. Get it – wrestle with its content, but above all, search for a way to build authentic community with your young people that does not revolve around programmes but the people you have and the journey of faith you are on together.