Archive for category: Book Reviews (Page 3)

A Beautiful Mess | Mark Oestricher

10 May
May 10, 2012

I finished reading Mark Oestricher’s new book, ‘A Beautiful Mess,’ this afternoon. It’s not huge, so it really only took an hour or so to read, but I really love it. In a lot of ways, it felt like a natural progression from his book ‘Youth Ministry 3.0’, which I also love.

I found myself highlighting my way through the book, saving quotes to use for later.

I appreciated his affirmation of smaller, under resourced church youth groups. I agree with his observation that too many fall into the trap of thinking a showy program with expensive toys is somehow better. The reality is – we’ll never be able to compete with the glitzy stuff the rest of the world is putting together. It will always be cooler, hipper, and more incredibly cool to young people than what we can pull off, no matter the budget. Relationships truly are where it’s at. Being those loving adults in a young person’s life that they hunger for.

I think one of the strengths of the book, as opposed to so many books that identify the problems in youth ministry and come up with fixes, Oesstricher instead focuses on what he sees working throughout the country. It’s simple. It’s solid. And it’s affirming, both to the calling of youth ministry and that there are great things happening all over the place whether we realize it or not.

One quote that I am grabbing and using in my youth leader training was this:

Let me be clear about the thre three things that are necessary for great youth ministry:

  • You like teenagers.
  • You are a growing follower of Jesus.
  • You are willing to live honestly in the presence of those teenagers you like.

I love it. It sums it all up so eloquently and simply. It’s easy to remember, easy to pass on, and opens the door to a lot of great training conversations. You can find the book in both digital and physical formats here; and for a limited time, the digital versions are FREE. Grab it!

The Hunger Games

23 Nov
November 23, 2011

So this past weekend I read ‘The Hunger Games’ by Suzanne Collins. Mostly out of curiosity resulting from the frenzy of interest teens I know have about the upcoming movie. Am I so out of it I no longer know about hit young adult books until the movies come out? Twilight was totally off my radar until the film came out, and now the same is true of this series.

Here’s the deal. The story is fast paced, completely pulled me in, made it incredibly hard to put my phone down (yup, read the ebook), and had some great characters in it. Basically, it was Mad Max’s Thunderdome, but with kids. Post apocalyptic future, cruel and disturbing government, and an arena where 24 adolescents fight to the death for the entertainment of the masses. Which for me made the book feel a lot more adult than young adult.

What makes me incredibly uncomfortable is the shift in content that books for kids features. When I was an adolescent, I read a TON of books – I typically averaged one or two a week. Seriously. I don’t remember ever reading anything with the violent content kids’ books feature today – I was stunned when kids started getting killed in the Harry Potter series. Profanity, violence, kids being murdered – it shocked me. Then the Twilight series. Definitely amped up the adult content for a series aimed at young teens. But both of those pale in comparison to a story that features 24 kids between the ages of 12 and 18 being thrown into an arena and graphically murdering each other with a wide range of weapons.

So here’s where I’m torn. I enjoyed the book. In fact, since last weekend I’ve already finished the second book in the series, ‘Catching Fire.’ The part of me that has enjoyed stories like ‘Mad Max’ and ‘The Book of Eli’ loved them both. But those stories, while violent and graphic, were aimed directly at an adult audience. It’s just strange to me how stories have changed so dramatically in content since I was a teen, and that troubles me.

Francis Chan’s ‘Erasing Hell’

05 Aug
August 5, 2011

I just finished reading Francis Chan’s and Preston Sprinkle’s new book, ‘Erasing Hell.’ Basically, it is an exploration of what the Bible has to say about hell and the afterlife triggered by Rob Bell’s controversial book, ‘Love Wins’ (read my review of Bell’s book here).

Francis Chan is just one of a dozen or more authors to write a rebuttal to ‘Love Wins,’ and this is clearly a rebuttal, with Chan directly referring to, or quoting, Bell’s book in just about every chapter. What makes ‘Erasing Hell’ jump out of the growing number of books on the subject for me is his prominence as a communicator – he and Bell in many ways are similar when it comes to being amazing communicators in person, on video and in their books. The two are often compared, so it was fascinating to see Chan come out strong in contrast to Bell – not that it was surprising that Chan would have an opposing viewpoint.

One of the things I loved about the book is that Chan brought in scholars to help him research the topic. Combining his gifts of communication with their resources made for a very thorough exploration on hell. Where Bell was vague, paraphrased, and used verses out of context, Chan went to the opposite extreme of using a ton of scripture to back up his points.

I only had one negative response to ‘Erasing Hell.’ From time to time Chan would paint the picture that he was just passing on what the Bible says, as though Bell gave opinion, but Chan is giving the inside scoop on what God actually thinks. The reality is, as thoroughly researched and well presented as the book is, it is still man’s interpretation of scripture – he’s not passing on what God says, simply trying to relay his impression of what God says. He used a LOT of scripture, which was awesome – but it was still his presentation of scripture, his ordering of scripture, and his explanation of scripture.

That being said, I agree with it 100%. It’s incredibly well written – especially given the time frame in which he did it.  His heart in communicating this message about hell is always present, and it’s done in such a loving way – not the heavy handed, doom and gloom that so many ‘turn or burn’ preachers use. And of course, his reputation as a brilliant communicator holds true in this book. It’s definitely one that I would recommend for anyone to read on the topic of hell in general, and a must read for anyone who has read ‘Love Wins.’

Rob Bell’s ‘Love Wins’

02 May
May 2, 2011

I finished Rob Bell’s controversial book, ‘Love Wins,’ this last week.  The man really is an incredible writer and speaker – he is able to weave a narrative in a compelling way.  I’m not sure it’s a book I would recommend, though.  His vague rewording of scriptures and use of passages out of their original context for critical points in his theology negates the message he uses them for (Tony Jones commented on this as well on his blog, although not to the same degree I would).  But he does it so well it’s easy to miss or catch.  I don’t feel like recapping the book, or even giving a summary of it – enough people have done that already.  I don’t need to comment on his writing skill or style – it’s brilliant.  Here are the points that sum up my reaction to the content of ‘Love Wins’:

  • I absolutely resonate with Bell’s frustration over a gospel that often times is preached that is only about saving people from hell.  I love his comment that if that’s the case, it’s like we need Jesus to save us from God.  We share the good news because it’s just that, good news – not some sort of escape message.  We hold a joyful truth, not a fearful one.
  • I am intrigued by his speculation that heaven will be on earth.  I’ve always wondered why God speaks of remaking our world if we’re all moving on from it after death.  I don’t know that I’m sold on it, but it gave a lot of my own wonderings about end times prophecy something new to chew on.
  • I disagree with his view that people can be saved/accept Christ/choose God after death.  This is where I thought he started playing loose with scripture, taking snippets out of context to make his points.  I understand why he would want to; it would be comforting to think of, but it also lessens the urgency.  Why bother spreading the message now if people can choose God after death?  Once they’ve been exposed to Him in all His glory?  Who wouldn’t change their mind in that scenario?
  • I was alarmed with one of his closing theological statements.  After quoting Jesus’s words in John 14, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me,’ Bell makes a startling statement:  ‘What he doesn’t say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him.  He doesn’t even state that those coming to the Father through him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him.’ In other words, even if you think you’re getting to heaven through another way, it’s actually happening through Christ.  My immediate reaction was shock, could he actually be claiming that people could get to heaven thinking they are being saved by other gods or religions and Christ saves them without them knowing it?  Sure enough, as he goes on to explain over the next few paragraphs, he actually references Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and ‘Baptists from Cleveland,’ as being included in this view.

For me, that fourth point is where the book became dangerous.  Bell is a powerful writer and speaker, and it sounds so good, but that kind of teaching, as well as the lessening of the urgency of the gospel makes this something I would rather not see getting passed around to those who don’t know the scriptures well enough to recognize when they are being misused.

Almost Christian

18 Feb
February 18, 2011

I finished reading Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, ‘Almost Christian,’ the other day … and wow.  The book is an absolute must read for parents, youth workers, church leaders in general.  It is astounding.  Basically, it’s based on the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion, a study in which they spent years interviewing thousands of teens, their parents, their youth workers, churches, going back for follow up interviews and checkins, going back some more, and so on.  Basically, what they ended up with was a time lapse picture of young people’s faith development and found some startling results.  It was a massive study.  There were five key findings in the study:

  • Most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise don’t give it much thought
  • Most U.S. teenagers mirror their parents’ religious faith
  • Teenagers lack a theological language with which to express their faith or interpret their experience of the world
  • A minority of American teenagers – but a significant minority – say religious faith is important, and that it makes a difference in their lives.  These teenagers are doing better in life on a number of scales, compared to their less religious peers
  • Many teenagers enact and espouse a religious outlook that is distinct from traditional teachings of most world religious – an outlook called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

For me, there was a lot of key information in the pages of the book.  I found particularly interesting the common elements found in the small minority of young people with strong, committed faith.  They were:

  • Attends religious services weekly or more
  • Currently involved in a religious youth group
  • Prays a few times a week or more
  • Reads scripture once or twice a week or more

Those first two are why for years I’ve told parents they need to make their child attending a worship service a priority!  I firmly believe we make a huge investment in a child’s future faith when we bring them to a worship service (the vast majority of college age students that do plug in to churches have one thing in common – they attended their home church’s worship service as a teen).  And we make a huge investment in a teen’s current faith when we prioritize youth group with age specific topics and needs.  It’s a powerful combo.  And there’s no replacement for actual regular presence – just being at the church building is not enough.  Service in other areas should be in addition to those core components!

I actually ended up highlighting quotes throughout the book – something I never do.  There was just so much and I wanted to make sure I remembered it all.  Here are just a few that jumped out at me right away:

“Since the religious and spiritual choices of American teenagers echo, with astonishing clarity, the religious and spiritual choices of the adults who love them, lackadaisical faith is not young people’s issue, but ours.”  One of the key findings of the study was that for the most part, young people’s faith reflected their parents faith.  Which does then beg the question, if we see them being ambivalent, what does that tell us about the rest of the church?

“We have successfully convinced teenagers that religious participation is important for moral formation and for making nice people, which may explain why American adolescents harbor no ill will toward religion.”

“We have not invested in their accounts: we ‘teach’ young people baseball, but we ‘expose’ them to faith.  We provide coaching and opportunities for youth to develop and improve their pitches and their SAT scores, but we blithely assume that religious identity will happen by osmosis, emerging ‘when youth are ready’ (a confidence we generally lack when it comes to, say, algebra).”  I love that last bit about algebra.

“We have received from teenagers exactly what we have asked them for: assent, not conviction; compliance, not faith.  Young people invest in religion precisely what they think it is worth – and if they think the church is worthy of benign whatever-ism and no more, then the indictment falls not on them, but on us.”

“Do we practice the kind of faith that we want our children to have?”

Jumper: Griffin’s Story

07 Jan
January 7, 2011

I finally got around to reading Stephen Gould’s ‘Jumper: Griffin’s Story,’ the third book in his Jumper series.  Basically, I watched the movie, ‘Jumper,’ and wasn’t impressed – but when I realized it was based on a book by the same name I read it and LOVED it.  I read the sequel, ‘Reflex,’ and loved it as well (read my review here) but never really rushed to read the third book since it was tied to the movie.

Basically, the movie diverged from the premise of the first two books significantly, and in ways that really hurt the story.  ‘Jumper: Griffin’s Story’ is a prequel to the movie, not a part three to the other two books, so it really has to be approached has having no connection to the other novels.

What was surprising is how well Gould took what seemed like poorly developed ideas and bad story in the movie and made a riveting and intense story starring a secondary character to the film, Griffin!  I really, really enjoyed the book – so much so that I devoured it in two days.  It’s a tragic story and you end up feeling for the main character, but it’s all done so well – his exploration of his jumping abilities (a form of teleportation), the discovery of the Paladin’s and their merciless and deadly pursuit of ‘Jumpers’ and the build up to the movie.  It left me wanting more – there’s definitely more stories to tell in the Jumper universe!

Must-have Youth Ministry books

10 Mar
March 10, 2010

There are five must have books in student ministry for me – they’re the ones I keep buying in bulk and giving to my team and teens.  Each one of them has value in specific ways that for me are critical for adults and students in our student ministry program to be aware of.  Part of it is my own wiring when it comes to student ministry – I’m definitely a purpose driven model kind of guy, although I’m kind of quiet about it.  I’ve found ways to make it fit our existing ministry statements and goals that I inherited here – although, I have to admit, it was pretty easy to do so since the ministry was already following a similar model.  Anyway, here are the books that I keep buying and encouraging people to read:

Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry, by Doug Fields.  This book is the one stop guide to youth ministry; he covers all the bases, talks about philosophy of student ministry, the how-tos, and great solid advice.  It’s really well written, easy to read and great for twenty year veterans, and rookies on their first day.  I’ve read it multiple times over the years – and am working through it again now.

Emergency Response Handbook for Youth Ministry.  While I have some bigger, more involved books for my own reference, this pocket size edition is a must for volunteers.  It covers various situations and scenarios that can arise in teens’ lives and gives solid advice for how to respond.  Topics covered include grief, depression, suicide, addictions, divorce, abuse, crisis pregnancy, academic problems, family conflict, stress and anxiety, destructive behavior and gender identity and sexual choices.  My favorite thing to hear when a volunteer calls me about a situation they’ve encountered – and if you work with teens, you will encounter these – is them referring to the advice they read in the book and followed.  Awesome.  That’s why I give a copy to every volunteer.

Hope and Healing for kids who cut, by Marv Penner.  I’ve read a lot of books on cutting, self injury, etc., and this one is far and away the best.  Penner knows his stuff and it shows in this well written book.  He has obviously done his research, but has a pastoral side to the book that makes for a perfect combo.  While I don’t give this to every volunteer, I have a pile of copies kicking around because is an issue that is prevalent and leaders love having access to the book.

Help! I’m a Student Leader, by Doug Fields.  This is written for teens that are leaders in the group.  It’s full of leadership advice, tips on being a servant, and full of great training for students who have leadership roles.  We’re currently working our way through it with our Joshua Team, a group of students in 8th-12th grade that serve as student leaders.

The Youthworker Book of Hope, edited by Tim Baker.  Okay, this is just a shameless plug.  I was one of twelve authors that wrote this book!  We each tackled different areas in ministry that we had experienced failure and wrote about what we learned from it and where we found hope.  I might be biased, but I think it’s a great resource for finding encouragement, hope, and motivation to push through difficult times that we all are bound to experience in youth ministry.

Do Hard Things (review)

07 Mar
March 7, 2010

I finished this book a couple weeks ago and have been meaning to blog about it – Darby recommended it to me, and she was absolutely right about how good it is!  ‘Do Hard Things,’ by Alex and Brett Harris, two 18 year old twin brothers, has a GREAT theme: teenagers rebelling against low expectations.  Their contention is that teens are capable of so much more than what they’re given credit for – and what they give themselves credit for.  Using examples of teens who have led movements, political campaigns, conferences, written books, become public speakers, and more, they write powerfully about the incredible potential that young people have!

I love the examples, the stories, and their powerful argument for the ability of teens to do hard things, and the tremendous payoff that it results in.  Personally, as a youth worker I’ve been blown away time and time again by what teens are capable of.  I’ve seen them teach, preach, lead teams, serve on church committees, take on tasks adults would avoid, and demonstrate time and again the potential the Harris brothers write about.  One of the reasons I’ve always loved multi-generation mission teams is that the adults always come back amazed at what the teens accomplish on the team.  Personally, I would absolutely love for adults to read this book and challenge the stereotypes they have about teens … and I would love to see teens read it to be challenged and inspired to rebel against low expectations!  Definitely worth reading!

The $5 Youth Ministry

18 Dec
December 18, 2009

I’ve been reading through Todd Outcalt’s new book, The $5 Youth Ministry.  And yes, I’ve heard all the jokes about the book costing more than the title ($9.99), but for all the ideas in it, it’s a GREAT deal.  I like his style in how he laid the book out; it’s almost 200 pages of idea after idea, all costing around $5 to pull off, and everyone of them is categorized in several different ways making it very easy to track down specific types of ideas.  The categories Outcalt uses are: Activities, Camp/Retreat, Food, Games, Ice Breakers, Mission/Outreach, Support (fundraising), Teaching, and Worship.  The categories are all indexed at the beginning of the book, making it easy to skim through and track down your specific needs, which I liked.


There are countless similar resources out there; my shelf is full of different books packed with student ministry ideas.  What separates this one from the rest is that every idea in it is low cost, or even free.  I like that I don’t find myself worrying about how much of a hit my budget will take if I use one of his ice breakers or games.  The book is easy to navigate, well written, with a ton of solid ideas.  Over the last year my student ministry budget has taken a significant hit, making this a very timely resource worth grabbing.

99 Thoughts for Youth Workers

01 Aug
August 1, 2009

I just finished reading Josh Griffin’s new book, 99 Thoughts for Youth Workers, and it’s great!  He’s the lead youth pastor at Saddleback Church (Rick Warren’s church), part of the Doug Field’s Simply Youth Ministry podcast crew and blogging king.  The thought that kept crossing my mind as I read it is that it’s kind of like the youth workers book of Proverbs.  There’s actually 113 thoughts, but whatever, I’m a youth pastor so I like getting 14 for free!  Basically, it’s split up into four big areas; Vision and Leadership, Programs and People, Small Groups and Events, and Everyday Ministry.  They’re short, insightful, and each thought is followed by a brief explanation of why it’s important.  Honestly, I as I was reading it I was seeing ideas for the program I lead, ways I can grow as a leader, and a solid resource that I’d love to get in the hands of all my volunteers.

As a resource for volunteers, it really shines.  It’s short, focused, easy to read, and full of solid advice and ideas that anyone from the lead person to the rookie intern could learn from.  What was really jumping out at me were the thoughts on parents; communicating with them, involving them, etc – definitely an area I want to grow more in and I felt like Griffin was giving me some solid direction!

All in all, I think it’s a great resource, definitely worth the $5 cover price (and if you order before the August 8th release, you get a free digital download – that’s how I got mine!), and a great resource to grab for your whole team as we roll into the new school year!