Archive for category: Book Reviews (Page 3)

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!

Praise Habit

30 Jul
July 30, 2009

David Crowder's Praise HabitI finally read David Crowder’s ‘Praise Habit,’ a book on worship.  His basic premise of the book was in expressing the ability and need to be worshipping in all that we do, not just Sunday mornings or during the songs we sing.  Much more of a holistic worship mentality.  The concept itself isn’t anything new, but it doesn’t make it any less relevant or important.

What makes this a great book compared to others on the topic is Crowder’s quirky writing style.  If you’ve ever seen him in concert or speaking, you know what I mean when I say that his voice comes through loud and clear on this book – the man knows how to capture himself on paper!  I loved his stories, metaphors, illustrations and memories all weaving in and out of what it means to put on a habit of praise throughout life.  A large section of the book is him expounding on some of his favorite Psalms and the worship that is in them – I looked at scripture passages in ways that I have never done before!

All in all, it’s a great book.  Easy and fun to read with a lot of thought provoking challenges and ideas.

Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community

29 Jul
July 29, 2009

Love is an OrientationLove Is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation With the Gay Community, the new book by Andrew Marin is probably the best thing out there that I’ve read on the relationship between the church and the gay community.  Absolutely fantastic book and a must read for any Christian!

I loved his emphasis on opening and sustaining dialogue – as opposed to the tendency usually seen to fight and set up battlefields.  What was so fascinating to me was the Biblical case for a loving discourse, without setting aside scripture or in some way compromising.  By elevating the conversation, he refers to actually having a conversation instead of the arguements and lines in the sand that normally seem to happen.  As I read what Marin wrote, I found myself over and over thinking this is what I’ve been looking for.  There is absolutely something broken in how the church as a whole in the United States has responded to and interacted with the gay community.  My frustration has always been that I am fairly conservative theologically, but even in that feel that the application of that theology has been misguided and directed wrong.  I feel as though we’ve had our priorities all wrong.  Is God more interested in making America a sinless haven or is His biggest priority the heart and lives of all His children?

But I digress!  The book is incredible.  Absolutely a must read, if for no other reason than to challenge your thinking.  This ‘issue’ isn’t going away and as a church we need to stop just reacting, demonizing those who don’t agree with ‘us’, and begin to seriously consider how Jesus would walk our communities and the responses that would come from Him.

Prepare Go Live mission trip pack

18 May
May 18, 2009

Simply Youth Ministry and LeaderTreks have teamed up to create a new short term missions resource, Prepare Go Live!  I’m very interested in it for a couple reasons; I’m a huge SYM fan – their stuff is always high quality, and I’ve bought and used mission trip resources from LeaderTreks in the past and have been consistently impressed.  They really know how to take the spiritual development side of the mission trip to the next level!

What’s interesting about this kit to me is the real emphasis on the follow up; there is a journal for preparing spiritually for the trip, a journal for the trip itself, and then a follow up journal for after the trip – which in many ways to me is the most important one of all!  If there’s no continuing application, it’s very easy for the students to forget to apply what they’ve experienced and learn to their every day life!

There’s a ton of resources included in the kit, but the thing that jumps out at me the most is the cd-rom.  It’s packed with resources, including the PDFs for each of the three journals and permission to reproduce the heck out of ’em.  So you have the option to buy the journals, or save some money and print them yourself – I love that Simply Youth Ministry consistently does that!  Anyway, read on for the ‘official’ product description or find it here:

Few things will bring the gospel to life for your students like heading out onto the mission field. Spending a day, weekend, or longer in service to God, for his love, and with people in need brings the calling of Christ vividly into focus. With this easy to implement 3-part missions trip curriculum, you’ll get everything you need to get your students ready (Prepare), devotions for the trip (Go), and follow-up materials (Live) to make their experience part of an ongoing, godly lifestyle. And what good would we be if we didn’t include helpful stuff for leaders to make the whole trip more fun for everyone? No good at all, so we’ve given you plenty.

1 Leader Guide with CD-ROM

5 Prepare Student Journals

  • Mission Includes Me
  • Mission is about the Kingdom
  • Mission is about the Team
  • Mission Never Ends

5 Go Student Journals: Study on the Book of James

  • Pushup Perseverance
  • Workouts Aren’t for Whiners
  • Discernment Dash
  • Tongue Crunches
  • Pushing to the Peak
  • Pushing to the End

5 Live Student Journals

  • The Journey Home
  • New Directions
  • Connected to a Cause
  • Life on a Mission

Files on the CD-ROM include:

  • Desktop Backgrounds
  • Slide Backgrounds
  • Ecards
  • Sticker Designs
  • Editable Letters
  • Editable Postcards
  • Promotional Materials
  • GO Luggage Tags
  • PDFs of the Leader Guide & all 3 Student Journals

Guy Talk Girl Talk

18 Apr
April 18, 2009

I just grabbed Simply Youth Ministry’s Guy Talk Girl Talk small group resource and I’m pretty excited about it.  Basically, it’s a ten week small group resource for middle school, high school or college age kids.  I got it for our high school groups; I’m trying to put together all my small group lessons for next school year to add a little more structure and consistency to our small group program as well as give the leaders a little more direction and a better idea of what I’m expecting. 

There are a few reasons why I’m loving this particular resource.  First, it actually has twenty lessons in it; ten written specifically for guys and ten written specifically for girls.  They’re really relevant, and have some great content and discussion launchers.  Here’s what I love even more; I only have to buy one copy.  The book comes with a cd-rom that has EVERYTHING on it.  Everything.  All of the lessons, journals for the teens, leader guides, promo stuff like posters, postcards and signs, and it’s all in PDF form (looks pretty!) or in editable doc form if we want to make some changes.  Even the PDFs come in two different versions; one that is exactly the same as the book right down to the dimensions, and one that has been converted to fit on regular sized paper.  It comes with permission to edit, adapt, and reproduce to your heart’s content, which I LOVE.