For the Bookshelf: Five Worthwhile Books on Youth Ministry

For the Bookshelf: Five Worthwhile Books on Youth Ministry

May 8, 2017—Attention to the faith development of youth and young adults (most, arguably, who continue in a state of protracted adolescence well into traditional chronological years of adulthood) remains one of the most critical of congregational ministries. The challenges of ministering to these groups has only become more complex and demanding.

Here are five worthwhile current books related to youth, young adults, and ministry. For those called to these ministries, they provide important foundational information and frameworks to inform and guide effective ways of educating in faith. Anyone who desires to be effective in youth and young adult ministries must go beyond a focus on activities, programs, and entertainment. Transformational ministries require deep understanding about the nature of faith and the influences of family, culture, and relationships in shaping that faith.

1. A Faith of Their Own: Stability and Change in the Religiosity of America’s Adolescents. “Studying a group of teenagers, the two sociologists examine how the teens’ attitudes about faith change (or don’t) as they get older. The authors find, much to even their own surprise, that adolescent religiosity either stays the same or increases over time. The book is filled to the brim with fascinating new data as well as helpful categories (three Cs to measure and describe religiosity: content, conduct, and centrality; five A’s that describe types of believers: abiders, adapters, assenters, avoiders, and atheists) for both reframing scholarly understanding and evaluating adolescent religiosity. An audience of academics, graduate students, and ministry practitioners will find the authors’ dense prose worth the investment required to get at their results. Pearce and Denton tell numerous teens’ stories to illuminate their categories, yet readers may wish the authors had quoted these young women and men more directly in narrative form.” Publishers Weekly.

2. Branded: Adolescents Converting from Consumer Faith. Branded, the second title in the YOUTH MINISTRY ALTERNATIVES series, addresses and examines three key elements: 1) the distortion of adolescent vocation in a consumer-focused culture; 2) the dream that adolescents would discover the freedom to live into a vocational path not dominated by consumer culture; and 3) an educational process of enlivening agency and imagination that would allow for such freedom of vocational development.

3. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. “Encyclopedic in scope and exhaustive in detail, this study offers an impressive array of data, statistics and concluding hypotheses about American teenage religious identity. Sociologists of religion at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Smith and Denton cover a range of topics: e.g., ‘mapping’ religious affiliations, creating new categories to describe teenage spirituality, exploring why Catholic teens are largely apathetic. All the book’s findings derive from interviews conducted with teenagers for the National Study of Youth and Religion. Interestingly and against popular belief, Smith and Denton conclude that the “spiritual but not religious” affiliation thought to be widespread among young adults is actually rare among Americans under 18, and that the greatest influence shaping teens’ religious beliefs is their parents. Regardless of whether this research will be ‘a catalyst for many soul-searching conversations in various communities and organizations’ among parents and pastors, scholars will surely agree that this study advances the conversation about contemporary adolescent spirituality.” Publishers Weekly.

4. Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Young Adults. “With the protraction of higher education, delays in marriage and childbearing, and extended financial support from parents, emerging adults (or EAs, ages 18–23) enjoy unprecedented freedoms. What does that mean for their spiritual formation? Smith, a veteran sociologist of religion, and Snell, of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at Notre Dame, draw on statistical samples and more than 200 in-depth interviews to craft a compelling portrait of college-age Americans. This generation, steeped in religious pluralism, gets high marks for inclusivity and diversity awareness but has troubling consumerist tendencies, consistently prioritizing material wealth and devaluing altruism. Not surprisingly, EAs are less religious than older adults and than they themselves were as teenagers. Surprisingly, however, EAs are not significantly less religious than emerging adults of prior generations.” Publishers Weekly.

5. Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood: A Practical Theology for College and Adult Ministry. “In this book, Setran and Kiesling set the agenda for Christian ministry with emerging adults. Cutting through the fog of confusion and fear that surrounds this life stage, the authors convincingly and sympathetically explain why so many emerging adults struggle to grow into spiritually mature followers of Jesus. The authors offer wise, theologically grounded advice that can help emerging adulthood become a season of spiritual opportunity rather than a decade of life in which discipleship is on hold. Parents, pastors, counselors, campus ministers, college professors, and all those who care about the spiritual lives of emerging adults need to read this book.” Thomas E. Bergler, Huntington University; author of The Juvenilization of American Christianity;The Journal of Youth Ministry.

Israel Galindo is Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at the Columbia Theological Seminary.He is the author of the bestseller, The Hidden Lives of Congregations (Alban), Perspectives on Congregational Leadership (Educational Consultants), and A Family Genogram Workbook (Educational Consultants), with Elaine Boomer and Don Reagan.

His books on Christian education include Mastering the Art of Instruction,The Craft of Christian Teaching (Judson), How to be the Best Christian Study Group Leader (Judson), Planning for Christian Education Formation (Chalice), and A Christian Educator’s Book of Lists (S&H), and Theories of Learning for Christian Educators and Theological Faculty.

Galindo contributes to the Wabash Center’s blog for theological school deans.

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