Review: Youth Ministry

October 2nd, 2013

David Olshine, a veteran youth pastor with more than thirty years on the job, sees plenty wrong with American youth ministry. The primary question in his latest book, however, is not how to further define the problem. Rather, Youth Ministry: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Get It Right (Abingdon, 2013) is a handbook for addressing our difficulty with youth ministry in real, practical ways.

Much of our frustration with youth ministry, Olshine believes, stems from faulty approaches to the task. Youth ministries are often isolated (whether intentionally or not) from the rest of the church. Eager youth workers take on too much of the planning and leading, which sets them up for burnout and neglects the powerful resources of parents and volunteers. Segregating the youth ministry ignores the larger contexts of students’ lives and hinders the necessary relationships between adults and teens.

Youth ministries also frequently break down in the preparation stages. Olshine urges leaders not to over-program their ministries, lest they confuse activity with excellence. He also cites a lack of focused goals, an inability to adequately train and use volunteers, and a failure to help youth transition into life after high school as major hindrances for youth ministry.

Olshine is not, however, simply another negative voice, content to analyze the problem and if possible lay blame for it. Rather, for each of the twelve problems he identifies, he offers a solution. Although his answers may sound a bit simplistic—“Program with purpose and stop worrying about numbers,” or “Stop it!”—Olshine fills out his proposals with clear action points, often in the form of step-by-step lists or acronyms.

One of Youth Ministry’s strengths is its ability to ask good questions. Several times in each chapter, Olshine invites the reader to contextualize the suggestions he makes. His questions also help focus his reader on the primary goals of making and growing disciples of Jesus, rather than getting bogged down in secondary issues of how to structure the ministry.

Olshine also calls on several of his colleagues to tell their personal stories as they relate to both problems and solutions. Interspersed through each chapter are “Voices from the Trenches” segments from a variety of youth workers—paid staff, volunteers, youth ministry experts, and teenage youth group participants.

Youth Ministry is a refreshing addition to the catalogue of titles regarding ministry to teens. It does not make unrealistic promises about its ability to produce numeric growth. Instead it conveys a veteran youth worker’s wisdom about how to do real, lasting ministry. Olshine’s expertise is evident, and his skill as a communicator makes the book a clear and accessible read. It will prove a helpful resources for youth leaders, volunteers, and senior pastors who pay attention to God’s work in the lives of teenagers.

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