Three Favorite Books on Youth Ministry
By Walt Mueller
youth ministry

Walt Mueller is the founder and president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding and a member at Westminster Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. For some 35 years, Mueller has worked in student ministry and studied youth culture, helping parents understand the ever-changing world in which their teenagers live.

ByFaith asked Mueller about his three favorite books on youth ministry. He said his list changes frequently as youth culture changes and churches need to respond differently to the cultural moment. Mueller said the recommendations below — one older book and two new — offer “a combination of cultural analysis and practical ministry response to advance the church’s efforts to disciple youth people into a deeper faith as they navigate a rapidly-changing and confusing youth culture.”

“The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution”
Carl Trueman (2020)

In order to know how to nurture our children and teens in the faith, we must seek to first understand our current cultural context and how we’ve gotten to this point. Carl Trueman’s latest volume offers up perhaps the most accurate, insightful, and helpful look into the life-shaping cultural soup that people of all ages — especially the young — swim in today.

The beauty of this book is that it is informed not only by faithful theology, but in true Trueman fashion incorporates multiple disciplines, including insights from sociology, anthropology, philosophy, history, psychology, and anthropology. While not a youth ministry targeted book, every youth worker I’ve recommended it to has come back singing the book’s praises for opening their eyes to the way in which contemporary culture is answering (or more accurately misanswering) the basic developmental questions Who am I? and What do I believe? But Trueman doesn’t stop there. He leads readers throughout the book into gospel-centered correctives.

“Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon”
David Kinnaman and Mark Matlock (2019)

It’s no secret that the emerging generations turn to their devices to help them make sense of the world. It is through their smartphone screens that they are being catechized 24/7. Welcome to “digital Babylon.” Based on recent research from the Barna Group, Kinnaman and Matlock endeavor to discover why nearly two-thirds of all young adults who were once regular churchgoers have dropped out at one time or another. In fact, Barna found that only 10% of these once-regular churchgoing young adults could now be categorized as “resilient disciples” based on their beliefs and behaviors. What have we done wrong? And what should we be doing to correct this troubling reality?

The book describes the five practices of resilient faith from the 10-percent’s past and present nurture that have combined to result in vibrant, robust discipleship. Churches will be challenged to think through and evaluate how well they’ve been doing at providing each for the young people under their care.

“Teaching the Faith, Forming the Faithful: A Biblical Vision for Education in the Church”
Gary A. Parrett and S. Steve Kang (2009)

Do our kids understand what it means to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ? Christian educators and former youth workers Gary Parrett and Steve Kang recognize that our educational efforts in both the church and the home have been lacking, and thereby yielding the troubling result addressed above in “Faith for Exiles.” In my own experience, I encounter fewer and fewer teenagers who know the Apostle’s Creed. A growing number cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer. And doctrine is not something that’s studied, embraced, or seen as necessary. Kids will talk about “following Jesus,” but do they know the Jesus they claim to follow? Head knowledge is certainly not the desired telos of our discipleship efforts. But what we choose to feed the head is used by God to shape the heart.

In this book, readers will find a comprehensive plan explaining the content and process of Christian discipleship as a tandem operation between church and home.

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