In order to grow as a youth worker (or as an individual for that matter), you need new input. You need new ideas, new perspectives, new challenges to your current way of doing things. It is easy to continue burrowing into your own ministry methods until you’re so deep you can’t even see new ways of doing things. One of my favorite things to do is let other people speak into my life. One of my favorite ways to do that is by reading. So I’ve made a list of some of the the books that have shaped how I view student ministry, the Christian faith, and life in general.
A great moment in my life came after graduating college. I’d had my degree in hand for about 6 months when I realized something fantastic; I love to read. I’d always suspected that I liked to read. There were hints, like the time I stayed up an entire night in the 6th grade, with a flashlight in my hand and a blanket over my head, to read Robinson Crusoe. I had an early affinity for books, but the endless academic onslaught of required reading assignments did a wonderful job of eroding an otherwise insatiable appetite for books. By the time I was in college, I thought I hated reading.
So it was a delight to discover that once I was able to choose my own material, I started falling in love with reading again. I found the more I read, the more intentional I became about what I was doing. The more intentional I became, the better at ministry I became. It’s funny to think that time spent sitting in a comfortable chair could translate into increased skills, but that’s the power of a good book.
Below is a list of 10 books that have profoundly shaped the way I do ministry. Some of them specifically address ministry to teenagers while others deal more generally with Christian life. All of them have changed the way I point teenagers to Christ. These are the 10 books I recommend for anyone doing ministry with teens.
Messy Spirituality – Mike Yaconelli
I’ve often felt Mike is the grandfather of youth ministry. The founder of Youth Specialties has a captivating simple approach to the Christian life, and it shows through the pages of this book. This book taught me to embrace my brokenness rather than trying to hide it, and that authenticity has let me build a far greater trust with my students.
Relationships Unfiltered – Andrew Root
It is no secret in youth ministry that good relationships are the key to good ministry. Unfortunately, many ministries use the relationship as a means to an end, building a connection with teenagers so they can leverage it in an attempt to “win” that teen for Christ. In this book, Root suggests that relationships based on a predetermined end goal can actually be damaging to what we’re trying to accomplish. In effect, the goal should be good relationships, that’s it. This book helped me articulate feelings I’ve long held regarding relational ministry, and gave me permission to just love my students for the sake of loving them.
YOUthwork – Don Pearson & Paul Santhouse
Pearson and Santhouse present an encyclopedia of issues and experiences that youth workers likely are to face, along with solid advice gleaned from years in the trenches. One of the greatest strengths is how simple it is to read up on specific issues. Everything from discipleship to event transportation gets face time, with insights helpful for those starting in youth ministry and those looking for encouragement in their continuing journey. It’s a personal, pocket-sized mentor for those involved in loving teenagers in the name of Jesus, and a necessary addition to any youth worker’s bookshelf.
Dangerous Wonder – Mike Yaconelli
Yaconelli makes his second appearance on this list with his book about Child-like faith. This is the book I pick up when I need a reminder that God wants us to dream, that following God is a terrifying, rewarding, exhausting, confusing, magnificent, thrilling, frustrating, wonderful thing. Mike explores the idea of childlike faith, and the way that following God rarely makes sense the way we think it ought. This books revs the engine of my soul, and whenever I finish reading it through I’m ready to race off to whatever glorious thing God has in store.
Volunteer Like A Pro – Jim Hancock
Volunteer Like a Pro is Jim Hancock’s attempt to squeeze 20 years of youth ministry experience into a crash course on volunteer youth leading. Each two-to-three page chapter touches on an important aspect of lay ministry with teens. Youth workers should read it cover to cover and then keep it around as a reference. It will quickly become the second-most-useful handbook for working with teenagers* in the church (if you can’t guess the first you should probably be fired).
What Matters Most – Doug Fields
It stand to reason that anyone who says yes to an overnight lock-in with 50 7th grade boys probably has a hard time setting reasonable limits or saying no. Youth workers are often “yes” people, accepting any and all challenges and opportunities that come their way. That’s a great way to ensure you don’t last in ministry. This book gave me permission to say no to good things, no to important people, and no to parts of my job so I can say yes to Christ, my family, and my future. As I approach a decade at my current church, I think it has a lot to do with learning to say “no” early on.
Ministry Mutiny – Greg Stier
This is a rare combination of youth ministry book and novel. It is a collection of wonderful youth ministry concepts and principles, told in the form of a modern-day fable. It does a great job of discussing the “Deep & Wide” philosophy of youth ministry in an engaging way. The novel form is a welcome departure from most of the books on this list.
The Screwtape Letters – C.S. Lewis
I’m pretty sure it’s a rule that you can’t have a list of Christian books unless you include at least one from C.S. Lewis. (Seriously, I’m afraid guys in suits and dark sunglasses will show up if I don’t.) This book is a classic, written as a series of letters from a senior demon to his rookie soul torturer nephew. While it is not a theological treatise, it has perhaps done more than any other book to shape my view of spiritual warfare. A good reminder that “our battle is not against flesh and blood.”
Do Hard Things – Alex & Brett Harris
This book was written for teenagers, by teenagers, but every youth worker should have it on their shelf. In Do Hard Things, the Harris brothers challenge the stereotype that teenagers are lazy or incapable of greatness until later in life. Through a series of well thought out examples, they make a fantastic argument for teenagers taking on hard things now rather than waiting until later in life. This book solidified for me that what students really need from our ministry is to be challenged, not coddled. And that they will rise to it!
Love Does – Bob Goff
The most recent addition to my list is a phenomenal series of life stories from Bob. As I read, I kept thinking “I cannot believe all of these things happened to one man.” but also, “I want my life to be this kind of a story.” Bob is proof positive that a life lived unreservedly for Christ is a life well spent, and Love Does is an encouragement to put your faith into action and chase whimsy that comes from loving others.