Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) & Ministry to Parents

Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again) by Wayne Rice is one of the best Youth Ministry books I’ve read in years.  Rice has been credited as the “co-founder” of American Youth Ministry (along with Mike Yaconelli), so he certainly has the experience, wisdom, and credibility to provide such a critique of modern-day Youth Ministry.  Not only was did the book provide many behind-the-scenes looks at the history of Youth Specialties, but it raised many good and hard questions that every youth worker should be asking.  Despite being a fairly slow reader, even I read it in only three days – I just couldn’t put it down and kept picking it up whenever I had an extra 15 minutes.

It seems like one of the most “trendy” topics today in youth ministry is ministry to parents, and yet, it doesn’t really seem like anyone knows how to actually do it effectively.  I’ve read a fair number of books lately on churches (youth ministries in particular) and parents partnering together, and I think this book makes one of the best and most persuasive cases for how important it is for youth ministries to be partnering with parents.

Just yesterday on the Youth Ministry 360 Blog, Andy Blanks asks a great question (which has prompted this book review).  Here’s his question:

As youth workers, should the burden fall on us to train and equip our students’ parents to lead them in discipleship?

I think Rice’s book addresses this from a number of perspectives.  Ultimately, I’m convinced that the church ought to be equipping parents to disciple their children/teens.  Unfortunately, too often discipleship is often a litany of unstructured Bible-Studies which focus simply on the adults and rarely make the jump to help parents be equipped to teach and discuss such important truths with their children.  Therefore, many youth workers feel that if they don’t equip parents to disciple their teens, who will?

Here are a number of my favorite quotations from Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again):

“I have all the respect in the world for youth workers in the church, but I’ve become more and more convinced over the years that God never gave to youth workers the responsibility for making disciples of other people’s kids.” (p.24)

“It’s not youth ministry’s fault that we’re losing so many kids. …While youth ministry may serve as a convenient scape-goat, it is not the culprit here.” (p.11)

“That our youth are not getting the message is not necessarily because they haven’t heard it or aren’t being taught it.  But perhaps we’re sending other messages to teenagers that are just coming across a lot louder and clearer than the message we want them to hear.  The wholesale conversion of our teenager to a religion like MTD may be nothing more than the unintended result of a systematic weakness in how we pass faith on to the next generation.” (p. 67)

“The mistake we made in the past wasn’t so much the kind of programs we ran but in our reliance on them to keep kids coming to our youth groups.  Programs may keep kids coming, but they won’t keep them connected.  Truth is, they may even be counter-productive.” (p.101)

“I believe that the primary role of the youth pastor today should be focused more on equipping adults rather than teenagers.  If we truly want better long-term results and a youth ministry that won’t collapse when we leave, we must learn to work with adults – especially parents.” (p.124)

“I know that senior pastors usually have their plates full, but the vision and mission for youth ministry in a local church must come from the top.” (p.149)

“The church and the family are two of the most powerful and important institutions on the earth, both of them ordained by God to preserve and pass on the faith to each generation.  If we can get them working together in harmony, kids are not only going to be more likely to adopt the faith of their parents but hang onto it long after they leave home.” (p.170)

“Many churches, in their efforts to be relevant and responsive to the needs of young adults have marginalized and abandoned their old folks. … What bothers me is that the young people of the church are missing out on the incredible vitality and wisdom and spiritual strength of people like my aunt Mabel and other members of her generation who are no longer considered an important part of the church.” (p.181-2)

I know that’s a lot, but it provides a great snapshot to tell you why the whole book is worth the $12 and the time you’ll invest in reading it.  Rice’s reflections on the past four decades of youth ministry and the questions he asks about its future are significant for both youth workers, parents, and all church-leaders to consider.  Seriously, just read the book, you’ll be glad you did.