Thursday, May 22, 2014

Resource Review: Youth Ministry Nuts & Bolts by Duffy Robbins

Youth Ministry Nuts & Bolts by Duffy Robbins was a thorough and effective manual on the basics of youth ministry in any form. It provided tools on everything from connecting with youth to avoiding burnout, conflicting well and programming effectively. The perspective was primarily Christian, though nondenominational and adaptable for “parachurch” settings.
This book’s primary strength lies in its flexibility. Resources found here can be used in almost any youth context, regardless of denomination or even potentially regardless of religion, although an emphasis on ministry for Christ is dominant throughout the book. Everything provided was adaptable, from suggestions on dealing with coworkers to tips on how to be hired, and everything in between. This resource would be of use to almost anyone in the ministry, making it an excellent source.
The best resource I discovered in the book was the section in chapter three on how to put people at the center of ministry, particularly with Jim Burns’ “90 Minute Challenge” (page 49). With the busy society we live in today and the crazy schedules of those in ministry, it can be difficult to find out how to maximize time with youth, especially in a large group. Preparing an adequate leader-to-student ratio, of course, is one excellent way to do so, as well as making sure to contact students on special occasions such as birthdays—specifically outside of social media, as Facebook, Twitter, and other media reduce personality and increase distance on occasions such as these. I greatly appreciated the 90-Minute Challenge because it provided a method to maximize this time in a meaningful way, providing social media contact such as on Facebook or SnapChat, but also more direct and personal contact such as phone calls. With this “Challenge”, youth leaders can reach as many as ten students in only an hour and a half each week.
The section in chapter six on “Groupthink” (page 127) stood out to me as a wonderful resource to hold leaders accountable for decisions, rather than relying on or hiding behind “mob mentality” during difficult times. Appointing a “devil’s advocate” of sorts to ensure that all perspectives of an issue are heard is a great way to prevent this, as are inviting outsiders—of course, unbiased outsiders—and requiring group leaders to speak last. Dividing the group into sub-groups may eliminate the large “mob mentality”, but it could allow for smaller groups to have the same problem. However, all of these ideas, used when appropriate, could effectively eliminate the issue of “groupthink”.
My primary concern with this resource was the constant use of the term “youth pastor”. Being a female called toward youth ministry, I am not and never will be a “pastor”. Pastor is a distinctive role for a leader of an entire church—an intergenerational church, not just a youth “church”—and that role is intended by God to be held by a man only, as explained in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 3:1-12, as well as many other Bible verses and passages. Even were I to attend seminary, I could not biblically and with good conscience become a pastor—even “just” a youth pastor.
A second concern I had was in chapter three, in the section on “The Journey from Pursuing to Doing” (page 45). His statement that “it’s often more important to ask ‘Does it feel right?’ than ‘Does it add up?’”—unless I extremely misunderstood it—was problematic. Jesus was not always one to make people feel comfortable; in fact, a large amount of his ministry was spent making people feel uncomfortable, as when He overturned the temple tables, healed on the Sabbath, declared Himself to be God, and on many other occasions. Scripture, rather than reason or emotion, should be the primary factor when it comes to determining whether or not to use a certain program or idea. Admittedly, reason and emotion should be taken into account after Scripture, but equally, with neither having priority.
The tools recommended in chapter twelve (pages 236-238) did not have enough variety, in my opinion, to adequately determine the needs of a youth, particularly in teaching needs. Surveys—even anonymous ones—provided by the church to students are often going to produce results which portray what the students think the church wants to hear, rather than what they truly believe, as I have learned from personal experience. Rather, a variety of surveys—the online, Facebook, and paper surveys suggested—personal observation, interviewing parents, and studying the youth culture and environment ought to be used to determine what students most need at a certain point in time.
The primary application I have from this book is encouragement. Youth ministry, as the author explained numerous times, is not always easy, but persevering through the hard times pay off in the end, providing wisdom and experience for the future. I particularly appreciated learning how to enter a church and what to do upon receiving a job as a youth leader (chapter 14). I will certainly use the resource of chapter fifteen, which detailed when to stand up for something in a conflict, when to back down, and when to bow out. Many of the resources provided in this book, if not all, will be applicable to the ministry I am involved in throughout my life, in all youth ministry contexts.
The fact that the appendix resources not only listed common problems in the search for a youth leader from both the search committee and potential employee perspectives but also gave tips on how to succeed in both duties was an incredibly helpful source. The author was of course not concerned with denominational differences—although he did comment on the necessity of being aware of them—but on this matter one particular interview question caught my attention in Appendix A. The question was “Tell us about the last student you led to Christ.” Within the LCMS and many other denominations, it is acknowledged that we do not lead people to Christ. We are the tools used by the Holy Spirit, who guides and leads people to Christ. While my concern at this particular question may be an issue of semantics, I believe it is necessary for search committees and potential youth leaders to be aware that God receives full glory for every conversion which happens throughout someone’s ministry.
Duffy Robbin’s book Youth Ministry Nuts and Bolts is a great resource for any youth leader in almost any context. While it is not specific to one particular denomination, many of the resources can be adapted to fit the needs of a particular youth leader, volunteer, committee, group, senior pastor, or whoever may find him/herself ministering in a youth context.
You can find the newest version of this book at Zondervan Publishing for $16.99, or the original version used on Amazon as low as $0.01.