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Integrating Teenagers Into The Life Of The Church

October 30, 2015

One Body: Integrating Teenagers Into The Life Of Your Church by Sam Halverson. San Diego, CA: The Youth Cartel, 2014, 157 pp., $15.99, paper.

There has been a great deal of recent discussion in the youth ministry world about the failures of ministry models that utilize “silos”, “ghettos” and the “children’s table” to describe the disconnection between differing age groups within a churches congregation. Sam Halverson draws on his 30 years of youth ministry experience to widely explore this issue of generational integration with in the context of local church congregations drawn from the Methodist tradition.  Some element like denominational invitation and expectation that youth serve on church committees were fun but a bit outside some ecclesiastical traditions but the majority of the book was widely applicable across the spectrum of Christian traditions.

The book begins with a brief exploration of the broad historical development of youth ministry in North America that facilitated the drift toward a full orbed separation of age groups. This is contrasted with the picture if synergy and interrelationship painted by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. The ideal of youth ministry leaders who are hired to “build youth ministry programs that will draw youth” (p.32) is then investigated in light of the default definitions of youth ministry success as defined by numbers, growth and glitz in chapter 2. These arguments are reinforced and supported by recent published research like Sticky Faith and Dr. Amanda Drury’s Speechless: The Importance of Testifying in Passing on Adolescent Faith. This engagement with a broad spectrum of current works influencing the direction of discussions in the field of youth ministry is a key element of the books usefulness. An important idea rarely broached in this discussion is raised on page 46 under the heading Practice Learning. This is defined as participation in activities through the acts of intentional repetition “as a key part of faith education and development” (p. 47). The end results of this observation of modeling and a repeated practice expression of the practices is confidence and comfort as illustrated by hymn singing and prayer. This verbalization of faith is being seen as more and more critical in the process of faith formation.

Two additional useful elements are featured in chapter 5 titled, What’s Your Integration Factor? They include an online editable version and print version of an intergenerational evaluation survey. These would make for interesting tools to facilitate a class assignment. Also included is an outline of a face to face follow-up session on the issues of intergenerational ministry. Chapter 6 is predicated on the assumption that, “some of our most common youth ministry practices can also work against integrating our youth into the life of the church” (p.99) these “common assumptions” are presented and explored as seven stumbling blocks and pitfalls.

Beginning with chapter 7 and continuing through the books remaining 35 pages of the book the focus turns from “why” to programmatic ideas and strategies for integration. The suggestions are given not to merely mimic but to spark contextualized new thoughts about integrating students into the life of the church congregation. Some of these ideas are almost self-evident like involving students in “childcare” (p. 128), “church greeting” (p. 125) and “helping in the church kitchen” (p.132). Others like “College Connections (p137-139) have ideas not quite as familiar like college visitation trips. A rich collection of Endnotes on pages 154-157 allows the reader to connect with further interviews, video presentations and print resources to explore further on the ideas mentioned in the body of the book without disturbing the flow of the book.

The target audience of the book is set out as two fold. It is assumed that a ministry practitioner who is dedicated to the participating in the movement in youth ministry toward the integration of the youth into the life of the congregation will be the purchaser of the book. The book is also then designed to be shared with other leaders and ministry decision makers to convince them of the need to move forward in these directions and to provide intensely practical first steps to move in that direction. For undergraduate youth ministry students starting off on the journey of seeing their discipline as a sub-set of practical theology and experiencing the work of praxis as a feedback loop, seeing Biblical implications for ministry inform practice, practice then leading to theological reflection leading back to further engagement with the Scripture this book is a great beginning step. The book is clearly written in a conversational style and loaded with personal stories and illustrations that make it ideal for an 8-24 year old audience in undergraduate classes dealing with introductions of ministry models or foundational explorations of youth ministry practices, goals and ideals. This book would serve well as an introduction to the basic idea of integration of youth into a church as a standalone or it could also be used as a spring board to  discuss the developing dialog about the differences between what has been presented as intergenerational ministry and Chap Clarks “Adoption View of Youth Ministry” (Youth Ministry In the 21st Century, Baker Academic, 2015) which while building on similar theological pillars of relationship and Paul’s language of the Church as The Body of Christ then moves beyond individual connection points for individual students to a corporate  adoption model which seems to require a deeper rootedness than just having an adolescence known or interact while in ministry settings with adults but move to a connection at a familial level for all categories and ages of believers in a congregation.

Overall I really enjoyed reading the book. It provided an opportunity to reconnect and reevaluate values important to the emerging landscape of youth ministry best practices. I appreciate the focus on simple beginning action steps based on theological principles and Biblical models. It deserves serious consideration for use in ministry based and academic settings.

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