Most people in the youth ministry world are at least vaguely aware of recent research from both the National Study of Youth and Religion and the College Transition Project that suggests the faith we're cultivating in teens is not consequential and long-lasting, but rather superficial.
Even so, despite having a vague understanding of this research, most youth workers struggle with applying it to their context.
Knowing this, I greatly appreciated Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker: A Manifesto of Integration. In this book, veteran youth worker April Diaz shares her congregation's journey in applying this research to it's context. This book is, in many ways, a case study of April's congregation. Even so, it is widely applicable to other contexts because of the way in which April details her congregation's journey in a step-by-step process. As a result, this book becomes not just an example of what her church did, but a field guide for how other churches – including yours - might implement similar changes by examining research findings & comparing “them to your own reality, asking questions, creating new language within your leadership & youth ministry, and redefining what success looks like.”
For April's congregation, this journey resulted in a radical paradigm shift in both it's philosophy and practice of youth ministry. Among other things, having realized that “If the youth ministry's vision and practical experience are completely different from that of the whole church, then we're essentially giving our teenagers a bait & switch,” eventually April's congregation decided to hire a “Student Integration Pastor” rather than another “Youth Pastor”.
Throughout this book, where April shines most is in the way she recounts leading her congregation through change with such honesty & vulnerability. As a result of this, though April is a wise, veteran youth worker, rather than feel as though you're being lectured by a talking head, reading this book instead feels as though you're chatting about ministry with a dear friend over coffee and garnering bits of wisdom along the way. Having successfully led her congregation through change, April certainly has much wisdom to share about that process. For example, she reminds us that “Change starts with leadership,” “Systematic change takes a long time,” and that “If you're not experiencing resistance, you probably aren't leading change.”
This book is a quick read, and as a result, perfect for a discussion among any church staff or volunteer team hoping to put the findings from recent research studies into practice in their own congregations.
At the start of her book, April says, “We desperately rely on our Village – friends & family – to help us in this mighty calling, because we are painfully aware of our inadequacies & limitations.”
April has indeed written a book that will help her Village – the church - to redefine not just the role of the youth worker, but the practice of this “mighty calling” we call youth ministry.