About four years ago, my student leaders suggested our youth ministry begin hosting book clubs. They wanted a time outside of our regular youth ministry gatherings to come together and discuss interesting books.
As someone who loves to read, I could hardly say no to such a request.
So we started hosting books clubs – typically on a Sunday evening at my house over dinner. Truthfully, I never dreamed that four years later they'd still be in existence.
We held our latest book club at my house last night. We sat around my living room discussing A Long Way Gone – a fire roaring in the fireplace, the Christmas tree in the corner, and a candle lit on a table.
What amazes me most about these discussions is that in the four years they've been in existence, I've never once led one. With one exception, I've also not chosen the books we've discussed.
Instead, the way book clubs have worked for us is that one of my high school teens will come to me and say, “Have you heard of this book? I just read it and I think it would make for a really good discussion. Could we do it as a book club?”
To which I'll say, “Sure, if you lead it.”
Though sometimes that's taken some convincing, each time, the teen in question has eventually agreed.
We then work together to schedule the discussion. After the discussion is scheduled, I order a bunch of copies of the book so that teens in our youth ministry can check it out and read it. Finally, I'll coach the teen who's leading the discussion in how to write their discussion questions and facilitate the conversation.
Using this format, we've discussed a wide variety of books over the last four years including The Hunger Games, Blue Like Jazz, The Irresistible Revolution, and Looking for Alaska. Clearly, not all of these books are Christian – a choice which is deliberate on my part.
Allowing non-Christian books to be the focus of our discussion gives myself and our other adult leaders the opportunity to enter the world of teens and see how culture is influencing them. It allows us to become part of conversations they're having anyway. What's more, by working with the student who's leading the discussion, we can infuse faith into those conversations. After all, if all truth is God's truth, then regardless of where we find that truth, we need not be afraid of it.
Because teens choose the books, the book clubs we've had have been consistently well-attended. Since they're student-led, they also have a great deal of energy behind them. Teens want to come because their friends are leading it.
What's more, the conversations at these book clubs have been incredibly rich. Take last night. Talking about A Long Way Gone enabled us to explore tough issues like child soldiers and refugees before wrestling with what we as individuals and a community of faith can do about these issues.
Without a doubt, book clubs have proven valuable to our youth ministry and the faith formation of teens. That's why, as long as teens keep coming to them, we'll keep having them.
The only question is what we'll discuss next.