One of my favorite blogs to follow on Catholic Youth Ministry is written by Christopher Wesley, the director of student ministry at Church of the Nativity in Timonium, Maryland. I was privileged to meet Chris for the first time this last December and learn about his new book which was published on March 9th.
Before I talk about the book, I must mention that Ave Maria Press is actually sponsoring a little giveaway of this book through our website. If you would like a free copy, click here for your chance to win!
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I got the review copy of the book. I don’t know a lot about Chris, and I have only skimmed through the Rebuilt books. I am familiar with Chris’ writing through his blog, but that is about it. Most of what I have heard about what Church of the Nativity is doing is through online forums and such, which typically don’t speak about the youth ministry there. In short, I was very curious.
As the title of the book implies, the content covers ten strategies for youth ministry in parishes. It is broken into three sections: Answering the Call, Building a Foundation, and Planning for the Long Haul. Chris does an excellent job of taking a look at youth ministry through the lens of leadership, strategy, vision, etc. I strongly believe that one of the biggest holes we have in the Church today is a lack of leadership and strategic planning, and Chris gives a ton of practical insights for how to set up a youth ministry model that is structurally healthy and provides balance to the position of the youth minister.
My favorite part of the book was Chapter 9 where Chris writes about how to ask the right questions. The first question that he proposes we ask is “How Does The Parish See Youth Ministry?” He goes on to talk about the tension that may exist because of a perception some have and how the perception alone may be cause for a lack of interest from the youth and the parents in the parish. We must strive to be aware of how the youth ministry in our parishes is perceived so that we can more appropriately engage each person in the parish where they are. This, along with strategies for finding and supporting volunteers, creating an atmosphere that is attractive to youth, and learning to build a trusting and valuable relationship with your pastor and other parish staff are all greats components for anyone in youth ministry. Chris tackles each one of these in this book.
On the flip side, if we are really looking at “rebuilding” something, it’s essential to make sure our foundation is strong. While this book is probably one of the best I have read regarding good structures and balance in ministry, it doesn’t really give much insight into what direction the Church gives about our aim and approach for achieving it. The Church is the foundation and the rock from which we must build our ministries. This foundation and mission are given to us through the Church, the Holy Father, and the local bishop and are articulated well in the great treasury of documents we find in the Church today. If we are to rebuild youth ministry, we must be actively listening to and engaging in what the Church, especially through the Holy Father and the local Bishop, are asking us to do. The only mention of the Diocese in the book is regarding Safe Environment or other policies. When rebuilding anything, everyone should take the time to ensure the proper foundation is set in place first.
I am not implying that I think Church of the Nativity has not done this already, but I wish I would’ve seen it articulated in the book (and maybe it’s in the other books that I haven’t read yet!).
Overall, I think it’s a good read for anyone involved in or wanting to get involved in starting a youth ministry program. As the title states, it is really ten strategies that you can do with what you want. In regard to how it aligns with Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry, I just didn’t see much in the book that reflects the vision laid out in our site, but that doesn’t mean that what they are doing is not effective. Discipleship Focused Youth Ministry is one model for building a youth ministry…there are many!
On a scale of 1-10, I recommend you buy it and read it (yes that was intentional!), especially if you are new to youth ministry or you are using a traditional youth group model and are looking for ways to improve it.
I would love to dialogue about any parts of the book and the takeaways for those of you in our Facebook group. Please join the discussion there if you would like!
If you would like to buy a copy of the book, you can get it on Amazon here.