When youth work works

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Tactics for Teen Ministry by Scott Petty 

Tactics For Teen Ministry is a book that delivers exactly what the title promises: functional and pragmatic tactics for teen ministry.

Not that this book is purely pragmatics – no, the first chapter is a good summary of how any youth ministry philosophy must first be based on good biblical foundations.

Without needing to rehearse all the arguments in books that discuss the foundational issues in further detail, particularly Changing The World Through Effective Youth Ministry by Ken Moser,

Tactics for Teen Ministry states the case (with some deceptively innocuous but profoundly insightful soundbites) and then moves quickly to the nuts and bolts.

There are plenty of useful tips and wise advice, ranging from the more big-picture youth ministry structures and youth leader recruitment and training to the micro-particularities of running camps, leading small groups, managing main youth gatherings, writing youth talks and being effective with today’s various communication channels.

All of this is then punctuated with how-we-have-done-it examples from Scott’s experience at St Ives over the past decade or so (with seven appendices giving even more expanded and specific examples).

The personal examples are descriptive rather than prescriptive and are enlightening practical illustrations of these tactics in action – without the presumption of promising success if “you do what we did”.

Over and over again throughout the chapters, the resounding message is that our teen ministry tactics should all be for the purpose of producing wholehearted disciples of Jesus. Every meeting, every camp, every small group and every talk is for this purpose.

Yet as much as I agree with this goal, I began to wonder if we were going to see in this book that fatal flaw that rears its head in so many youth ministries: the presumption that youth leaders and youth ministry professionals are the only ones that can and should disciple young people. There are hints throughout the book of where older people and families come into the youth ministry picture, but the last chapter on families brings it all together. This is the chapter most important for senior ministers to read with their youth ministers so they can work out whole church consequences of ministering to teens without neglecting families.

Tactics for Teen Ministry is an ideal book for someone looking to start a youth ministry from scratch, or for someone with a few more runs on the board who wants the opportunity to look into someone else’s youth ministry and be pushed to reflect on their own practices. There was much in here that reaffirmed my own youth ministry practices yet also pushed me to think hard about what I am doing and what I am not doing.

One extra benefit of this book is that it documents a change in the way youth ministry in Sydney has evolved in the past 10 to 20 years. It’s a reflection of the influence of Youthworks College, the
Youthworks training division, of youth ministry authors like Ken Moser and Tim Hawkins and the everyday youth ministers who persevere in working out the practicalities of leading a God-honouring youth ministry based on biblical foundations.

Mike Dicker works as youth minister at All Saints’, Petersham.

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