I have a not-so-secret contempt for books that talk at the reader. Books that tell you everything that is wrong and why you should be fixing it and how this person and that person is doing it better than you. This is the core the self-help book market. It’s frustrating to me as an avid reader because I want to talk with the author. I want to talk about the material. I want to read the research and the author’s assessment. I want to make my own assessment. 

A book is a conversation, not a tool for condescension.

Mark Oestreicher’s Youth Ministry 3.0 embodies the conversation model of ministry books. His book is revolutionary not only in content, but also in style. Oestreicher runs a blog (ysmarko.com) that he used as a sounding board for his thoughts and ideas for this book. Blog readers who commented on his inquisitive posts shaped and affirmed his writing and he then included their commentary throughout the book. This type of book would not have been possible ten years ago. It represents a major shift in the way youth ministry is resourced–from top-down publishing house and denominational presses informing the parish worker to youth ministers creating and contributing material from their local ministry to share en masse. The resourcing shift isn’t surprising considering the parallel decentralization in almost every other avenue of communication in the 21st century. Yet Marko’s book is of the first printed books in the youth ministry field to widely embrace social media as a means of resourcing. Social media addicts everywhere are rejoicing.

For those of you who are still in love with the printed and bound word, Youth Ministry 3.0 reaches you without making you feel like you are 35 miles behind the pack. It is, after all, a book.

Youth Ministry 3.0 finds its purpose early within its pages. Marko says, “I’m hoping to describe what I’m seeing and experiencing and feeling about where we need to go so we can continue being true to our calling” (p. 26). He’s in the position to hear the voices of thousands of youth workers, and so his thoughts on the future are valuable and weighty. Before speaking of the future, he walks the reader through a history of youth culture with a simple framework. He looks at the three tasks of adolescence–identity formation, autonomy, and affinity–and traces the emphases that youth culture (and thus, youth ministry) has placed on different tasks. He skillfully honors the past and fuels a fire for change.

A recent study reported that Christianity is the self-identified religion of 10% less of the adult population in the United States than 18 years ago.1 It is easy to see why youth workers are clamoring for a renewed vision for youth ministry. Youth workers desperately want to bring their faith to teens and families in their community, and what we’ve been doing is not working. We need a new vision for youth ministry. We need a new way to bring Christ’s redemption to His people. YM3.0 brings shape to that vision.

Marko’s vision is exceptional in that he casts one so lightly; he doesn’t force a vision but rather provides a context for creating your own vision. He makes it clear that each ministry has to be as unique as the people who embody it. He places expectations on the youth workers not to be cutting edge, but to be cognizant of their particular surroundings, to be connected to the people they serve, and most importantly, to be grounded in Christ’s mission on earth–bringing mercy and grace into places of pain and sin. Latest and greatest is out. Down to earth (as in Christ came down to us, let’s live/speak/serve/forgive as he did) and connected is in.

A short read, YM3.0 isn’t the end of the story. It doesn’t purport to have all of the answers, but encourages a process of discernment to find them. Marko doesn’t propose a model that works in every situation, but gives permission for a potpourri of youth ministry models. He invites the reader to engage in the conversation. You can join the conversation with other youth workers online on his blog, ysmarko.com, and other youth ministry blogs or here on thEsource. I look forward to hearing from you. But most importantly, I hope a reading of YM3.0 will put you in conversation with the people in your ministry, youth, parents, and adults. They are the ones that matter.

1 American Religious Identification Survey 2008. March 2009. The Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture.  12 March 2009. http://www.americanreligionsurvey-aris.org/