Review: Deep Ministry in a Shallow World

Sometimes we need to hear the same things again and again because we didn’t seem to listen to them the first time.  Chap Clark and Kara Powell team up to do just that: to tell you a few things that you probably already know, but maybe need to hear again about youth ministry.  All of this happens in their newest book, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World.  The subtitle says it all: “Not-So-Secret Findings About Youth Ministry.”

Clark and Powell are both quite respected in the world of youth ministry.  They serve at Fuller Theological Seminary, where Clark is a professor of youth, family, and culture and Powell is the executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry.  Each of them have authored widely read youth ministry books.  Clark and Powell aren’t just academics isolated in a university classroom, they are active in teens’ lives and are listening to what youth ministry leaders are saying.

Why would such accomplished authors write a book regurgitating everything we’ve already heard about youth ministry?  Because we need to hear it.  Many youth ministries still struggle to reach the youth in their communities with God’s redemptive love.  Not only are they often struggling and flailing, but sometimes they inadvertently work against their own ministry goals.

All ministries have their problems, but perhaps you feel that you are doing pretty well.  Kids are getting into the Bible, they are praying for each other, and you’re planning an amazing retreat/servant event/mission trip experience.  Maybe your programs are even growing. But (there is always a BUT, isn’t there?) perhaps you are tired.  You feel like you are doing everything and your leaders are just signing their name to it. Or maybe your youth come to events and programs, but they complain incessantly about worship or are living a different, darker life outside of the youth room. Maybe you have good leaders, good youth and good programs but the parents act like fire-breathing dragons on a regular basis. And maybe your youth ministry program feels like a muddy puddle of all of these things that, when taken together, leave you feeling just a bit shallow (boring, lacking, choose-your-own adjective).

Deep Ministry in a Shallow World is a guide to refreshing your ministry.  It starts at the status quo, otherwise known as your youth ministry.  Clark and Powell consider different aspects of youth ministry (teaching, parental involvement, missions, mentoring, etc.) and analyze them according to their Deep Design.

The Deep Design asks four main questions:  Now?  New?  Who?  How?  What are we doing now in our ministry?  What new insights does Scripture, research, and history bring?  Who is already going deeper in this area and what can I learn from them?  How can I apply what I’ve learned?  Each section of the book is written from this model.

I really appreciated the model’s Christ-centeredness.  The model’s visual companion actually holds a cross in its center.  The authors explain that it serves as “a reminder that we want all of our personal and ministry reflections to revolve around the model and grace of Christ…”  When you are refreshing your ministry, start by refreshing your heart by diving deeply into God’s Word.  Align your ministry hopes to the commissioning that God has sent us in Scripture and your practices to the life and deeds of Christ.

If you are looking for the latest greatest ideas in youth ministry, this book isn’t going to give it to you.  This book was written to remind you about the things you have already learned.  Personally, I jumped straight to the chapter on expectations (Why am I so tired all of the time and what can I do about it?).  That sounded like a question that I would ask and in the chapter I found answers that were reminiscent of lectures I heard in a classroom not too long ago.  Nevertheless, the reminders were heartfelt and helpful.  The writing is filled with real ministry experience, real blunders, and real moments of grace.

Deep Ministry in a Shallow World isn’t a must read for youth workers.  But it is a great companion to the must reads.  Sometimes we all need to be reminded of what we already know.

Published July 2, 2007

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