Review: A New Kind of Youth Ministry

Unfortunately, I started reading A New Kind of Youth Ministry with a pair of darkly shaded rose-colored glasses. The title makes me cringe. I don’t have decades of veteran experience in youth ministry, but I have enough life experience to resonate with the author of Ecclesiastes. He states in Ecclesiastes 1:9 that “there is nothing new under the sun.” I don’t really care for new things or old things. I care for things that are God-serving and God-pleasing. As I read the book, I found that the title doesn’t really describe the book. Author Chris Folmsbee doesn’t present a new kind of youth ministry; he presents the emerging church’s version of what youth ministry might look like.

I am not anti-emerging church. Yet neither am I pro-emerging church. I am for Christ’s Church and the Word directed form it takes in the culture where He’s placed me. For this reason, I found A New Kind of Youth Ministry simultaneously challenging, impractical, irritating, and exciting. If nothing else, Folmsbee is consistent. He is clearly postmodern. He is clearly a representative of the ideals of the emerging church.

After the first chapter, I shed my deeply shaded rose-colored glasses and was excited to read Folmsbee’s insightful treatment of the emerging church’s plans for youth ministry. What I ended up reading was an impractical diatribe against the current state of youth ministry. Folmsbee winds his way through all of the problems of our youth ministries. He describes frustrating experiences from his former congregations (growing unsettled by the number of congregations it seemed Folmsbee served.) He struck me as a bit of a loose canon, whose wife often needed to swoop in to save the day. As he related his attempts to integrate his round peg ideas into square hole churches, he seemed flippant towards the operating norms of the congregation. The result is a work that doesn’t meet youth workers in their large suburban churches or their small traditional rural congregations or their struggling urban ministries. His ideas, though poignant and interesting, seem to be developed for youth ministries that exist in a vacuum.

The principles behind A New Kind of Youth Ministry are fraught with problems and challenges. Firstly, the author operates from a theological perspective strikingly different from Lutheran teachings. This is a common reality in most youth ministry literature, but it was more evident to me in this book. In an early chapter on discipleship, I repeatedly stopped reading and wrote questions out to discuss with my pastor. Folmsbee’s focus is clearly on restoration and what he terms “positional and practical sanctification.” He mentions the “process of salvation” and the relativity of sanctification for each believer. While I don’t disagree with the statement that Christ works grace in our lives, I was uncomfortable with some of the implications Folmsbee drew from his perspective on the process of grace interceding in our lives. As I read this book, I was continually struck by how much this difference affected my perspective (compared with his) on how youth ministry should be carried out.

Folmsbee views secular culture and desires to make the Church and its youth ministry relevant to those living in its domain. He disregards current church culture and chalks up resistance to change and his ideas as a sign of death and irrelevancy. His solution to this conflict during his ministry seemed to be to leave the congregation he was serving. While that is an obvious oversimplification of his process in ministry, I was repeatedly frustrated by his lack of concern for the existing operations and traditions of the congregation. He didn’t seem to care if a church or youth ministry was steeped in tradition. From his vantage, it was wrong and he was going to change it. If the church didn’t like it, he would leave.

I can’t adhere to this style of ministry. I can’t toss the traditions of a church and youth ministry out the window upon my arrival at a new church and expect members to listen to my ideas about how the ministry should be done. Giving up on the Church accomplishes little. We are called to work within the Church, teaching its members and reaching those outside.

Unfortunately, I found A New Kind of Youth Ministry to be rather irrelevant in my ministry situation. Many of the problems that Folmsbee discusses exist within my ministry. Yet, he skips the bridge and its solutions and leaves the reader with a sense of abandon in amending the situation. I don’t need another book telling me I have problems in my youth ministry. I don’t need another “What I did wrong in youth ministry before I became a CEO of this company? PS: Buy my stuff” book. I need a book that focuses me on giving and receiving Christ in youth ministry. And didn’t find that in this read.

Published August 31, 2007

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