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Review: Growing Souls

If Mark Yaconelli’s Contemplative Youth Ministry was a book about practicing the presence of God in contemplative ways with youth, then Growing Souls, his subsequent book, is about practicing contemplation with adults who care about youth in your church. It is about the structure (or lack thereof) of a contemplative youth ministry.

Growing Souls doesn’t have the same innovative and captive spirit found in Contemplative Youth Ministry. However, it has a practical edge over the first book. It brings reality to the hows and whats of contemplative practices, leadership, and youth.

Mark Yaconelli brings a humanity to youth ministry in a manner that many other programmatic books fail to do. This is mainly attributed to the broad picture of youth ministry he paints. He doesn’t speak exclusively to his personal experiences, but to the experiences of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project participants. The participants represent the broad scope of youth ministries from large suburban churches in Texas to rural congregations in Indiana to multi-ethic churches in California.

Demographics weren’t the only difference between the congregations. The way the program took hold, went wayside, or morphed in each ministry setting was very different. Yaconelli doesn’t shy away from talking about the churches who weren’t ready for the project, who didn’t have support for the project, or who ultimately changed the focus from youth ministry to another area. His stated purpose is to “deepen and expand the conversation regarding contemplative youth ministry” (pg. 13), not prove that his way is the only or best way. Through the stories of real churches, real youth workers, and real youth who experienced the project, he exposes the great opportunity that lies in presence-centered youth ministry. Even in apparent failure, project participants paint a picture of deeper understanding of their faith life and a hopeful future.

As Yaconelli focused on the adults who care for the youth in the church, he frees the congregation to serve the needs of youth. The focus is shifted from entertaining and distracting teens from the anxieties in their lives to welcoming the presence of God into the lives of those praying for and leading youth, for the youth of the church, and the congregation as a whole.

Growing Souls might not meet you in your place in youth ministry, but if you’ve read Contemplative Youth Ministry and are considering the possibilities of a deeper level of spiritual leadership in your ministry, Growing Souls has a place in your ever-growing pile of books to read.

Published November 5, 2008

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