Youth Ministry Nuts & Bolts
by Duffy Robbins
Zondervan/Youth Specialties 2010
Attempting to cover the length and breadth of any subject is a daunting task. Duffy Robbins, youth ministry guru and professor at Eastern University, came around for a second pass as he presented his 2010 up-dated edition on youth ministry. Generally speaking, Robbins is up for the task.
Lutheran readers of this book will note the distinctly decision theological assumptions made by the author, which is commonplace in youth ministry publications. Further, it is assumed from Robbins’ background that youth ministry will be done by youth pastors who may or may not have been seminary trained expressly for youth ministry. As Robbins is light on theological reflection and heavy on practice, discerning readers will easily be able to detect these assumptions and provide their own translation into the context of youth ministry in the Lutheran tradition.
Robbins organizes his thinking around a four-part progression that matches the flow of youth workers through the development of their ministry:
1. Design
2. Laying the Foundation
3. Construction
4. Maintenance
Using Mark 2:1-12, Robbins connects in creativity the four friends who, when they were not able to bring their paralytic friend in through the front door to Jesus, made access available through the roof to the manner in which youth workers creatively bring youth to Christ (not here a subtle example of decision theology). In this way Robbins discusses youth ministry as a healing ministry as youth are healed from the impact of sin. He breaks down the task of youth ministry into four components: 1) Planning, 2) Leadership, 3) Team Ministry and 4) Equipment. Gearing his book for both the professional and volunteer youth worker, Robbins concludes with a good breakdown of the distinction between a vocation and a career for the professional as well as encouragement for volunteers to consider the distinct calling they have as well.
Robbins’ second section, Laying the Foundation, is where I see the book’s biggest weakness. He deals with our heart and passion for ministry; the need for excellence to our craft; organizational skills needed to attend to our time and the time of others in our ministry; and casting a vision for our ministry. What lacks is a depth of theological reflection that I believe to be necessary when one considers the impactions of our task in communicating the faith to emerging generations. In recent years the field of youth ministry has been growing up and deepening its concern with the theological distinctions of the various traditions that labor in the vineyard. Robbins seems to miss this almost entirely. Perhaps the completion of the update of this book may have preceded some of the more substantive treatments on theology in youth ministry that has appeared, but with the work of Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean, as well as journals such as The Journal of Youth Ministry and the Journal of Youth and Theology, pushing forward this conversation, the lack of even a substantive nod to the need for serious theological reflection stands in stark relief.
The remaining two sections of the book provides a truly impressive breadth of topics and sound advice on how to construct and maintain one’s youth ministry program. Robbins touches on staff relations, decision making, budget planning, team building, volunteer management, ministry evaluation, conflict management and more with great knowledge and wisdom. This is the true core and best rationale for reading and retaining this text as a resource. The critical day-in and day-out skills necessary for success in youth ministry are well covered by Robbins. Those basic skills that some students planning to become Directors of Christian Education assume will form in the background of their relationship building ministry plans are the same skills that youth board chairpersons and senior pastors assume as default prerequisite skills. Having a good handle on the skills presented by Robbins may well help prevent early departure from ministry due to this conflicting understanding of the central tasks of youth ministry.
The final chapters of the book could have been their own addendum but were included in the maintenance section of Robbins’ structure. Here he walks youth workers through the finding of a position, leaving a position with grace and how to approach youth ministry long-term rather than just when the youth worker is young.
When reviewing how to find a position, Robbins touches ever so briefly on theological compatibility, but fails to unpack the implications of this aspect of a position search. Robbins spends far more time on differences in one’s philosophy of ministry, which touches again on one’s theology, but does so in such a way that theology takes a lesser role in the conversation.
Robbins’ discussion on how to leave a position with grace and dignity is a must-read. When leaving a ministry position, far too much damage can be done that should be avoided, even when one leaves under duress. Robbins rightly points to a bigger picture view of ministry beyond the individual worker in offering this corrective advice.
Talking with prospective students considering youth ministry leads me to appreciate all the more Robbins’ words on how one transitions in ministry as one grows older. Like Robbins himself, I have known many great youth workers who remain vibrant and gain influence in the lives of youth as they age. Casting a vision to young youth workers to think in terms of a lifelong youth ministry vocation is a great way to draw Youth Ministry Nuts & Bolts to a conclusion.
Despite some weaknesses, Robbins has again presented a volume on the breadth of the practice of youth ministry that is worthy of prime shelf space in our offices. Young Directors of Christian Education and youth workers would do well to pick up a copy.