David Olshine’s recent book Youth Ministry: What’s Gone Wrong and How to Get It Right presents practical tips for solving what he sees as significant problems in contemporary youth ministry.
Each of the twelve chapters is devoted to a single problem that Olshine has observed, such as the neglect of the parental role in faith formation, poor training for volunteers, and Biblical illiteracy among youth. Olshine explains his thoughts on how each problem developed then offers information and ideas for remedying it.
The author is careful to offer scriptural references to support his convictions about how youth ministry should be engaged. For example, in his chapter on parental involvement, he notes the Shema and surrounding text in Deuteronomy, which according to Olshine indicates that it is primarily the parents’ role to guide their children in faith formation.
However, relatively few other references are employed, so readers looking for a heavily research-based book on improving youth ministry might be disappointed. Olshine bases his assertions primarily on his own experiences and interviews with teens and youth leaders.
He includes numerous quotes from both paid and volunteer leaders as well as youth. However, readers are given little help in advancing their knowledge beyond this book, as it lacks a bibliography that might provide further support for Olshine’s ideas and more resources for readers.
Youth Ministry is very accessible and easy to read, and Olshine offers some practical information that volunteers in particular might not encounter elsewhere. For example, in his chapter on working with families, Olshine provides an introduction to the most pertinent bits of family systems theory. Such information is rarely covered in volunteer training but can be invaluable in ministry with youth and their families.
Overall, Olshine highlights some important issues for youth ministers to consider. While not all chapters will resonate with the leaders of every youth program, at least a couple of Olshine’s concerns are likely on the mind of the average youth minister, and his solutions offer a starting point for discussions addressing these concerns.
As such, this book could be an especially useful resource for leaders seeking to evaluate or revision their youth ministry.
Olshine questions many of the common assumptions of youth ministry in American churches and offers practical ideas for stepping outside of those established patterns in order to minister more effectively with youth.
Kristen Pitts (@krinipi) is an M.Div. middler at Virginia Theological Seminary.