Books: Tactics for teen ministry

Review of Tactics For Teen Ministry by Scott Petty, published by CEP/Youthworks.

First up, let me say how refreshing it is to read a book on leading a youth ministry by an Australian, for an Australian context. In his book Tactics for Teen Ministry, Scott Petty reflects on his personal journey of learning and developing as a youth pastor. It’s quite comprehensive and well structured, whether you’re new to youth leadership or have a few years of experience under your belt.

Petty covers the foundational elements to a youth ministry well – from defining and articulating the purpose, values and goals of your youth ministry through to Screen shot 2014-09-18 at 4.47.29 PMa strategy for communication with parents, young people in your ministry and leaders. It’s clear that these are all elements that he has worked through as well, and he scatters sections titled ‘how we have done it’ throughout the book that tells his story.

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Petty covers a number of challenges that are particularly unique to engaging Gen Z and their families, and he does it well. Issues like communicating with families, when there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ family nowadays, as well as connecting with non-Christian parents. He also has useful tips on navigating the online world youth inhabit in a positive way, as opposed to seeing it as a negative, distracting influence.

With any book that is essentially a youth leader’s handbook, what’s needed by the reader is the ability to contextualise it into their own unique youth environment. There is no ‘silver bullet’ manual for building the ‘best’ youth ministry. However, there are common principles, buy the bookapproaches and elements that are found in youth ministries that are healthy. If your natural gifts don’t include being highly structured and organised, there are some clear and simple suggestions that you’ll find really helpful in this book, likewise if you find it hard to shape a sermon or Bible study.

The book is very intentional in highlighting the importance of authentic relationships (with God and others). Petty addresses the tendency to be highly ‘attractional’ in youth ministry programs, when he writes:

When we as leaders think of evangelism, we tend to think of events. However, we’d be much better off thinking about youth evangelism in terms of relationships.”

Whether you’re a paid youth leader to 130 young people or a volunteer leader to 25 young people in a rural community, this focus on relationships needs to be foundational to your thinking, planning and implementation. Another element to effective discipling of young people that I feel is often missed in youth leadership books is the role of older mentors. Petty addresses this, and writes:

The implication for our youth ministries is very plain: if we attempt to raise mature young Christians without the influence of older Christians (be they parents or other older mentors), we will doom ourselves to failure in many instances.”

Petty draws on a number of research papers from America in his book, and though there are some similarities between American and Australian youth culture, there are also distinct differences. I would have liked him to draw on research conducted among young Australians, whether via McCrindle Research or Christian Research Australia.

There is a real need for youth leaders to be thinking practitioners – and practitioners who think. By that I mean leaders who are evaluating their ministry, and thinking about what they’re doing and why, and prayerfully refining (fine-tuning) things that require it, based on the hands-on ministry that they are doing. Any resource that can enable youth leaders to do this effectively is to be welcomed, and Petty’s book is one such resource.

Adrian Blenkinsop is National Youth Ministry Development Manager with Bible Society Australia. He edited a book in 2013 titled ‘The Bible According to Gen Z’.