Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Contemplative Youth Ministry

Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practising the Presence of Jesus with Young People by Mark Yaconelli, SPCK Publishing
ISBN-10: 0281057826 ISBN-13: 978-0281057825

It is not often in reading a youth work book that I find myself unable to put it down and making a mental list of all those youth workers that I need to urge to read it. But this is one of those books. The sheer naked honesty and humility of Mark Yaconelli's reflection on his failings and failures is refreshing and challenging. His candour allows the reader to drop all guards and listen openly to Mark's stark appraisal of youth work. Yaconelli highlights every youth worker's tendency to busyness and overwork not only as bad for practitioners but for the nature of the work itself.

"Unfortunately, for many young people the last place where they find people open and available is within churches. Instead of a listening ear, they find advice. Instead of a witness to their lives, they're offered programmes and activities." (p.5)

The assessment of the status quo in youth work may be challenging but the suggested response reflects that simplicity which is common to much true discipleship. It calls youth workers to focus on God and focus on the young people and their needs, challenging the demands of parents for youth work to help make young people "nice":

"It's so difficult for those of us in the Church to admit that Jesus can offer us another way of life - a way of life that's more than being a good citizen, more than obeying the law, recycling your garbage and attending church on Sunday. Although we try to ignore Jesus' life of passionate freedom and relationship, the witness of Jesus is not overlooked by the young."(p. 20)

The book not only reflects theologically on the nature of youth ministry but proposes tangible means to engage in a new contemplative style of ministry. It gives solid practical models for recruitment, for focussing the discussions of a meeting through group reflection and meditation, for recruiting leaders not out of desperation but through serious discernment and supporting all this with prayer (drawing on traditional forms such as lectio divina, centring prayer and the examen). It offers some wonderful stories of youth ministry, even in unusual places such as the work of a community of older people serving young people as adoptive grandparents (p.129).

Mark Yaconelli's book reminds all of us in youth ministry that it is not all about being the coolest one in the pack and putting on the best event in town, packed with young people.

"Contemplative youth ministry is about trusting unashamedly that God desires our presence more than our activity. It's about recognizing that, unless we find rest in God, we will continue to live lives that are harried, depleting, and a counter-witness to the life we seek to share among young people." (pp. 6-7).

Yaconelli manages all this in a concise, engagingly readable volume at an affordable price. It is a must read for all in youth ministry.

The book is now followed up with a deeper reflection of some places engaged in contemplative youth ministry Mark Yaconelli, Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry (SPCK Publishing, July 2007)

Reviewed By Sarah Brush

This book is available to borrow from the Department for Children, Youth and Education.

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