Book Review: Remodeling Youth Ministry

NOTE: This book review was written for the Helwys Society Forum.

img_0086“For too long, YFM (Youth and Family Ministry) has suffered from pragmatic solutions to eternal problems,” concludes Talbot. For the past forty years, the goal of youth ministry has been to gain students through entertainment. The time has come for a reformation and a remodeling of youth ministry. In Remodeling Youth Ministry, Christopher Talbot does an exceptional job of communicating the need to return to a Biblical model for youth ministry.

About the Author

Talbot teaches Youth and Family Ministry and serves as campus pastor at Welch College. He is Pastor of Youth and Family at Sylvan Park Free Will Baptist Church. Talbot serves as Assistant Managing Editor for the D6 Family Ministry Journal, contributor for the Helwys Society Forum (thehsf.com), and writer for RootedMinistry.com. Chris and his wife Rebekah live with their two sons in Gallatin, Tennessee.

Review

Part one focuses on three components: the Biblical view of youth ministry, the purpose of youth ministry, and the reason for remodeling youth ministry. In answer to whether youth ministry is Biblical, Talbot answers both yes and no rather than one or the other. He gives reasons for and against youth ministry from a Scriptural perspective. Talbot believes it unbiblical to have a youth ministry segregated from the local congregation. However, God has used children and teenagers to accomplish His will through the ages. The author gives many examples in the Old and New Testaments of young men who were used by God for Kingdom work.

If we have a Biblical view of ministry, we cannot separate youth from the corporate life of the church. It is all too easy to aim for numbers or “notches on our baptism belt,” but the true purpose of youth ministry (or any local church ministry) should be the glory of God. Instead of segregating them from the church, Talbot argues for the inclusion of youth in the ministry in the local church. For youth ministry to achieve its purpose, it cannot be ignored and become a lesser priority.

In part two, Talbot explores remodeled youth ministry’s mission, ministry, evangelism and apologetics, and discipleship. He gives three ways in which we can create missional teenagers: “[T]hey must continually think on the supremacy of Christ, not only in their own lives but also in the entire cosmos,” “they must understand the gospel in light of the full story of Scripture,” and “they must understand how the gospel applies to every dimension of the Christian life.”

Having a means-of-grace ministry is one that focuses on the means by which God has revealed Himself to us. Talbot explains, “God works through these means because He has ordained them for the building of the church.” While entertaining activities can get the students into our churches, Talbot believes it more necessary to give students what they need spiritually than what appeals to their consumer sense. He offers Acts 2:42 as a guideline to correctly apply the means of grace to your youth ministry.

Talbot offers a different approach to apologetics than simply offering proof texts or points of interest for Christianity. Instead, he notes that we should lead our youth to form a worldview. Our youth’s understanding of their worldview will improve their evangelistic efforts as they stay true to their mission (chapter four). The goal is to have such a clear grasp on the Christian worldview that youth can defend their faith while presenting the good news of the gospel to unbelieving friends. Talbot explains that hearing the gospel will call you first to believe rather than belong, though belonging follows. As adopted sons and daughters of God, the Church has family in its DNA.

Talbot outlines the call for generational discipleship (Deut. 6:4-9) and the New Testament exhortation to parents and children (Eph. 6:1-4). Although the family should be the main method of discipleship for youth, Talbot remarks, “This truth doesn’t mean that we denigrate youth groups.” What about those whose families are unbelievers? Talbot offers three ways of intergenerational discipleship that includes all students: shepherding groups, father-son/mother-daughter activities, and intergenerational activities.

Part three details the process of building a youth ministry that lasts and deals with four areas: change, teaching, technology, and rest. To successfully bring about change in youth ministry, Talbot argues that the youth pastor should lead change on the foundation of Sola Scriptura:“Change fails in youth ministry because we lack a good foundation.” Relating change to a trellis and vine, youth ministry should aim to have one goal: bearing fruit from the vine. Vines do not produce fruit overnight. “If you want your ministry to experience healthy change,” Talbot writes, “the best path forward is a slow, consistent, sustainable one.” One of the ways to keep a strong foundation for change is to stay true to teaching God’s Word. The writer emphasizes that correct exegesis and exposition is essential to teaching the Scripture as a book that points to Christ.

Talbot also offers some guidance for youth pastors ministering in the digital age. Technology has overtaken generations and cultures around the world, and it has separated people from the real world. He notes, “Media can reorient the way that a student thinks, but it can also weaken their mental capacities. . . . Katherine Hayle states, ‘I can’t get my students to read whole books anymore.’” The crux of the matter is the distraction of media. The solution to this problem is to encourage students to be enamored with the grandeur of God: “We don’t want them to settle for fickle, passing pleasures but too long for the joy of eternity that exists in God alone.”

Talbot ends his work with a plea to find rest in Christ. Americans live hectic lives that never seem to halt for rest. Youth pastors are no different. Talbot exhorts his readers to place his hope in the gospel and then to rest. “We can rest in ministry because we know that our works don’t save us. No matter how many calls I make, activities I schedule, or lessons I teach, none of them save my soul; they are but a response of gratitude to the one who did.” By making rest one of our priorities, we are giving God glory and admitting we are not in control, which is imperative in youth ministry.

Analysis

Remodeling Youth Ministry is a must read for all youth pastors for several reasons. First, it is well-conceived and well-researched. Talbot stays on task by supporting his presuppositions clearly to his readers. Second, it features a youth pastor writing to other youth pastors. Talbot is no stranger to youth ministry and gives youth pastors pertinent issues for consideration. Third, it deals with issues that are not tied to trends and fads. The subjects Talbot works through will remain until Christ returns. The “remodels” in the book will timelessly impact youth ministry.

Fourth, Talbot gives remodeling tips in each chapter. Not only has Talbot given his views on certain issues, but he has also sought wisdom from other youth pastors to relay to his readers. Fifth, Talbot understands the gospel as first importance. I was impressed when he humbly stated, “This book is a vapor in the wind compared to the eternal good news of Jesus Christ”; that speaks volumes. Last, this book is a great resource for the veteran youth pastors or the youth pastor who’s been in ministry for a lesser amount of time.

Conclusion

I highly recommend Remodeling Youth Ministry to anyone who is in or considering youth ministry as the calling on his or her life. This book offers great advice that can be implemented in every context of youth ministry. If you’re new to youth ministry, use this book as a resource on how to structure your ministry. If you’re a veteran youth pastor, use this book as an opportunity to reassure you of your calling and your importance to the local church.

You can buy Talbot’s book at the link below:

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