Lesser Known Books Every Youth Pastor Should Read

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I didn’t read a single book that had to to do with youth ministry for years after I graduated seminary. I thought I knew “enough” and, to be honest, I think I was a bit tired of reading and studying. Looking back, both I and the students I attempted to serve, paid dearly for that error.

Now, I’m always reading something.

Cultural revolutions, the changes and complexities in adolescent development, and teaching scripture in this shifting world all necessitate “preparing our minds for action” (I Peter 1:13).

Here’s a short list of books, broken down by category, that have been very significant to me in regards to how I approach my work as a student minister. Some of these are off the beaten path, and others you may recognize.

Social Media & Technology

From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology, by John Dyer. Given the role of social media in our own lives and in the lives of the teens with whom we work, a biblical understanding of technology is essential. Dyer does an amazing job biblically framing the idea that technology is neither good nor bad, but also not neutral.

Alone Together: Why We Expect More From Technology and Less From Each Other, by Sherry Turkle. Turkle is an MIT researcher, so she knows her stuff. This book is based on research of how emotional dependency on our devices changes the way we interact with each other, changes how parents interact with their kids, and changes how kids interact with each other.

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, by Danah Boyd. Why do teenagers prefer to text than to talk on the phone? Why are teenagers so addicted to their phones? The answers aren’t as simple as we’d like to think. Based on thousands of face to face interviews with teenagers, this book addresses many of the common beliefs about teenagers and technology, and then goes into further detail on those assumptions based on interviews and evidence from her conversations.

Adolescent Development

Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties, by Jeffery Arnett. Why read a book on emerging adulthood when you work with middle schoolers or high schoolers? This book will help you understand where your students are heading, the decisions they are facing, and it will give you developmental and sociological handles on why they face the challenges they do. Knowing these things has helped me prepare my students more effectively for the journey ahead.

Brainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain, by Daniel Siegel, MD. There are biological, psychological, and neurological reasons why teenagers do the things they do. Siegel distills some of the newest brain research into terms and ideas that youth pastors can use. Share them with parents and other adults and you’ll sound like a genius…and maybe get a raise.

Short-term Missions

Toxic Charity, by Bob Lupton, & When Helping Hurts, by Brian Fikkert & Steve Corbett. If you have been involved student ministries for any amount of time, you have probably done a short-term mission trip or two. These books will help you and your students to move beyond seeing these trips as experiences that merely teach “generosity” and “being thankful for our own possessions.” They are a fantastic resource to help youth pastors and leaders think critically about the unintentional actions of the short-term mission trips we lead and create.

Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry by Andy Root. We teach theology to our students in everything we do. Andy Root helps the reader think about what we are teaching theologically through our mission trips, and how they can be a critical component in making an ‘in-breaking’ of the Kingdom of God the primary goal.

Personal Care

In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership, by Henri Nouwen. Twenty-four years ago my lead seminary professor, Chap Clark, said this was the most important book we would read in seminary. This many years later, I still agree. In this book, Nouwen walks the reader through the temptation of Christ and invites ministry leaders to see those temptations as the same ones we face daily. In the Name of Jesus is a profoundly shaping and humbling book that I’ve re-read countless times in the last twenty-four years, and will continue to do so.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation & The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life, both by Parker Palmer. “As I teach, I project the condition of my soul onto my students, my subject and our way of being together.” The condition of our souls and the integrity of our being should be of profound importance to teachers, especially teachers of teenagers. To really teach, we must open ourselves up to others and risk vulnerability.

If haven’t read these…

…you need to! These books are essential reading for any youth minister.

Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, by Chap Clark

Sticky Faith: Everyday Ideas to Build Lasting Faith in Your Kids, by Kara Powell and Brad Griffin

Soul Searching, by Christian Smith

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andy Root

To learn more about gospel centered youth ministry, check out more articles from Rooted’s youth ministry blog. 

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