Alison and David Booker (Editors)
ISBN 9780715140604 (0715140604)
Church House Publishing, 2007 (208pp)
This is a great book! It is nicely designed, clear, full of case studies, and the chapters are short and readable. Though written by a number of contributors, the sections flow together well. It will be tremendously useful for anyone working with young people – whether full time, volunteers, or on the occasional holiday club or beach mission.
I have to admit, at first sight I was sceptical – the cover image is stereotypically annoying, the usual fear-inducing perception of young people that frequently appears in secular and Christian literature. The book itself makes it clear that young people aren’t all heavily-pierced, with weird hairstyles – and even if they are, God loves them and we’ve got to reach them. I write as a fairly normal looking young person!
I found the advice applies to all Christians who want to make their faith work in everyday life. For example, Neville Willerton and Matt Brown both point out the importance of adequate training for all youth workers, including the need for young people to be trained to reach out to their friends, something that applies to all Christians. (How many of us feel ill-prepared in explaining Gospel truths to those we meet?) How much youth work really encourages young people to get out into the world to tell their friends about their faith? David Booker points out in the Postscript, we have to work with, not for, young people; we have to let them get things wrong at times – but even better, teach us things.
The central message of Young People and Mission is that God has given young people great ideas, plans and aspirations, and everyone loses out if older people do not embrace them. For example, let’s inspire and be inspired by the attitudes of the young people we spend time with towards issues such as the environment and global poverty. Two excellent chapters by Martyn Lings and Martin Parks respectively show this. Alison Booker challenges us to use a spoken language which young people can understand. Debbie Orriss urges people to go into schools, getting involved with young people in places where they spend so much time. Diana Greenfield and Helen Dearnley write how this will get people out of the comfort zone. But as this is where the young people God wants to reach are to be found, get on with it!
The book contains challenges! Matt Elsey’s inspiring chapter on starting youth work from scratch offers common-sense advice on working full-time in Christian activity. It is important to put our relationship with God over and above the time we give to others for there is no value in burning out. David Booker’s chapter on gap years was refreshingly optimistic but serious about the need for youth workers to assess which programmes are best. Nicholas Shepherd’s assessment of big short-term mission events is very important – big missions and conferences are often a young person’s spiritual lifeline, but long-term young people have to learn to live a relationship with Jesus every day, not one week in fifty-two! Youth workers need to be in their work for the long haul, going through pain, despondency and rejection, but also love, enthusiasm and enjoyment. What young people need most, more than any exciting schemes or technical wonders, is the love of Christ demonstrated through someone’s love for them, a listening ear, practical service, with space to work through questions and troubles. We serve them, not expect them to fit our pre-planned goals.
Young People and Mission is very Anglican. In a world where denominations are not so clearly defined, less use of explicitly Anglican terminology would have been helpful. The chapters varied in their Bible content. It doesn’t hurt to model consistent Bible use especially as young people’s knowledge and use of the Bible is often thin! And a chapter on bringing young people to a conscious faith in Jesus was sadly missing. The editors argued in the introduction that this topic was excluded because much was already available on the topic. But there were no references to this apparently extensive material at the end of the chapter or in the endnotes. A book claiming to be a practical guide on young people and mission ought to have as its focus how young people can be brought to a relationship with Jesus Christ and discipled along the way. This is surely what we want above all: all other mission activity comes under this great purpose.
Despite this significant omission, this book provides a number of inspiring and illuminating ways in which to bring the saving and redeeming faith we have to young people’s lives in ways that they can understand. I can’t wait to put it into practice in the mission I am on next week!
Louisa Willoughby, August 2008
Louisa Willoughby graduated from Cambridge University in 2008. She now lives in Berlin working with IFES, the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students.