It would seem that recently its become popular to criticize where youth ministry has developed from. While I think there is much to learn from avoiding the mistakes of the past I do think a lot of the current rhetoric is not very helpful. I can't pull up my google reader with out being inundated with such attention grabbing headlines such as..."Youth Ministry Fails" or "6...7...8...10..out of every 10 students leave the church after youth ministry." (Barna's name is often thrown out with this stat. I can't say I have much respect for the man after reading some of the books he's attached his name to and would take issue with his research criteria for what constitutes a Christian.) While there is some truth to what these "academics" are saying I had yet to find anyone suggesting concrete ideas to address the issues beyond stop having fun and teach the Bible.
Enter: Giving up Gimmicks
*Disclaimer: I hold to a Reformed viewpoint of scripture an God's sovereignty.
I have to admit I was honestly worried that this book would be 150 pages of telling me I've done youth ministry wrong for the past 10 years and I need to repent and do things different if God was going to be pleased with my ministry. Luckily Cosby only takes the first chapter and some time near the end to explain why the old adage is true that "What you draw them with is what you draw them too." I appreciate his admittance near the end of the book that...
"The purpose of any ministry, any church, and all worship is the glory of God. How do you lead a youth ministry, then, that has the glory of God as its overarching purpose? Doug Fields lists five core purposes for building a youth program: evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry. But what I’m talking about is one step further. On the one hand, you can have entertaining evangelism, entertaining worship, entertaining fellowship, and so on. Not all entertainment is wrong. What is wrong is a ministry driven by entertainment. But on the other hand, you can have ministries of evangelism, worship, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry that find greater purpose in displaying the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. How you go about these five purposes that Fields mentions gets at the heart of the greater purpose of your youth ministry"(underling is mine for emphasis)
I believe that the entertainment debate boils down to a missional level. For a missionary to go to a culture that speaks Rundi and tries to communicate in English it's going to be a hard road. Youth ministry needs to use entertainment as a vehicle to communicate the Gospel of Grace. For us one of the most fruitful nights of the year is our "Yuck Worship Project" we play a bunch of entertainingly gross games and get really messy. Then as students are covered in goo I have an opportunity to share the gospel and how we are not just messy before God but we are dead before him. Christ doesn't merely just clean us up but he transforms us. We end the night with a great time of extended worship. You can read more about it here.
The meat of the book lands around the concept of "Means of Grace"...
THEOLOGY OF THE MEANS OF GRACE The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 154, asks: “What are the outward means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of his mediation?” Answer: “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to his church the benefits of his mediation are all his ordinances; especially the word, sacraments, and prayer; all of which are made effectual to the elect for their salvation.” The Westminster divines agreed that Christ builds up his church in many ways including various ordinances, but they highlighted God’s Word, the sacraments, and prayer.He continues to say that the church, working with the family, are to offer the transformational and sustaining grace of Christ though the means that he has given us. Namely scripture, prayer, and sacraments. It's refreshing to read this book and see references made to great theologians and historical orthodox Christian practices. I've personally been in the youth ministry world for some time and can say that I have not come across a book directed at youth ministers that grounds itself so firmly in rich reformed theology the blessings therein.
"God has called ministers and parents to supply his church with means through which he communicates grace and peace, love and forgiveness. God’s Word, the administration of the sacraments, prayer, service, and grace-centered community all provide a God-glorifying and biblical method of making disciples of Jesus Christ."