Category Archives: Books

Get a FREE Copy of Relationships Unfiltered by Andrew Root


Below is a message from Andrew Root, Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, and author of the books Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, Relationships Unfiltered, The Promise of Despair, and The Children of Divorce.


Hello Youth Ministry friends, I’m sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog reading, but I have broken transmission to offer you an opportunity.

I wanted to get before you the chance to get a free copy of my book Relationships Unfiltered. As the new school year approaches and you think about volunteer leader meetings and trainings I would like to suggest you take a look at Relationships Unfiltered. It’s written just for this setting with discussion questions and chapters filled with illustrations and stories–but also promises to get you and your team thinking theologically about your core practice this coming school year: forming relationships with young people.

Here’s what I can do: If you’ll email me ( I’ll send you a free copy of the book so you can look it over and decide if it would be of help to you and your volunteers. If you’re interested in using it you can then go to or and type in the code 980752 in the “source code” box. Starting August 1 this will give you a 40% discount on as many books as you’d like.

And I’ll also offer this, if you do use the book with your team, I’m willing to do a select number of skype or ichat conversations with you and your team after getting through the book.

- Andrew Root


I bought a copy for all my small group leaders, so the 40% off offer is possibly a great way to save on a quality resource. If you do not have this book, you should at least take up the offer on the free book. I have posted my thoughts on the book in my post here and say:

In my mind, this is the book that every small group leader and mentor needs to read. I have said before, and this book confirms it, that although youth ministry is not easy, it is not complicated, either. In fact, it is fairly simple. It has to do with loving Jesus and loving teenagers. What Root does in this book is tell us what it looks like to love teenagers: focus on the who instead of the how. Root says that the first questions for youth leaders is not How do we get kids to church? or How can we influence kids to be better Christians, but the first questions should always begin with who: Who is this teenager in my small group? Who are the marginalized in our community? Who is Jesus Christ in the lives of these students? Root says that How? questions do not properly attend to the humanity of the individual and instead focus on method. Root argues persuasively against this by grounding his approach in the theology of the incarnation.

Theology & Youth Ministry Project: Want to help?

Over the past four years of youth ministry I have stayed away from most published curriculum. In most cases, I have tended to take books that I think are provocative, theologically sound and worthwhile and use them to structure my lessons. So, when I taught on Colossians I used Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmaat, or when I taught on the Psalms I used A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society by Eugene Peterson. I use the books for their scriptural and theological insights and add in the necessary illustrations, object lessons, discussion questions, and activities to try and make a decent lesson out of it all.

I was thinking: Wouldn’t it be great to have a fairly comprehensive list of topics and corresponding books that could be used as a foundational text for teaching? That way, if your group was going to examine Revelation or spiritual disciplines or evangelism there was a list you could go to in order to find a quality book on the subject.

For this to happen, we would need to do it in two phases: first of all, a comprehensive list of topics, which would include different books or sections of the Bible, needs to be compiled. If you have a scope and sequence type chart that you use for planning your ministry over the long term, would you consider sharing it with me? A few of these put together and we could get a pretty exhaustive list of topics.

Then I would need help figuring out which books are the best for being foundational texts for the various topics. I would think a few parameters would apply:

  • You need to have actually read the book. If you have actually used it as a foundational teaching text, even better.
  • It needs to be understood by a typical layperson. If you have an adult volunteer teaching or helping create curriculum, they should be able to read it without an M.Div.
  • It needs to be short enough to make it possible for someone to actually read it and use it for teaching. If you are planning a study on the resurrection, it is likely that reading N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God (700 pages) is a bit ambitious. For example, when I was teaching on the Psalms, Eugene Peterson’s book covered one Psalm in each chapter that was around 10-15 pages long. Each week I read a chapter and crafted my lesson. It was a manageable amount of reading, taking no longer than 30 minutes at a leisurely pace.
  • It needs to be a good book. One that made you think and one that will make those you are teaching think. Now, I know that with different theological persuasions the definition of a good book is fluid, but I think we could make it work. Heck, maybe we could have categories of books for the different theological streams.

What do you think? Would a list like this be helpful? Would you see yourself using it? Or do you think it’s too much work? Or is it not on the right level for teaching teens?

Let me know. If there is enough interest, then maybe I’ll take on this project (probably in some wiki-style form).

Kenda Creasy Dean on Teen Faith

There’s a recent interview with Princeton Seminary professor Kendra Creasy Dean about her new book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. The book is written towards mainline churches as a result of the National Study on Youth and Religion (which is outlined in the books Soul Searching and Souls in Transition). You should probably check out the interview and buy the book. One of my favorite quotes:

What I really want parents and congregations to do is one radical thing because of their faith, and do it in front of their children, and let children know that it’s because you’re a follower of Christ that this radical thing matters. Christian Smith (NSYR lead researcher) suggests giving away 20% of our income, but I think it could also mean changing jobs, changing neighborhoods, changing friends. It might mean sharing your home with a foreign exchange student, or going to a struggling church instead of a successful one. Doing one radical thing because of our faith would speak volumes.

Read the whole interview.

Where Was God When…?

I have been asked to participate in a blog tour for a new book by Mike Calhoun: Where Was God When? I have not read the book or know much about Mike, so this isn’t necessarily an endorsement, but their idea of the blog tour was so interesting that I decided to participate. If you want to know more about the book go to As the title suggests, the book answers “Where was God When…?” questions. As part of the blog tour they are having people answer scenarios they are addressed in the book. Here’s my scenario and response below:

I have a twin brother. Two weeks after I left for college, God tried to take him away from me. He let his car spin out onto the highway, right into a tractor trailer. My brother laid there in the car, trapped under the trailer, crumpled up like a piece of paper, for an hour. God let my parents wonder if they still had two children. He made me regret leaving for college, leaving my family. God let my brother go through surgeries, tests, scans, pills, and hospitals. God let us wonder if our dream of opening a theater would ever come true. Then, my brother started to recover, and God let us think everything would be all right. He let us think that the bones would heal, and that our dream was still possible. But then God let a bump grow right in the midst of it all—a tumor God had been hiding from us—on the left side of his brain. Soon he’ll have to go into the hospital, get sliced open, have metal replace bone. Why would He put us through all this just to make my brother suffer more? Why would He wait to take him now? God had His chance to take my brother in that car accident. God can’t change His mind now.

Though this is obviously a difficult situation, it assumes a certain way of understanding God’s presence. God is not only a sovereign God who “lets” things happen, but he is also a God who is present and with us when things happen. How might that story read differently if instead of seeing God as letting everything occur, God was present during this difficult time?

I have a twin brother. Two weeks after I left for college, God was with me when I almost lost him. God was with us when his car spun out onto the highway, right into a tractor trailer. My brother laid there in the car, trapped under the trailer, crumpled up like a piece of paper, for an hour. God was with us when my parents wondered if they still had two children. That made me regret leaving for college, leaving my family. God was with us when my brother went through surgeries, tests, scans, pills, and hospitals. God was with us as we wondered if our dream of opening a theater would ever come true. Then, my brother started to recover, and God was with us when we thought everything would be all right. He was with us when we thought that the bones would heal, and that our dream was still possible. But then God was with us when a bump grew right in the midst of it all—a tumor had been hiding from us—on the left side of his brain. Soon he’ll have to go into the hospital, get sliced open, have metal replace bone. Will God still be with us if he doesn’t make it?

By speaking of God as present in the midst of this difficult time of suffering, we are acknowledging that Good Friday actually occurred. God himself did not spare his own life when he was crucified on the cross. He is not a distant God who removes himself from pain and suffering, but he is close, so close that he weeps when we weep and cry when we cry. There is no pain in this world that God himself has not endured. And yet he has defeated death in his resurrection. It is in that resurrection that we hope to see the day when pain and suffering are no more, when we will be with the one who has endured all pain and all suffering.

Further Thoughts on Youth Ministry 3.0

Last week I wrote a review of Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Ostreicher where I criticized the book’s lack of theological and philosophical engagement. Instead, the book focused mostly on cultural shifts and how youth ministry has not adapted to this latest shift. My argument was that the shift that is occurring goes much deeper than culture. In fact, I said that part of Youth Ministry 2.0 was simply wrong; it was not just a culturally relevant approach. Youth ministry 3.0 needs to correct some of these mistakes, not just adapt to culture.

That being said, the basic outcomes of this cultural/theological/philosophical shifts are all about the same. When Marko described what youth ministry 3.0 should and might look like, I was in basic agreement. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that many churches, mine included, have not made the theological and philosophical shifts that I had hoped Marko would talk about in the book. We are still stuck in the modern mindset and operating out of modernist assumptions.

This made me wonder, might the cultural approach to change that is advocated in Youth Ministry 3.0 be a way to move people towards a post-modern theology and philosophy? Most parents and adults can grasp the idea that culture is changing and can talk the language of adolescent development; however, they might not be so excited to talk about philosophy, or they will reject it because it sounds relativistic to them.

Perhaps by making the cultural adjustments within out ministries we will in turn eventually help people make the theological and philosophical shifts that come along with it. But to start with theology and philosophy would simply end up making people defensive to change. Who really wants to debate truth, objectivity, and hermeneutics? Chances are, a small few. However, if we cloak our vision for change around a changing culture, one that is readily observable by the average layperson, they might in turn become receptive to the deeper shifts happening around us.

Best Youth Ministry Books: Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Ostreicher

Yesterday I finally read Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Ostreicher, and since I’m one of the latecomers to the conversation I won’t summarize the book too much. Marko has linked to tons of reviews on his blog if you are interested in more in-depth summaries.

If you are fairly in-tune with a lot of the latest conversations around the ineffectiveness of youth ministry then this book will not be much of an eye-opener. You could actually turn to page 78, read the chart on that page, and then pick up reading from there without missing too much. However, if you think youth ministry is rockin’ along, you just finished polishing the 60-inch plasma in the youth room, and are stoked you booked David Crowder to come to your DiscipleNow weekend, then start reading with the forward.

In the sixth chapter, Marko talks about some ways in which to get to a Youth Ministry 3.0 and suggests things like:

  • Contextualize
  • Get Small
  • Help Students Experience God
  • Be Communional (hey, read the book if you don’t know what it means)
  • Be a Missionary
  • Help Students be Missional
  • Don’t be Driven

I am in almost total agreement with Marko’s description of the past and where we are currently and his prescription for a move into the future. This is a down-to-earth, readable, brief (125 pages with largish print), imaginative book that should begin to move youth ministry in the proper direction.

For this reason, I’m including it in my “Best Youth Ministry Books” category. The book succeeds at doing what it has set out to do, which is convince us that youth ministry is failing and we need to set a new course. This book would be a great way to get parents, volunteers, church staff, or even older youth involved in the conversation of moving into a 3.0 style of ministry.

So, this book is helpful in that respect. Now, here’s where the book let me down.

As I read it, the book was structured in such a way to say that youth ministry’s forms have adapted to the culture. The reason that we are failing is because youth ministry has not moved along with adolescent culture into the third epoch. Thus, the effectiveness of youth ministry is tied to its ability to make changes in line with the culture.

I have a problem with this cultural definition of success. Essentially, the book seems to be saying that our ecclesiology needs to be informed by the culture. I disagree, and I’m going to get nit-picky here.

Yes, postmodernism has created a cultural shift, but the reason it has done so is because our assumptions about modernism were faulty. Modernism failed. Postmodernism is a critique of the modern emphasis on a scientific, objective, rational epistemology. Why this matters for the church is because we cannot separate epistemology from our hermeneutics, which means we read the Bible differently than before (and I would say, better). Our assumptions are changing about what it means to do and be the Church. This is as much an ecclesiological shift as it is a youth ministry shift.

I wish the book would have spoken more towards some of these deeper issues. We are literally rethinking some of the ontological assumptions about the church, not just how to change the medium through which we proclaim a timeless message. Part of the message is changing. The gospel is no longer a message the the church proclaims, but it is a message that the church bears in it’s essence. We are relearning what Paul meant when he said the church was the Body of Christ and that we are a people of the Spirit. The radical quote by Bonhoeffer that “The church is the presence of Christ in the same way that Christ is the presence of God” is starting to take root.

By making the argument a cultural one, we can say that youth ministry 1.0 was a good thing, youth ministry 2.0 was a good thing, and youth ministry 3.0 will be a good thing because they were simply cultural adaptations. No one’s toes get stepped on that way.

To make the claim that there are ontological shifts occurring in our ecclesiology is to suggest that part of the old way was wrong. I know it’s a bold thing to say, but I think it needs to be said.

That’s not to say that youth ministry 3.0 and the wider ecclesiology that it fits into will be perfect. But I am saying that we won’t be wrong in the same way that the modern church was. The movement that comes after us will likely show us where we were wrong and missing the boat.

Marko has written a book that does a good job for most of our churches at getting people up-to-speed in only 126 pages. Because of that, I will likely buy it in bulk and hand it out. But I will also push people beyond the cultural argument made in the book and try and get at the deeper theological issues that are changing the way we think about our faith.

Now Reading: Christianity for the Rest of Us

I’ve recently been reading Diana Butler Bass’ Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith. This isn’t the first book by Bass that I’ve read, but this is definitely her most fiesty book.

She takes on the evangelical mainstram in quite a few places and juxaposes it with her research in healthy mainline churches who don’t subscribe to the evangelical notion of Christian growth and maturity.

I’m not done with the book yet, so mabe she eventually mentions it, but I get the feeling that the ecclesiological model put forth in this book is much more sustainable than the magachurch consumer-driven model popular in evangelicalism. I know some are saying that 21st century Christianity will be dominated by the charismatic movement (which will bring about the death of evangelicalism and mainline Christianity), but I think the mainline has a lot to offer our current cultural enviornment. I hope mainline pastors and denominational executives will pick up this book and read it. For that matter, evangelicals are welcome to read as well. We can all learn something from healthy mainline churches.

Bookshelf Anomalies #6: The Purpose Driven Life & Messy Spirituality

The Purpose Driven LifeMessy Spirituality

Two approaches to mature Christian spirituality are highlighted in these two books, one of which has sold millions of copies, the other one hasn’t. I’ll let you figure out which is which.

Rick Warren’s approach in The Purpose Driven Life is straightforward: in the Bible great things have happened in 40 days. After reading this book for forty days and learning God’s purposes for your life your life can be dramatically changed. And apparently, lots of people attest that this book has spurred such change.

In Messy Spirituality, Mike Yaconelli, on the other hand, believes that Christian maturity is messy and that the times when we feel unspiritual are actually times of growth and maturation. Christian spirituality cannot be neatly packaged and distributed, but requires struggle and sacrifice.

Two interesting takes on the common Christian desire to grow and mature in one’s faith.

Bookshelf Anomalies #5: Don't Waste Your Life & The Sacred Way

Don't Waste Your LifeThe Sacred Way: Spiritual Practices for Everyday Life

The anomaly of these two books lie in the authors: John Piper and Tony Jones. If you don’t know about the history of these two gentlemen (it’s not adversarial, but they do disagree with one another and have even met for lunch to discuss their differences), read this post on Tony Jones’ blog. You can also search for “John Piper” on Tony’s blog for a few more thoughts.

Bookshelf Anomalies #4: The Soul of Ministry & The Purpose Driven Church

The Soul of Ministry: Forming Leaders for God's PeopleThe Purpose-Driven Church: Growth Without Compromising Your Message & Mission

Two more books that take different approaches to a similar topic sitting next to one another on my bookshelf:

  • The Soul of Ministry by Ray S. Anderson. Anderson is a former pastor who is currently a theologian at Fuller Theological Seminary. He reminds me of a theologically edgier version of Eugene Peterson. In the book Anderson urges church leaders to keep theology in the forefront of their ministry and offers a practical theology for ministry rooted in, among other things, scripture, theological motifs, and the ministry of Jesus.
  • The Purpose Driven Church by Rick Warren, on the other hand, is very “biblically” based but fairly void theologically (as if that is possible… I guess it is). Warren’s book is a step-by-step guide for church leaders to grow their church according to the same methods of Warren, pastor of one of the largest churches in America like defining your purpose, who you will target, designing a worship service, and programs for discipleship. In the book the primary way to grow a church is to tailor your Sunday morning worship service to “seekers.” Believe it or not, I liked particular parts of the book when I read it about 5-6 years ago and still find some things to agree with.

However, the books present two very different approaches to church ministry.