BOOK REVIEW: Jesus Centered Youth Ministry
When I was first assigned Jesus Centered Youth Ministry, by Rick Lawrence, I read the title and thought, “Great, here comes another ‘________ – Centered Youth Ministry’ book.” Then, I opened this book, and that thought never returned. I started to read this book over the Simply Youth Ministry Conference weekend and completed this book a few days later. This book is a fairly simple read, yet its content is deep, well developed and rather straight forward.
Rick Lawrence starts out his book by discussing Charles Spurgeon, renowned British preacher and teacher and how he chooses to make a beeline to Jesus in every way and time he preaches. Lawrence proceeds to drive home the point that Jesus should be the center by illustrating the most important part of cars is the engine and drive train and not bells and whistles such as cup holders. He feels that much of youth ministry is currently focusing on cup holders rather than the centrality of Christ.
Lawrence masterfully outlines and drives home three central questions that youth ministers ought to ask in every part of ministry as they make a “Beeline to Christ.” These questions are: “What did Jesus really say? What did Jesus really do? And How did people really experience Jesus?” In an excursus on Discipleship by Duffy Robbins, Robbins, quoting an exhortation from the archbishop of Canterbury, fears that the field of youth ministry may be “dying in good taste.” That “good taste” is not talking about the truth of Jesus and who He really is out of fear of offending the listener.
Lawrence continues in making a beeline to Christ in discipleship that the way youth ministers should teach Jesus to their youth is to have them ask the only essential questions that Christ asked the disciples. These questions are: “Who do you say I am?” In asking this question and seeking the true Jesus, we are drawn near to Him and the truth of the Gospel message.
Lawrence expands his “Beeline to Jesus” with an approach to evangelism that is contained in “arrogant benevolence.” That when we take our youth on mission or evangelism outreach events, that the simple act of arrogant benevolence breaks the youth out of their shell of who cool-Jesus is and introduces them to the hands and feet of Christ and what it truly means to be the body of Christ. Getting that taste of Jesus in their mouths through the dirt and grime of such service propels them towards Jesus profoundly as they gain a deeper understanding of whom Jesus really is.
Lawrence examines John 11 and the role of Jesus in the midst of crisis. He indicates that Christ entered this situation with a heart and attitude that comes alongside another in their despair also “deeply moved, troubled and weeping.” He continues with a metaphor of going into caves after people and being comfortable where they are and not anxious to move towards safer ground. He then comes to the conclusion that we should also be comfortable when people have strong emotions to the point that those emotions are directed at us. Being able to take those emotions and bring Jesus and the life that He led Mary and Martha along with Lazarus to was done with compassion and care that only Jesus could provide.
Lawrence’s final chapters focus on volunteers, parents and communication. On volunteers, he writes that leading volunteers is helping them see the importance of what happens when they are all together. He attacks the practice of sarcasm and crude/cruel humor aimed at each other and exhorts us to find a higher way. He chides, the words we say, youth take seriously and even if we are joking, it hurts to the core. Discussing parents, he continues stating that we are to love our “so called enemies” and engaging them, as they are the most influential voice that youth have in their lives.
My interaction with Jesus Centered Youth Ministry has had some rather profound interactions with my heart and heartcry for ministering to adolescents and their families. As I am about to graduate, this timely prophetic voice, exhorting us to “Make a Beeline to Jesus” is essential to the survival of youth ministry and bringing the church back from minimalizing the harsh realities of Jesus and presenting him for all that He is, allowing Him to work in the lives of our youth, our volunteers, our families and ourselves. This book has definitely made it to the re-read after seminary and go deeper with it pile.
My favorite Spurgeon Book is Lectures to My Students: