(Youth ministry is not an easy ministry. And in this series, Every Youth Worker Needs:…, I want to highlight a variety of things that might make your ministry a little easier. This ongoing series will include ministry tips, book suggestions, technology helps, and many other nuggets of advice.)
It was not until I was in college that I began to enjoy reading books. While I always completed the required reading, I never read anything else in high school. But sometime early in my college career my love of books was birthed. I believe my acquired fascination with books stemmed from my ability to read books on topics I liked, or maybe I just matured enough to want to learn. Either way, I began to read more books and enjoy the process of reading to learn.
In college, there is so much required reading, you do not have much opportunity to read what you want. So when I started as a full-time youth minister, I thought I would read all of the books I never read, but now wanted to read. I wanted to read books on leadership, ministry, youth ministry, marriage, adolescent development, classic literature, and anything else that peeked my interest. Unfortunately, I found one thing to be true: I did not have any more time to read everything I wanted to then I did in college.
After realizing I could not possibly read everything, I came up with an idea of how I could read the most variety. I would rotate through a list of different genres. Instead of reading multiple youth ministry books in a row, I would rotate from youth ministry to leadership to marriage to ministry, and so on. I never limited myself to a fixed rotation, but allowed flexibility to pick and choose. My main goal was to maintain a variety in the information I was reading. This goal generated from my belief that many people in business, leadership, or ministry were stuck in a book rut. I was seeing a trend where only a few books were getting read and talked about. If a book was popular, it was read, almost regardless of whether the person wanted to read it next or not. All books have the biggest readership within the first few months of release, but the “best sellers” stay on top because of this “bandwagon reading.” As you watch what books are being read and talked about, you will notice that it happens with anyone from business executives to stay-at-home mothers.
I am not saying it is wrong to read a book because someone told you it was good. That would be hypocritical of me, since I read and review books for this blog and for Youth Specialties. What I am saying is that I believe youth workers can pigeon-hole themselves into a certain mentality and focus because you only read a narrow spectrum of books. The way you minister is based on a collection of influences, including any mentors, ministry classes you took, conferences and seminars you have attended and the books you have read. If you only read and listen to one method of ministry, you will never question if there is another way to reach students and share God’s love. And while you cannot change anything you have learned in the past, you have the ability to choose the books that will influence you in the present.
A few years ago I realized it was not the amount of books that help a youth worker stay sharp, there needs to be variety, as well. As I looked at my “books read” list, I discovered something – my list revolved around one or two main genres (youth ministry and leadership). I needed more variety and I bet you do too. Think about it in terms of your eating habits and nutritional intake. A person cannot eat only Jiffy peanut butter and stay nutritionally healthy. You will not be properly nourished if you refuse to drink milk. But what about people who have allergies? If that is what you are thinking, you have just taken this illustration too far. (No one is allergic to any genre of literature.) But the point can be made that even when you do not eat certain foods high in vitamins, you will supplement by taking daily vitamins. We understand the importance of receiving the vitamins (what is inside the food) even if we do not like the food itself. Yet, youth workers do not always realize the importance of reading a variety of literature in order to obtain knowledge on varying topics.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no knowledge vitamins we can take to supplement our lack of varied reading. No, the only way to gain this assortment of information is to read a variety of books. I have come up with a list of genres I think every youth worker needs to add to their reading rotation, and will post this list tomorrow. Before we get to the genres, allow me to say this: I know you may not be able to read three books from each genre each year. I am not trying to suggest that. What I am suggesting is that you use this list as a starting point and refuse to read two same-genre books in a row.
(Every Youth Worker Needs: A Blog Series About Things You Need in Youth Ministry)