Giving Up Gimmicks (Book Review)

If you read the plethora of literature on youth ministry in the church, I suspect it won’t be long before you’ll throw up your hands and surrender—“I give up!”  If the youth ministry experts are right, then starting, reforming, and sustaining a youth ministry that is faithful to the Great Commission (Mt 28:18-20) is about the hardest thing a congregation can do.  Why?  Today’s youth culture is becoming more apathetic toward the community aspects of church involvement.  Young people today are more secularized, Bible illiterate, and entertainment-driven than ever before.  Most youth don’t have any friends who are conscious of their Christian faith.  Hey, most youth don’t even know a Christian!  Churches have a hard enough time shepherding, discipling, and nurturing the adults and children in their fold.  But adults are comfortable talking to fellow grown-ups.  As for the children?  Well, at least they do what they’re told—mostly.  When those children start asking grown-up questions, stop singing silly songs, start being shaped more and more by their peers, get a extra-curricular schedule that runs them ragged, and begin the “raging hormone” years, that’s when they tend to get the short end of the ministry stick.  What is the solution to this dilemma?  Most hire a twenty-something “youth minister” who still acts like a kid most of the time to manage the problem.  Make him entertain Christian youth and their friends.  Stick him in no-man’s-land between parents and their teens, and between the pastor and the teen, and keep him insanely busy until he burns out.  And then they hire his replacement.  So the cycle goes.  What happens to the kids?  If their faith survives the post-youth group let-down, then they will likely wander aimlessly from church to church until they find a mate, get married, have their first child, and then finally be deemed valuable for “adult” church membership and responsibilities.  If their faith doesn’t survive after they outgrow youth group, then they will effectively “go into exile” and become like the nations who do not know the Lord.

What a predicament!  How to solve this riddle?  How to minister effectively to a generation of young people inside and outside the institutional church?  How to simply this worse-case scenario—which is not far from the truth in many churches?

Brian Cosby, a veteran youth pastor, has written a book called Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture that attempts to talk the Church off the ledge.  Cosby’s thesis is that churches don’t (shouldn’t) have to reinvent the wheel every 10 years to revamp their youth ministry according to an ever-changing culture.  Instead, the way out and the way forward is to listen to God’s Word.  How does spiritual growth happen in the lives of Christians (child, youth, or adult)?  Through the means of grace.  Imagine that!  So simple, yet profound in its simplicity.  Thus he proposes that youth ministry major on guiding youth to experience and participate in the means of grace.  To Cosby, this means youth ministry must be reformed into a “means-of-grace” ministry: a ministry that is (1) shaped by the Word; (2) empowered through Prayer; (3) nourished in the Sacraments; (4) satisfied by Service; and (5) transformed through Community.  After explaining historically, theologically, culturally, and practically why the prevailing model of entertainment has not worked for youth ministry, Cosby argues from Scripture and illustrations from personal experience in the youth ministry trenches why the God-ordained means of grace are the cure for what ails today’s youth—not because they are youth, but because they are (and will always be) sinners in need of God’s redeeming grace.

If you are looking for a simpler way, a better way, and a biblical way to minister to the youth of your church and wider community, Giving Up Gimmicks can show you the way.  Take a closer look by reading some sample pages.

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