I was reading Terrace’s blog recently and also came across a slightly older post from Matt Cleaver talking about the must-read books for youth workers. And while this isn’t necessarily a definitive list by any means, I thought it might be interesting to post the books that have had the most shaping effect on my youth ministry philosophy and vision.

Purpose Driven Church – Rick Warren
This is the book that opened my eyes to church as it could be. Sitting at a summer camp in upstate New York, I read and imagined church in a whole new way. The Great Commandment and the Great Commission bonded together to reveal biblical purpose for the church. Life-changing read.

Handbook on Counseling Youth – Josh McDowell
An oldie, but a goodie. This book was a gift to me early in youth ministry career – and just this past week I gave copies of it to my team. Tons of topics, great questions, Scripture and counseling help for real issues. I hope the book gets a makeover soon and will include more help for newer issues that are gripping teenagers.

Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry – Doug Fields
The first of two great books from Doug Fields that made me into the youth worker I am today. Probably time for me to read it again – just solid reminders to help you start right.

Purpose Driven Youth Ministry – Doug Fields
The definitive book on youth ministry. It will get you thinking, challenge that thinking, and push your thinking toward a biblical model for success and health. So much of what we do in HSM still resonates directly from this foundation. I’ve had multiple copies, all dog-eared, underlined and worn. The best of the list.

Sustainable Youth Ministry – Mark DeVries
Maybe the 3rd best book written about youth ministry. A more recent title to make the list, I love the clarity and direction it provides youth workers in what it takes to survive the calling in the long run. Good, good, stuff.

The Heart of a Great Pastor – H.B. London
This book arrived at a time when I was feeling particularly vulnerable and ready to quit. The idea of “blooming where you’re planted” hit me that God called me to the place I was serving at, not to be looking for what was next or greener on the other side of the fence.

The Dip – Seth Godin
The Dip is a little book all about the phenomenon where after initial success there is a dip before an even larger gain. Fighting through the Dip or knowing when it is time to give up is crucial in youth ministry.

Linchpin – Seth Godin
A brand new book that is gripping me right now. The idea that God created you as an artist and an individual for His work – that you aren’t just a mindless cog in a wheel within the church. Takes a bit of translating since it is a business book, but worth it!

Made to Stick – Chip and Dan Heath
If you’re a communicator, you’ll want to know how to have your messages stick. I also loved Speaking to Teenagers, but this non-youth ministry specific book really stuck with me, too.

The 5 Dysfunctions of a Team – Patrick Lencioni
Working in a larger church now I’m focusing on more team-based learnings, this book is one of the best. Told in his now trademarked business fable style, the book will walk you through the most common traps that trip up teams.

How about you? Read any life-changing books lately?


August is here – summer programs are winding down and school is about to begin. Scratch that – for more than half the country, kids are already in classes this week! You’re heading toward the Fall kickoff of your youth ministry, and thinking about what’s next. I posted When to Buy Youth Ministry Resources last August, but thought something tangible with solid suggestions for the fall might be a good idea as well. Here are the questions I’m asking with a couple weeks to go before our official kickoff:

1. Is your youth ministry service ready to go?
Take the time to lay out the fall teaching calendar. Create or purchase a teaching series that is compelling and make it easy for your students to bring their non-believing friends. The start of the school year is one of the most opportune times for Friendship Evangelism. Then think about the atmosphere that first-time student will walk into – are a few crowd games or a cell phone poll the way to go? Is the room setup ideally for what you’re trying to accomplish? Do you have a way to contact students during the week? How can you give your youth group a jolt of fresh energy this Fall? Suggestions: 2nd Greatest Story Every Told, Heart of a Champion, Awaken Your Creativity

2. Are your small group leaders and volunteers trained?
Capitalize on the fall to get some good reading into the hands of your leaders or good material into your hands for training meetings. Suggestions: Youth Worker Training on the Go, Emergency Response Handbook for Youth Ministry, Connect

3. What are you reading for your personal development?
You meant to read a few good books over the summer – and honestly, they’re still in the bottom of your backpack. Take them out and get cracking! If you’re looking for a good book Terrace had a good list for young influencers and Kurt’s new book The 9 Best Practices of Youth Ministry looks challenging. My favorite book this summer was Linchpin. Pick up a book for your own development. Suggestions: Tribes, Switch, Steering Through Chaos, Crazy Love, The Next Generation Leader

4. What is it time to launch?
For us we’re talking about helping hurting students, so we’re concentrating on our pastoral care program for teenagers who are at risk. You’ve got the pulse of your student ministry – what is it time to launch? Or maybe what is it time to re-launch? Maybe it is time to stop something, so this January you can breath new life into it? Suggestions: The Landing, Help! I’m a Student Leader, LeaderTreks



Excited to get my hands on Kurt Johnston’s newest book The 9: Best Practices for Youth Ministry. A couple of the chapter titles feel right/expected – starting with soul care and listening to God’s Spirit. I love the emphasis on evangelism and volunteer development, which comes naturally for my gifting. But I’m excited to dig more into valuing families and contextualized programs and events (honestly, I’m not even quite sure what that means). Congrats on the new book, Kurt, there’s a lot to think about from the chapter titles alone:

  1. Nurture Your Own Soul
  2. Build an Awareness of God’s Active Presence
  3. Encourage Personal Spiritual Growth
  4. Foster a Sense of Evangelistic Urgency
  5. Increase the Congregation’s Appreciation of Students
  6. Provide Opportunities for Relationships
  7. Develop Confident, Competent, and Committed Adult Leaders
  8. Consistently Value Families
  9. Create Contextualized Programs & Events


Book Review: Soup

 —  August 12, 2010 — Leave a comment

Just finished up reading Soup, another business fable from Jon Gordon. This time he goes after the ingredients of what make a healthy team and focuses on creating a winning team culture that rallies your people to the cause and around an optimistic leader. Honestly the first few chapters really drew me in – not because I’ll ever run a company called Soup, Inc but because he outlines what I’ve felt but been unable to articulate about the importance of team culture. Couple of standout quotes:

  • You create a culture of greatness by expecting great things to happen – even during challenging times.
  • Leadership is foremost a transfer of belief.
  • People follow the leader first and the vision second.
  • It is through relationships that you can shape people to be their best.
  • We are transformed by our spiritual relationship with God and our relationship with family, mentors, and coaches and we transformothers through our relationship with them.
  • Lukewarm isn’t an option. No one likes cold soup.

Good stuff – loved it! Super simple, easy read.


Just finished up reading Green Like God: Unlocking the Divine Plan for Our Planet, a new book by Jonathan Merritt. The book is an attempt to reclaim environmentalism from the left, and make Creation care an issue that everyone should care about, regardless of political sides. According to Jonathan, caring for God’s creation is largely a spiritual issue and an act of worship to the Creator. He’s careful to distinguish between worshipping the creation and the Creator, and is quick to admit the shortcomings of his own journey. I like it that just a few years ago he held many of the traditional (read: irresponsible) views that many Christians still share.

To be honest, green is a “something” to me – I still have a loooooong ways to do – but loved the series we did called Save the Planet a couple years ago and The Refinery at Saddleback was Lake Forest’s first LEED-certified building. All in all, I really dug the first 2/3rds of the book – before it begins to read like any other environmental book you can’t seem to avoid these days. To me, what sets this book apart is the Biblical perspective on creation and our responsibility to care for it, which was refreshing and encouraging to read.


Thriving Youth Ministry in Smaller Churches is a solid resource for those looking for encouragement in the trenches of youth ministry. Rick writes it in a very conversational style, only helped by Stephanie Caro’s interjections of fun and insight throughout the book. Having served in a smaller church (for 7 years) and now a much larger church (for 6 years) I love seeing the strengths of good youth ministry shine through, regardless of size. The book was a great reminder of what make small churches great, and what to focus on to stay healthy.


Get Thriving Youth Ministry at Simply Youth Ministry

Doug Fields and I co-authored a new book for students from Simply Youth Ministry/Group Publishing called Live Large. Be Different. Shine Bright. The guys over at YouthMinistry360 are one of the first to post a review! Here’s a clip of it and please check out the book (available at SYM) if you think it might be something interesting for your students!

At first I wasn’t 100% convinced. It felt a little too unconventional at first glance for my taste. But once I got into the book, I was hooked. And I believe your students will be as well.

Each of the easy to read and entertaining chapters is full of personal stories (some that showed a lot of openness and transparency) and creative examples. The chapters make the biblical case for the specific character trait, provide some practical help on how to actually begin modeling the traits, and end with really good questions to help students further apply the book’s instruction.

There is a million dollar question on the table, and it is this: will students read it? I think the answer is yes. (And speaking as a guy who has been writing and designing devotional/Bible study books for teenagers for almost a decade, most books for written for teenagers stand no chance of being read by them. It’s true.)

The design of “Live Large . . .” is awesome. The look and feel is great. It’s a great length (not intimidating). And the tone and style are laid back (what would you expect from two guys who live and minister in the OC?).


A Team of Linchpins

 —  July 15, 2010 — 5 Comments

I’ll admit it, I’ve been a little hooked on the Linchpin concept ever since reading a little book by Seth Godin. We’ve tossed around the term a little carelessly the past few weeks – so this week, I’m going to reclaim it once again.

Each of my team members are getting a little note attached to an actual linchpin. I want them to know how indispensable they are to this ministry, and more than that, that what they bring to the table is unique and special that no one else can do. Hope this reminder helps them keep that in mind!