Book Review: Building a Youth Ministry that Builds Disciples, Duffy Robins

by James Fawcett May 14, 2014 A

Robins is aiming to reimagine Youth Ministry. Amidst current trends in the United States of America towards evangelism, he argues for discipleship. Amidst getting young people into church, Duffy wants to talk about what we do to keep them there. He quotes a youth worker that says;

‘I’d rather my students know God rather than just know about God’

Robins starts by laying out the picture of youth ministry in the USA, drawing some interesting, images. Using the metaphor of Tarzan swinging through the trees hanging on to twines dangling down, he talks about the journey we accompany young people on. For him young people swing through the jungle on these twines which are the programs/engagement we offer. Duffy suggests on this model young people simply swing from one to the other, with no thought for the gap in-between or the forest clearing. Suggesting youth work needs to go further, he calls youth workers to action, to deepen their work with young people, working hard to communicate theology to young people we work with, helping them navigate the gaps and clearings of life.

‘In short, we’ve become all heart and no head’

Robbins raises a case to create a ministry to engage young people in meaningful conversation about theology and what he calls ‘discipleship’. That moves beyond an outcome being that 2 of the young people cried during the session, because of the emotive music and the really good video, to a place that is offering theological frameworks to handle diversity and difficulty in their lives.

The second half of the book is the application of the aforementioned vision, that we would develop our youth ministry. I don’t think he really gets there though with this…

In conclusion; this book has some interesting reflections. Robbins is not saying anything new (as a slight aside – having met him –  he properly would say he is saying anything new). But he is obviously saying something that he believes needs to be said again, and in many ways, he may be right. However, there are some questions raised around the application of his principles in the UK in 2014. In some ways the conversation has progressed through things like the professionalization of Youth Ministry in the UK in a way that has not affected the USA in the same way, as well potential differences in understandings of discipleship and less simplistic views of incarnation.  However Duffy challenges all of us to consider doing something new for the discipleship of our young people, even if it is a re-imagination of something old.

You can buy the book here.