I admit, it’s a bit of an oldie, Postmodern Youth Ministry. It was published in 2001 so I’m behind the curve in reading this one. It doesn’t make the book less interesting though, or less applicable. If anything, author Tony Jones was ahead of the curve, so many of his thoughts and ideas are still fresh and new to youth leaders worldwide.
Tony Jones starts out with defining what postmodernism is exactly and does a good job of it. He defines postmodernism with keywords such as:
Perhaps the most helpful explanation of postmodernism for me was a quote he took from another book (1):
There are three umpires hanging out after a baseball game. The premodern umpire says: “There are balls and there are strikes, and I call ‘em what they are. The Modern umpire says: “ There are balls and there are strikes, and I call ’em as I see ’em.” The postmodern umpire says:” There are balls and there are strikes, and they ain’t nothing until I call ‘em.”
What should youth ministry look like in such a world, such a culture? Here are a few of the author’s thoughts:
- Youth ministry should be defined as a mission, not a program. Youth pastors are missionaries in a foreign land and they should teach students to be missionaries as well. The gospel should be shared in ways that are culturally appropriate.
- Community is key and such a community needs to be authentic. Real honesty is essential to being authentic.
- A focus on the role of the church as a body, rather than the individual believer. ‘Our faith must be lived out and shared in the context of community’. Also: faith is a journey, a long-term thing, not a one-time decision.
- Our primary task as youth workers is to make disciples. That means teaching students the language of Christianity and including its rich heritage.
- In teaching from the Bible, we should bring back the beauty of the narrative and focus more on the bigger picture, the meta-narrative.
So what did I think of the book? First of all, I think Tony Jones was really ahead of many of us in seeing what needed to change in youth ministry. His analysis of modern culture and youth ministry’s response is something many youth leaders could benefit from. The concept of youth ministry as a mission was a fresh insight for me and one that’s useful in thinking about the bigger picture of youth ministry. I also agree with his holistic approach and his focus on community and discipleship.
I don’t agree with everything he suggested, for instance the importance of discipleship is clear to me, but his approach is a bit too focused on the teaching part. ‘Just’ teaching important Biblical words and doctrines and linking to our Christian heritage (for instance by reinstating important rituals) isn’t enough to make disciples I think. Here’s where community comes in and I felt that aspect was undervalued.
All in all it’s still a challenging and thought-provocative book that has lost nothing of its timeliness. For me, the biggest negative issue was the way it was written, with the many quotes from other youth workers. It made it hard for me to follow the line of reasoning sometimes. Also the layout was massively irritating, too chaotic and with some quotes so ‘distorted’ in the choice of font and setting they were barely readable. Despite that, I’m very glad I read it because it helped me fine-tune my thinking about youth ministry in a postmodern world.(1) Taken from: Truth is stronger than it used to be: Biblical faith in a postmodern age by J. Richard Middleton and J. Walsh.