Recommended Books for Every Youth Worker’s Library

Tim Schmoyer has posted a list of 100 youth ministry blog topics that someone should write about, and he’s trying to get people to finish the list. I don’t think I’m an expert on many things when it comes to ministry, but dang it, I can read. I’ve read quite a few books, and many of them have helped me significantly in my ministry. So, here’s my top ten picks (as of today) for books to go in a youth worker’s library.

  1. The Bible. There was a time when we could say that “this goes without saying…” but I don’t think we are there anymore. We’ve become so professionalized that often we think that we need to spend so much time reading Relevant Magazine, anything by Seth Godin, or the latest youth ministry book that the Bible has been marginalized. A travesty. A little while back I purchased the same Bible that we give our confirmation students and often use it for personal study. We use the NIV Student Bible.
  2. Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation by Andrew Root. It’s the best book written on youth ministry in a few years. If you want to know why it’s so important, read my review and my followup.
  3. Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church by Kenda Creasy Dean. Dean argues for the importance of passion in youth ministry. Adolescence is an inherently passionate time, and the heart of the gospel is the passion of Jesus Christ. The two should go hand in hand.
  4. Postmodern Youth Ministry by Tony Jones. Some may think this book is getting a little long in the tooth, and it may be, but I still think this is one of the most comprehensive books on the plight of contemporary youth ministry. It was the first book that started me in the process of completely rethinking ministry and the church, not just youth ministry.
  5. Soul Searching and Souls in Transition. These books come out of the National Study on Youth and Religion, the definitive study on teenage religiosity in our day. Quite simply, you must be familiar with this study. Soul Searching deals with phase one of the study (teenagers) and Souls in Transition deals with the next phase (following up with those same people when they are 18-23). If you don’t take time to read the books, I’ll sum them up for you: traditional youth ministry doesn’t work. That was freeing to me because it let me know that if I tried something and failed, we weren’t any worse off compared to what we had been doing. There are lots of other important insights that help critique popular wisdom in youth ministry.
  6. Anything (actually, everything) by Eugene Peterson. Seriously, Eugene Peterson has a way of weaving together scripture, decades of ministry wisdom, and everyday life in a way that brings you back down to earth. He gives value and meaning to the mundane. Especially in youth ministry, where flash is just as prevalent as any other church ministry, Peterson gives a much needed perspective. I suggest reading anything and everything he has written. If you need a place to start, I recommend: Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology, Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, or Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work.
  7. Teen 2.0: Saving Our Children and Families from the Torment of Adolescence by Robert Epstein. I haven’t finished this book yet, but it has already profoundly affected the way I think about our teenagers. The basic thesis of the book is that we are hurting our teenagers because we treat them like children. I’m still processing this, but churches have the potential to offer teenagers something they get no where else: value and responsibility.
  8. Something(s) by your favorite theologian. I think all youth workers need to read something that will stimulate them theologically. Our task is inherently theological, so keeping your theological wits about you is vitally important. You know how teens like to ask questions that other people are afraid of asking. So, pick your favorite theologian(s) and make sure you read something by them on a regular basis. Some of my favorites are Stanley Hauerwas, N.T. Wright, Kevin Vanhoozer, Walter Brueggemann, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
  9. Something missional. We no longer live in a culture of Christendom. Youth ministers are going to have to come to terms, eventually, with doing missional ministry. Some good introductions to the subject have been written by Alan Hirsch, Michael Frost, David Fitch, and Reggie McNeal.
  10. Something old. It’s easy to get caught up trying to develop a Simple Purpose-Driven Xtreme Orange youth ministry. Reading books that have stood the test of time help us to transcend the latest fads of the day. Some of my favorite old works include On The Incarnation by Saint Athanasius, The Freedom of a Christian by Martin Luther, and Confessions by Saint Augustine.

That’s my list. What would you add or remove?


  1. says

    a good developmental book should be included. it doesn’t have to be inordinately technical, but so many issues kids deal with are physiological or pyscho-social. we need to understand the bodies and brains of our young people.

    as for which… i’m not sure.

    i’ve enjoyed rehashing what i’ve learned in reviving ophelia and queenbees and wannabes, but those are focused on female development (though not exclusively.)

    or perhaps something by david elkind, I haven’t exhausted his contribution to the pyschological development of children, but i have always walked away from his books with a deeper understanding of child development.

    i also (perhaps sadistically) enjoyed hara estroff marano’s nation of wimps. it is more of a cultural commentary on psycho-social development, and could read like a horror story, but in reflection has encouraged me to broaden my educational techniques.

    i think the middle school ministry handbook by oestreicher & rubin has a few good chapters on the subject for middle schoolers.

    • Matt says

      On developmental texts, I considered that and decided that Teen 2.0 covered those bases. Dr. Epstein is the former Editor-in-Chief of Psychology Today. He actually critiques much popular adolescent developmental psychology, so I let that book stand as the psychology text in this group.

      • alaina says

        i didn’t click through the links and didn’t get that impression from your first description. thanks for clarifying. i’d add it to my list, it sounds really interesting… but my optional reading opportunities as the days of grad school required reading are upon me. 🙂

      • Matt says

        Yeah, it’s not a traditional psychology text, but it probably brings up enough to cover enough of the bases.

  2. says

    I was interested to see that you included Postmodern Youth Ministry by Tony Jones. I was wondering if anyone still reads this. I like Tony and enjoy his books, but this one drives me nuts. It takes huge leaps in the right direction in terms of thinking about youth ministry in a postmodern context, but essentially remains mired in the (very modernist) trappings of conservative youth ministry (and ministry in general).

    I wonder what Tony thinks of it now, because it seems like his theology has evolved considerably since writing this book. But, maybe not.

    • Matt says

      John, one of the reasons that I almost always include Jones’ book is that it was such a game-changer for me personally. It was the first book that really helped to reshape my thinking about faith and ministry. So, it may not function that way for everyone, but it does for me (quite postmodern of me, isn’t it?).

      As far as an introductory text for people mired within a modernistic style of ministry, I think it still fits the bill. For people who are familiar with the postmodern landscape, emergent and missional ecclesiologies, and are theologically grounded there are probably better places for people to spend their time.

    • Matt says

      PS – Sorry for not approving your comment sooner. I think the wordpress email that I usually get got put into spam or something.

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