A Simple Review:
So, a network of youth pastors in my area (of which my predecessor was one and I inherited) is doing an event for youth leader training in May and Chris Folmsbee is one of the two keynote speakers. I didn't know much about him and didn't feel like I could really get on board with the event or take my leadership to it with no knowledge of what was to come. So, I picked up his book, A New Kind of Youth Ministry, and thought I would see what he had to say.
I have really struggled through the book. I found something early on that I did not fully see as a biblical teaching and this made me read the book from there with an even more critical eye.
The book talks a lot about "reculturing" ministry. Folmsbee speaks of changing why we do ministry as we change how we do it. My issue began in the chapter on reculturing evangelism. On page 33, he states, "It means letting not yet believing people to speak into our lives and impart their own wisdom, knowledge, and skill. Are Christ followers the only ones who can help you move through the trials of your life"?
I struggled with this. Perhaps I am taking it for more than what he means but he is encouraging Youth Pastors to encourage their students to seek "wisdom" from non-believers. I believe, completely, that this is a non-biblical teaching. Psalm one says, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers". This tells me that absolutely our students should acknowldege that the answer to the question posed by the author is a resounding, "Yes, Christ followers are the only ones who can help me move through the trials of my life!"
Encouraging our students to seek counsel of non-believers is a very dangerous thing. When I think about the culture that my students are immersed in, I see that there is much ungodly guidance they will receive if they let "not yet believing people speak into" their lives. Just this morning I passed a girl in the school hall whom I pass most mornings whom I know has been studying Wicca. I pray for this girl daily. Still, I would hope that in the "trials of life" one of my students would not let this girl "speak into" his or her life.
Admittedly, I let this quote taint the way I read the rest of this book. I do believe that Folmsbee gives good reminders about what is important in ministry. Still, I take issue that many of these ideas are "a new kind of youth ministry". Most of the things I agreed with are staples of the way I have done ministry for most of my nearly 20 year career. Again, even when I agreed with something, it was either a needed reminder of what is important in a part of ministry or something that to me is a "duh" moment about how to do ministry. There were other moments as I read that I had to stop and think, "I am not sure I think he is on point there". Those moments came enough to make it a distraction to my reading.
The last couple of chapters are the strongest. It took me several weeks to get there because I just could not keep my attention into the book. They address reculturing ourselves. I think that these chapters go to the root of what most needs attention in modern student ministry. We, as the leaders of students, need to make sure that we are chasing after God with our whole hearts. We need to be sure we are not in this for the glory of the game but for the change we can help come in the lives of students. Folmsbee also wisely cautions to approach change carefully. I think this is wisdom that will help young student leaders especially. Folmsbee reminds us that in order for change to come you have to know and navigate the waters around you. That is sound advice.
I will be attending this conference but I am glad I took the time to read Chris Folmsbee's book so that I could be better armed to open up dialog with my leadership about what is good and not so good about Folmsbee's view on ministry --- even if it is not as new as he may think.