Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality and Contemplative Practices in Youth Ministry

Soul Shaper: Exploring Spirituality and Contemplative Practices in Youth Ministry


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310251019
Publisher: Zondervan
Publication date: 05/16/2003
Series: Soul Shaper Series
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 8.60(w) x 5.50(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Tony Jones is the National Coordinator of Emergent Village (, a network of innovative, missional Christians. He's also a doctoral fellow and senior research fellow in practical theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. Tony has written several books on philosophy, theology, ministry, and prayer, including Postmodern Youth Ministry and The Sacred Way. He's a sought-after speaker on the topics of theology and the emerging church. Tony lives in Minnesota with his wife, Julie, and their three young children.

Read an Excerpt

Soul Shaper

Exploring Spirituality and Contemplative Practices in Youth Ministry
By Tony Jones


Copyright © 2003 Zondervan
All right reserved.

ISBN: 031025101X

Chapter One


Youth ministry has undergone a significant amount of change in the last 30 years. The fact that I can refer to what we do as a "profession" is foremost among the changes. We've come a long way from the days when Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice were selling mimeographed game sheets out of the backs of their cars. The number of "youth ministry packs" of those marketing postcards you get in the mail bespeaks the influence that we have in the Christian marketplace.

Youth ministry has morphed from a fringe occupation to a "must-have" for any church that wants to influence its community. In the heady days of the 1980s and 1990s, the number of job openings in churches suddenly and vastly outnumbered the number of qualified individuals to take those jobs-and that trend continues today.

But somewhere in those years, youth ministry lost its way. It became about personalities rather than about relationships. Churches looking for a new youth pastor were unabashed in their desire to have someone with a "strong personality." Not unlike the Pony Express, the best candidates for youth ministry jobs were young, single men-men who would literally sacrifice their own social lives to work 70 hours a week for $18,000 a year. And if you happened to work for a parachurch organization, you had to raise that salary yourself.

This engendered an atmosphere of self-assured entrepreneurs, almost reckless in their desire to grow a big ministry. And the fact is, you often grow a big ministry by having a big personality. Workshops popped up in the 1980s and 1990s teaching youth pastors how to be "dynamic communicators," and the question you heard around the conventions was, "What are you running?"-meaning, "How big is your youth group?"

Pardon the cliché, but size mattered. Job announcements even publicized the fact that a church was looking for a youth worker who could "manage a large ministry with hundreds of kids and dozens of volunteers." Youth workers were reading more books on management and leadership than on youth culture. Some youth pastors even became consumed with architecture as they planned how to build the new youth wing on the church.

I am deliberately painting with a broad brush, and you may resent the paint I've splattered on you. However, we cannot deny that these trends were common in student ministry at the end of the 20th century. In fact, it's been these very emphases that Mike Yaconelli has targeted in his "Dangerous Wonder" column in the back of Youthworker for several years.

But the days of big programming, dynamic communicators, and huge sound systems is coming to an end. As youth ministry comes of age, and more youth workers are graying in the job (as opposed to jumping to a "real" ministry), the allure of spotlights and microphones is waning. Many Christian colleges and seminaries are taking youth ministry seriously enough to provide professors who reflect theologically on youth work, so more theologically astute individuals are entering the field. And if one thing has been proven time and time again, it's that a long-term relationship, not big programming, nurtures a student's faith in Christ.


Currently, youth ministry is undergoing a revolution. Or better yet, a renaissance. And it is this new era that God's "hounds of heaven" have been hounding us into. It is a renaissance of creativity and innovation-and like any renaissance, it is drawing on the best of the past.

Youth pastors and the institutions that provide for us are changing. People are harking back to the spiritual disciplines and to the classic, orthodox theology that have defined the church for centuries, and they are applying what they find to the practice of youth ministry.

Honestly, the best way for me to validate the reality and essence of this change is to provide a bunch of examples, first on the institutional level:

* The Lilly Endowment, a private, family foundation in Indianapolis, has given millions of dollars to seminaries, colleges, and other organizations for the development of programs that introduce students to classic theology and to classic spiritual disciplines.

* The Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project at San Francisco Theological Seminary is in the midst of a multiyear program to teach classic disciplines to youth pastors, volunteer leaders, and students. Currently, they are working with 13 churches and 10 denominational leaders, and they periodically report what they have learned at consultations and in print.

* Upper Room Books has published Way to Live: Christian Practices for Teens, a book detailing 18 practices such as what to do with your stuff, telling the truth, being welcoming, and grieving. Eighteen students and 18 adults collaborated on this project over two years. Due in 2003 is Sharing a Way to Live with Teens, a sequel for youth workers detailing the undergirding theology of the practices and giving ideas for their application.

* Youth Specialties offers a Labyrinth experience at each of their National Youth Workers Conventions. They have also hired a full-time spiritual director, and they offer free spiritual direction at the conventions. They offer numerous Sabbath retreats every year for youth workers to take some time for silence and learn some spiritual disciplines. And this book is part of their SoulShaper line, of which YS President Mark Oestreicher writes, "By using historic contemplative practices and fleshing them out in the context of modern youth ministry, we're not just connecting kids to God in real and tangible ways-we're also connecting kids to God's unfolding story."

* The Anglican Church in England has hired Jonny Baker, inventor of the Labyrinth Experience detailed in Chapter 12, to find new ways to engage British students in Christian spirituality.

And much is happening as well at the local church and para-church level. My thanks to the many youth workers who sent me their ideas and innovations for inclusion. Here are some that were e-mailed to me and some that I visited:

* The Boiler Room in Reading, England is housed in a former pub on the spot of a medieval monastery-in fact, they call themselves a "Millennium Three Monastery." Not your average drop-in center for teens, the Boiler Room has people committed to pray 24 hours a day, seven days a week (part of a larger 24-7 prayer movement in the UK). They have a pilgrimage flat (in which I stayed on my visit), rooms for local youth groups to meet, and multiple prayer chapels. Their online "wailing wall" is a place where students from all over the world can post prayer requests, and the pray-ers at the Boiler Room bring those requests before God.

* Chad Farrand is a youth pastor in Michigan. His senior high students learned the lectio divina method of praying with Scripture in seventh grade, and in a recent congregational poll, these students had the highest rate of daily devotions in the church-higher even than the church elders. Chad e-mailed me this: "Just last week, we were going out to bowl, and one of my freshmen asked, 'Now, we are going to be doing lectio divina and some solitude next week, right?' Man, that means so much! These kids crave closeness with God!"

* Lilly Lewin in Ohio produced a Prayer Room SOS for a weekend retreat. Over the course of 12 stations, students were guided through prayer for themselves, others, and the world, all centered around Isaiah 61. Sweet and sour candies reminded students of the good and bad in life as they prayed for their hometown of Cincinnati; neon-colored sticky notes on windows made a type of stained glass of prayer requests; pieces of broken dishes stuccoed mosaic-style on a wall reminded students of their brokenness. Lilly's goal: "To create an experiential prayer and worship center for use by the students and staff of SOS utilizing tangible mediums to engage all five senses in prayer and worship;" and her purpose: "To encourage prayer in new and exciting ways and to teach us to engage in prayer for personal, local, and global needs."

* Jeremy Vickers in Pennsylvania wrote, "I ask my youth to fast or give something up/take something on during Lent, and I was shocked to hear that some other youth ministers and churches don't even talk about Lent. I know many Christians now do not like to follow the Christian year, but I believe that it is vital to the life of our youth. Ancient practices in the church seem to be gaining in popularity, especially in the last five years. I know this is not innovative, but it works. Our youth come out of Lent with a greater appreciation of what they have and who they are. This also helps on mission trips when their intake of food changes for a week or so. Along the same lines, our Survivor trip last year had a similar goal. We left for three days, camped out, no batteries, no watches, nothing technological, and they had challenges, cooked for themselves, read their Bibles and learned what it means to live in a world of beauty and nature. Quite an interesting trip. Kind of an extreme camp out. It changed a few lives."

* Brad Miller works in California: "One of the most incredible things we have done in our Sunday evening services is to try to create an environment conducive to experiencing God. After studying God's Word, we turn down the lights and leave the candles on the tables as the only lights in the room. We begin to worship. We have 2 separate areas in the back of the church that are sort of 'God-business stations.' At each station there is a 6-foot tall cross, communion elements, a tray of tea lights (that can be symbolically lit when lifting up our prayers to God), and a few large candles that provide just enough light. We are very deliberate about inviting everyone to worship God in their own way. We let them know that at any time during worship they can go back to the cross and do their business with God. What is amazing is to see how passionately and sincerely people are connecting with God at those stations. When we give them the freedom to just 'be,' they do. It is a beautiful sight to behold."

* Jonathan Gonyou assigns his senior highers a chapter a week from Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline. He finds the students almost always rise to the challenge of practicing each particular discipline.

* Richard Logan in Texas brings his students on a weekend SOLO retreat, during which they observe lengthy periods of silence, solitude, and fasting.

* Eric Haskins in Illinois has three levels at the annual "Weekend of the Disciplines." Students experience silence and solitude, communion, fasting, and more. His whole ministry has taken the disciplines on as the guiding model.

I could go on and on, simply quoting e-mails I have received and people with whom I have spoken. But I hope these examples are enough to convince you of the renaissance taking place in youth ministry.


I'm no futurist. And most of the futurists I've heard are full of something. But there's a lot to be hopeful about in the turn that youth ministry has taken. And I hope this book, at least, will be another piece of evidence that we're moving in the right direction. Nothing on the horizon seems to indicate we'll move back to the personality-driven entertainment model of the late 20th century; most evidence indicates we are moving into a new and hopeful place.

Not all is rosy, however. In the midst of my correspondence in preparing this book, there are a couple of strongly worded cautionary e-mails. One warned that introducing spiritual disciplines to youth, when done wrong, can be very damaging. A Young Life credo is, "It's a sin to bore a kid with the gospel"-the same thing can be said of spiritual practices. To teach students about an ancient discipline in a way that isn't relevant to their lives and their faith will turn them away from that discipline and maybe all disciplines. We dare not make that mistake.

Another caution came from a person who is afraid that youth workers will jump on the "Spiritual Paradigm" bandwagon because it's the next big thing. Just like "seeker sensitive" or "youth-led worship" or "cell groups" or "postmodern worship," this new movement could be abducted by publishing houses and youth ministry "experts" and "consultants." His well-founded fear is that youth workers won't take the time to develop these disciplines in their own lives, but will simply plug them in at opportune times during the programming year. He may be right, but I hope he's not.

Where we go from here will be up to us who are committed to this profession. And the more of us who stay for an extended period of time in this line of work, preferably at the same church, the better. We will be able to develop relationships with students and families over time. They will get to see our lives and we will get inside their lives. If we can stay put for a while, our students and their families will see us living our lives with integrity, working on our relationships and marriages, doing our best to raise children who love the Lord, being wise stewards of our money, etc.

Eugene Peterson has said, "I think the most important thing a pastor does is who he or she is." [Bailey 4] My pastor said a similar thing to me at my annual review a couple years ago: "As a pastor on this staff, I care a lot more about who you are than about what you do." Ultimately, it's all about how we live, you and me, in the midst of this ministry.


For that very reason, this book is long on history and theology and short on ways you might apply these practices in your ministry this week. I want you to be changed by prayer, fasting, solitude, etc. Then, if you wish, you can introduce them to your students in myriad ways. If I were to give lots of examples, it would perpetuate two fallacies: 1) that I'm some kind of expert at introducing these practices to students, and 2) that these are the best (or only) ways to use them. This paradigm, if it is that, is still being written and invented by all of us.

Remember those programmers I listed a few pages ago? They are the innovators-you would do well to list yourself among them. I'm not nearly that innovative-honestly, most of the great ideas in our ministry come from other people on the staff. And the bottom line is, you know your students. Not me. Not any other author. You! Knowing your students as you do, you can decide the best ways to introduce spiritual disciplines to them.

What I can try to do, however, is shed some light on the history of the church. Whereas most of the ideas you read about above are new, all of the practices you will read about below are old-most are very old. Many of them have been lost to the whole church, or at least to part of the church over time. It's time for us to recover what has been so important to the spiritual development of hundreds of saints over dozens of centuries.


Excerpted from Soul Shaper by Tony Jones Copyright © 2003 by Zondervan
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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