Youth ministers recommend Bibles, books for teens
Give a book.
Sales figures and surveys both reveal that teenagers are reading more. Book sales among teens rose by 25 percent during the first half of this decade. Surveys also show that teenagers are reading more than just Harry Potter.
The Christian Chronicle contacted 11 youth ministers from across the nation for their recommendations about what books to give teens this holiday season. Without exception, all the ministers suggested a volume that, in their experience, had changed the lives of the teens who read it.
There is no better place to begin than with the Bible. We asked the youth ministers which version of the Bible they would propose as a gift. Half indicated that teens should have two Bibles — one for in-depth study and another to get the big picture. Two youth ministers pointed to parallel editions of the Bible that include more than one translation.
The New International Version showed up on the lists of six of the 11 youth ministers, while five recommended “The Message” paraphrase. Three recommended the New Living Version.
The Chronicle also asked the youth ministers to recommend a book in addition to the Bible. One book was mentioned multiple times — Shane Clairborne’s “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.”
Brian L. Games, youth minister for the St. Clairsville, Ohio, church, suggested this book for “older, more spiritually mature teenagers who are wrestling with the notion and practice of walking like Jesus in these modern times.”
Sean Palmer, who has ministered to teens and young adults at Bering Drive church in Houston for more than a decade, agreed: “Clairborne paints a compelling — and often uncomfortable — picture of what Christianity can be outside church walls. Teenagers can find here a Christianity that places primacy on joining God in his mission to love and rescue the world.”
Games added: “The book challenges traditional assumptions and calls those wishing to wear the name Christian to more fully reflect Christ in both their thinking and their behavior.”
The Chronicle’s 2007 review of the book is archived here.
Discipleship was a popular topic among the recommendations. “In a Pit with a Lion on a Snowy Day” by Mark Batterson was at the top of Justin Bagwell’s list. The volume based on 2 Samuel 23:20 had a profound effect on the teenagers at the North Atlanta church, where he has served as a youth minister for more than three years.
Bagwell notes that Batterson raises the question, “What if your greatest regret at the end of your life is the lions you didn’t chase?” “Batterson will challenge you to grab life by the mane when opportunity roars,” Bagwell said. The book is most appropriate for middle and high school youth.
Lance Logan, youth and family minister at the Montgomery church in Albuquerque, N.M., recommended William Griffin’s contemporary translation of Thomas à Kempis’ classical work, “The Imitation of Christ.”
Logan noted, “I want young people to think about how to live and act. This nourishing classic breathes life into students finding their home in God. Young readers will be shocked with how their minds will explode with vision from exposure to ‘The Imitation of Christ.’”
Three C. S. Lewis volumes were suggested for their value in helping teens understand their faith and become, more fully, disciples of Christ.
“Mere Christianity” topped the list for Marcus Neely, youth minister for the College Hill congregation in North Richland Hills, Texas. Lewis “begins with why faith makes sense and moves on to cover some of the basic ideas about what it means to follow Jesus,” Neely said.
Darryl Canty, youth minister for the Ann Arbor, Mich., church, pointed to anther Lewis volume, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” which “pictures a radical way of allowing Christ to deal with our ugliness and help us become who we are intended to be. It’s a great lesson for teens and adults to learn.” In his 15 years of youth ministry Canty has found the volume helpful for young people who have “attitudes and opinion, but little experience.”
Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters” was the choice of Bentonville, Ark., youth minister Josh Bundy. “The work tells of a conversation between an experienced demon and his nephew who is learning the trade of tempting humans,” Bundy said. The volume “captures the imagination of teenagers and adults alike” and “gently persuades the reader to examine his/her own journey of faith.”
Mary Brookman, youth associate at Memorial Road church in Oklahoma City, chose the Francine Rivers set “The Mark of the Lion Trilogy.” Brookman said, “The first book in the trilogy, ‘A Voice in the Wind’ introduces us to the story of a young Jewish girl named Hadassah, who has been raised as a Christian.” Set in the days of the early church, the book allows us to “see and relate to the different human struggles of each character as they strive to find meaning in life.” Brookman points out that while the romantic plot line appeals to girls, it has been well received by teen boys.
Two other youth ministers recommended books that were more gender specific. Brooke Ray, a youth minister at the Highland church in Memphis, Tenn., adds “The Christy Miller Series” by Robin Jones Gunn to the list for girls.
“This series is about a teenage girl who moves with her family to California in her sophomore year of high school. The reader watches Christy mature through all 12 books from a insecure 14-year-old to a confident, godly young woman. There is a romantic story line that weaves through the entire series that will be sure to keep the teenage girl interested,” Ray said.
Another youth minister pointed to a book for young men. “Every Young Man’s Battle — Strategies for Victory in the Real World of Sexual Temptation” by Stephen Arterburn and Fred Stoeker is “must reading for all teen males,” said Woody Square, who has served youth and families at the San Leandro, Calif., church since 1992. “The authors are transparent about their lives and the poor choices they made with girls,” Square said. “Nothing is left untouched in providing teen boys with tools for dealing with sexual temptation.”
Randy Speck completes the list with a book called “The No Complaining Rule.” Written by Jon Gordon, the volume “highlights the negative atmosphere that chronic complainers can bring to a group, church or school.”
Speck, who is superintendent of Oakland Christian School in Auburn Hills, Mich., and youth minister for the Lake Orion, Mich., church, notes, “Focus on things that are good. For teenagers this can be tough. Part of their job description is to complain about something. What I like about the book is its focus on being aware of unnecessary complaints.”