Monday, June 20, 2011

Consuming Youth

In recent years, the news media have reported on a handful of child kidnapping stories that for years remained unresolved. While each of these stories are complex and nuanced, it’s always surprising to learn that the unwilling captive was somehow brainwashed to the point of assimilating themselves into the system of the captor to the point where they lived there willingly, rather than trying to escape. I wonder if the same dynamic isn’t at work on us and our kids as marketing hijacks our hearts and minds so effectively, that we willingly enjoy and seek out the opportunity to keep riding along?

In their book, Consuming Youth: Leading Teens Through Consumer Culture (Zondervan, 2010), John Berard, James Penner and Rick Bartlett take readers on a tour of the history of consumer culture and how it established consumption as the primary purpose of our kids. Youth culture and modern adolescence are relatively recent social and economic inventions. They have functioned to shape our identities so effectively that we’ve just come to accept that this is the way it is, and the way it’s supposed to be. But the trio of authors asks those of us who love and care for kids to step back and see that consumer culture is really doing to our kids. Then, they start a conversation about what it means to re-think youth ministry in ways that shape significantly different ideology of youth, one that debunks the myths of consumer culture while helping them find their identity and calling in Christ.

Consuming Youth is a thoughtful book that raises important issues and can get us started on the journey to reframing our ministries in response to the ways that marketing and consumer culture so quickly and easily rope our kids – and us – in. This is one worth reading and discussing in a group.

--Walt Mueller

Thursday, June 9, 2011


The teenage years can seem like a minefield at times: you want to give your children the freedom to strongly walk forth and become responsible adults, and yet you want to protect them from making choices that could rupture not only their present circumstances but their futures as well. Plus, given the rugged terrain that teens have to navigate—pornography available online and via cellphones, the extreme pressure on body image by the culture, the epidemic of cyberbullying, just to name a few—anyone given the task of raising teenagers is in great need of guidance.

Jim Burns, a man who has devoted his life to helping kids and who is the father of three himself, responds to this need for guidance in his book, Teenology: The Art of Raising Great Teenagers (Bethany House, 2010). In his book, Burns tackles some of the major issues surrounding the task of raising teenagers into responsible adults. He gives a basic overview of the process of changes known as adolescence and then delves into the problems that can occur, whether it’s a block in communication between parents and teens, or combating the allure of pornography or sexual promiscuity that is so prominent in today’s culture. And though Burns delves into uncomfortable topics, he comes from the standpoint of one who has already been through this process three times before with his own children, and countless other times with his youth groups. His main message is to “Stay calm. Adolescence is a temporary transition. Work your plan. Hold on to your seat belt. Get as emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy as you possibly can, and before you know it, that sweet kid who morphed into a teen and sometimes hates you will become a responsible adult.”

There is no book (to my knowledge) that provides easy answers for raising God-serving teenagers. But, if you are looking for a foundation from which to understand the “art,” as Burns calls it, Teenology is a good place to start. A book more focused on practical solutions than theoretical wonderings, this is a good resource for parents or soon-to-be parents desiring advice as well as tools to best help their children maneuver the “minefield” of adolescence.

--Angelina Deola

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Too Small To Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most

It’s no secret that Jesus had a big heart for little children. He calls us to love, lead, and care for the smallest among us as well. Ironically, we live in a time where parents are almost over-committed to their children, but children are suffering from both neglect and over-stimulation. We struggle to get it right.

Wess Stafford has been loving and ministering to children for decades. He serves as the President of Compassion International, a Christian childcare ministry that serves impoverished children globally through church-based programs funded by child sponsors. Currently, over 1 million children are sponsored through Compassion International. Stafford has a heart for the world’s young not just because that’s what he’s been called to, but because as child himself he was victimized by the very people he should have been able to trust. The son of missionaries to Africa, Stafford spent several months a year at a Christian boarding school. It was there that he suffered years of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of the school’s teachers and administrators. He tells that story and issues a call to care for the young in his book, Too Small To Ignore: Why the Least of These Matters Most (WaterBrook, 2007). By taking readers through the Scriptures and the realities of our current culture, Stafford calls readers to make children a priority in every area of life. He invites readers to become champions for children, offering practical suggestions on how to make that happen.

While this is not a book on parenting or youth ministry, it is a book that parents and youth workers will benefit from reading. After all, our ministries and families must be centered on living out Biblical priorities in the way we raise and relate to the kids we know and love. Too Small To Ignore is worth your time and attention. As an added bonus, the book includes study and discussion questions that lends it well to individual reflection or small group discussion.

--Walt Mueller