reThink Youth Ministry. Is student ministry Working? Decide for yourself…

ReThink Book on Sale at

ReThink Book on Sale at




“I often wonder if perhaps we have moved so far away from the biblical ideal (for youth ministry) that we may not recognize it any longer.”





 (edit: You can now read my book review of Wright’s follow-up to Rethink. It’s called ApParent Privilege.)


This is the title of the latest book that I have read. reThink, written by Steve Wright and Chris Graves.  There are a plethora of books on the subject of youth ministry, why should anyone care about yet another book?  The reason why this book IS different, is because it is not yet another model. At least not in the sense most of you may be thinking.  Wright does an excellent job of pulling out the common themes/characteristics of  typical modern day youth ministry models (YMM) and treating it as just one model. He then evaluates that model in light of scripture.  What this book seeks to do, is to take a hard look at the current YMM and ask, “Is it Biblical?” If it isn’t, then how fast can we get rid of it and replace it with one that is Biblical?

And YES, all the other youth ministry books claim theirs is the most Biblical, too. The question then is, “What are the fruits of the ‘typical’ modern day YMM?” The entire first chapter of the book deals just with raw data/statistics. And, let me tell you, the evidence is overwhelmingly against the current youth ministry model. Nobody needs statistics to argue for a Biblical YMM (all you DO need is good hermenutics), but when the stats are on your side, it makes your argument that much more potent.

For example: the lowest number cited in regards to student drop-out rate for church membership after high school graduation was 61%; the highest was 88%.  In regards to the tenure of youth pastors, the stat cited was 3.1 years at a given church.  If you were looking at just the bottom line, which I am glad the author does much more than that, then this would be seen as a miserable failure. Even at the low end, 61%… if a college basketball coach averaged a 61% win record every year over the past 10 years, he would no longer have a job. Youth ministries have had this model for over 50 years.

So, what is the typical youth ministry model that Wright rails against? It is hard to describe it in just a few words, but let me try to sum up what Wright thinks are the basic characteristics of a typical youth ministry:

1. There is little to no parental involvement.

2. Parents are seen as competition for the youth pastor.

3. Youth are won over by the youth pastor’s charismatic personality, gimmicks, and entertainment instead of being won over to Christ and to authentic Christian relationships.

4.  Pragmatism, rather than the Bible, is the default method of evaluating ministry effectiveness.

5.  Numbers are the prime indicator of success.

6. The youth group is at best weakly connected with the rest of the church and at worst totally severed.

7. Because of the above mentioned characteristics, far too many youth (presumably even the ones that are truly saved- I’ll get back to this later.) not only graduate from the church when the graduate high school, but they graduate from God.

(I would say that my youth group can be described like this, but it’s difficult for me to do so. That’s because my youth pastor that discipled me in high school endorsed this book. Needless to say, I’m going to have a very interesting phone conversation with him some time in the near future.)

After lambasting this current YMM, he evaluates the only two other choices: Total Family Intergration and what Wright calls a hybrid model; a model that takes the Biblical elements of both family ministry and student ministry and “co-championing” them both together. This hybrid model takes seriously the charge to parents that’s made in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for parents to view themselves as the primary disciplers of their own children. This is the primary principle behind Wright’s argument. If it is true that the parents are the primary discipler of their children, then everything else needs to fall in line behind it.  We can see what this looks like by basically flipping the above-mentioned list on its head:

1. Parents are to be challenged and encouraged to be involved in all aspects of student ministry.

2. Parents are considered as the primary disciplers of their children and partners with the youth pastor.

3. Youth are won over by a gospel-saturated family life (or won over by the friend who comes from a gospel-saturated family life) and, not surprisingly…

4. …by the preaching of God’s word (here’s a great quote from the book about preaching God’s word: “Does the church have the courage to become relevant by becoming Biblical?”).

5. High attendance numbers do not matter nearly as much as retention numbers.

6. The point of the youth ministry is to teach the youth how to operate within the life of the church as a whole, therefore the youth are purposefully trained to operate with other ministries in the church.

7. When these principles are implemented (with a high dose of prayer), then you will see far greater and more lasting fruit as a result.

What worked:

Co-championing both the parents and the youth ministry. I love the thought of “co-championing”! Since this is the thesis of the book, this is where Wright shines. On the one hand, he spends half the time discussing why the parents are the primary discipler of their children. On the other hand, he spends the other half discussing the importance of peer ministry and why parents can’t be the ONLY disciplers.

His sense of honesty and vulnerability. Wright tells a story about the time he bloodied the nose of one of his youth. Obviously, this happened when he was a young youth pastor, but it still takes guts to talk about such an embarrassing ministry faux paux. Because, in this day and age of religious posturing, inflated membership rolls, thick skin, and shallow relationships, his vulnerability and honesty is refreshing to say the least.

Practical application. After laying enough convincing groundwork, Wright gives us a glimpse of how his church implements this vision. Great ideas like a Parent Leadership Team show us newbies how to get started. 

The number of awesome quotes. Wright uses good word economy in this book and has also done his homework in providing some of the most insightful comments by other Christian writers.

What didn’t work:

Before I give a negative critique, I must say that some of these missing links may be left out purposefully for a second book.

Not enough on childhood/teenage conversion.  There is an unspoken controversy regarding conversion. Parents want to believe their kids are saved. Youth pastors want to believe they are leading youth into a genuine relationship with Christ. Yet, the best methods, the most biblical YMM cannot substitute for the regenerate power of the Holy Spirit. This book assumes the salvation of the youth in question and that’s fine for its purposes. It also at least exposes SOME faulty evangelism methods. But, a whole chapter should have been devoted to this issue.

Arguments against total family intergration model of youth discipleship were weak overall. I am very happy Wright at least addressed the ‘other model’. The other model is the one that sees any expression of youth ministry as unbiblical. But, when it comes to reacting against total family intergration, Wright only gives one argument (albeit, a good one) against that other model of ministry. He says we should avoid both extremes (typical YMM and total family intergration), but 90% of the counter-arguments are against the typical YMM. I can think of at least 4 more arguments against total family intergration.

More practical application and troubleshooting. Yes, he poured a lot into unpacking the “parent leadership team” concept, but it would have been nice to have something written about youth who do not have Christian, involved, caring parents. It would have been nice to see MORE of how his youth group does evangelism.

Again, these are all things that can easily be covered in the next book, so my complaints are ultimately only minor.

Thank God this book was written! My hope is that this enters into the church growth circles as an alternative to what’s currently out there. The more exposure this book gets can only mean good things.


P.S. Here is another book review by fellow Southern Seminary grad, Tony Kummer:

and here is the link to the webpage, where you can buy the book:

Philosophy of youth ministry

I have just been voted in as Minister of youth and families at Amelia Baptist Church in Amelia Island, FL. Great church. Great worship service. Great pastor. Those of you who know me are probably thinking that this youth pastor job is coming out of nowhere. I have been mostly looking at head pastorate jobs in my search for a ministry position.

However, truth be told, I have been praying that God would allow me to be an associate pastor and get under a pastor who is older (and wiser) than I am, but at the same time understand and agree with my philosophy of ministry. Well, the dozen youth pastor jobs I’ve looked into always ended up being a difference in philosophies.  That is, until I met that pastor (Neil Helton) at Amelia Baptist. He and I agree on enough that I felt comfortable accepting the job as youth pastor.

What drew Pastor Neil to me was my philosophy of youth ministry. Although the church is in transition and not everyone is totally on board with it, the church at least felt confident enough to see that this could be the future direction of the church. I have written out my philosophy of youth ministry to be shared with the blogosphere. Feel free to critique it. (And in case you’re wondering, it is going to be in the same vein as Rethink by Steve Wright.) Oh, and this statement includes children because, after all, I am pastor of youth and families.

Philosophy of Family Ministry
Nathan and Amy DeFalco



Authoritative Source

The Bible is not only without error, it is all-sufficient for guiding us in every area of faith and conduct. It is also our first and final authority for every area of faith and conduct. Because it is sufficient and authoritative for guiding families, we need to look to the Bible first for guidance, as well as we need to be discerning of any source outside the Bible that claims authoritative guidance for families. Any outside source that contradicts, ignores, or denies the wisdom of scripture in regard to the family, should be rejected.



The Bible teaches us that the family is a whole unit and should be treated as a whole unit. The head of the family is the father, with both father and mother being ordained by God to be the primary discipler of their children. They are the primary teacher concerning doctrine, behavior, and the ins and outs of daily life. When the father is not present, the mother is to assume head of the household and, with the help of God and the church, be the provider and nurturer of the home. It is important to the spiritual life of the child that their parents bring their children to appropriate church services and activities. It is equally important that the things taught to them at church are reinforced in the home.


The parent should also see themselves as the primary educator of their children. Although the Bible is silent concerning the mode of education (whether it be private school, public school, or home schooling), the Bible makes it very clear that the parent is to shape the mind of their child helping them to see the world through the light of scripture.


Finally, the parent is also responsible for sharing the gospel with their unbelieving children. Since all children start out as unbelievers, all children need to repent and believe in Jesus. The parents can do their part by teaching their children the meaning of salvation, by loving them in a Christ-like way, and by taking their children to church so they can see the gospel at work.


Family Pastor

The family/youth/children’s pastor should see themselves as primarily an equipper of the parents to disciple their children and secondarily as a discipler of their children. He is to be both a pastoral leader to and a servant of the families in the church. He will provide resources for parents and children. He will provide group and individual discipleship to parents and children. He will provide counsel for families in need. He will facilitate programs, events, conferences, retreats, etc. that will bring families together and will fulfill the goals of the family/youth ministry.


Finally, this pastor is responsible for equipping families to reach out to unchurched and unbelieving families. Parents are to reach out to parents and are to encourage their children to reach out to their peers. The Family Ministry of the Church will help to reinforce this through outreach events, local mission projects, regional mission projects, and overseas mission projects.


Children/youth workers

Workers should have a basic knowledge of the Bible and a passion for children/youth. Workers should be flexible and available to meet a variety of needs as they come up, but  the gifting and passion of volunteers will be made use of as much as possible . The children/youth workers are the “parents” when the children are away from their parents. This is especially true for those children/youth whose parents are not members of the church. When a child comes to church without a parental guardian, the workers are to assume responsibility for the ministry, behavior, and safety of that child.


They also will commit to being trained when training is available so that they will know how to meet the individual needs of a child/youth that are unique to the age group they’re working with.



My hope is to lead all involved to love, care for, and to share the gospel with all children (regardless of race, background, or special needs). This includes teaching children to come to church with the right attitude. A right attitude sees church as a time to learn about God.  We will also lead the children to know what it is like to serve other children and the church in general. And finally, we hope to lead the children to lead others to faith in Christ.


Programs should be designed to meet all of the above goals. Furthermore, programs will be centered on the family as a whole. Therefore all programs should encourage parent participation. Since the program serves the children and not the other way around, they should always be reevaluated, tweaked, or done away with and replaced with programs that better serve the children and the objectives that are already in place. (This includes the nursery, as I see nursery time- at least for 2 to 4 year olds as being a time to teach the children about God in a way that is appropriate for their age.)



The parents, the youth, and the church are to view middle (and especially) high school aged students as adults-in-training. Although they are still emotionally developing at this stage, they are able to take responsibility for their actions and to serve the church. 

As they show evidence of their salvation and show maturity in faith, they will be given more and more responsibilities in the church. The hope is that by the time the youth graduates from high school, they will be ready and willing to integrate into the adult life and adult ministries in the church.


Special Issues


Childhood Conversion: A child’s conversion is the most important event to take place in their life. I was converted at the age of 7, and my wife accepted Christ when she was 6. However, we believe it is important that children truly understand the gospel before they are baptized and accepted into membership of the church.


Therefore, when a child makes a decision to accept Christ, I want to personally council with them before they are baptized and accepted into membership. I also want to council with the parents, so they understand the importance of their child’s decision and that they understand the Biblical definition of salvation.


Family Counseling: The Bible has many competitors in the ‘market’ of family counseling. The church should respond by renewing its efforts to place the Bible in the center of family counseling. I will do this by encouraging all those who are interested in family counseling to become trained and certified in biblical counseling.  In general, the parents will be taught the difference between biblical and unbiblical approaches to counseling.


Children’s Church: Since the parent is the primary discipler of their children, it will be up to them as to whether or not the church does a children’s church. It will be my responsibility to inform the parents of the pros and cons of doing children’s church (as opposed to keeping them in the main service). The other adults in the church should not look down upon parents who choose to keep their children in the service, rather they should encourage them and help them.