by Jann Treadwell
Huff Publishing Associates, Edina, Minn. 137 pages
Reviewed by GINA YEAGER-BUCKLEY
“Unbound” is full of testimony. That’s what one notices first when beginning this book. The pages are packed with anecdotes, memories, confessions and narrative witnesses of former youth, recently graduated/post high school young adults, adult volunteer youth workers and clergy.
At times, I found myself worrying that perhaps the “average” (whatever “average” might be anymore … ) congregation or youth worker might not identify with or find practical theological help from an author and a resource coming out of such a healthy and motivated system. Can the typical, small to-almost-mid-size congregational youth worker — who has a full time job outside of the church, no budget, no van, no planning team or youth council let alone enough kids to form a “small group” for devotions — truly appreciate the wealth of ideas and suggestions this book has to offer? Yes. There is something for everyone involved or interested in mining the good information of a seasoned and thoughtful youth ministry professional.
“Unbound” is perhaps most helpful for mid-size or larger youth ministry programs. The book is built around the vast experiences of the author in planning and implementing a number of youth mission trips. The suggestions, resources and anecdotes are based on churches having a team of volunteer youth workers and enough youth to fill a van or two. There are, however, so many practical tips and pieces of wisdom that anyone planning a mission experience for a group of youth or young adults will find assistance.
One example (out of many excellent offerings) is a section in Chapter 6, dealing with “requirements for going on trips.” If you’ve been in youth ministry for any length of time you’ve had to deal with this situation. How do you address a youth who does not participate in the youth program, or perhaps, fundraise with the other participants, but does want to go on the trip? There are issues of conflict, questions of equity, tensions between leader and parents, and concern about the inactive youth “fitting in” with active youth. These are real relationships, real challenges — and they delve into not only practical areas but theological corners as well. The author takes these situations into account and includes them in both an organizational and a spiritual framework.
Because this book is based so strongly on the author’s vast experience and time in ministry, some of the details might feel very church specific, user specific and even slightly dated with mentions of games used, songs sung, practices and story references. But read and connect your own dots. There is good and wise stuff here. There is the reminder of the importance of ritual and of Christian community in a young person’s adolescent faith development. There is the excellent and thoughtful reflection of an experienced faith leader. In other words, you have an opportunity to benefit from the experiences, recollections and curated knowledge of a loving and smart youth ministry professional and legally “steal” her excellent planning resources.
GINA YEAGER-BUCKLEY is Associate for Ministries with Youth at the Presbyterian Mission Agency in Louisville, Kentucky.