Kenda Creasy Dean, Wesley W. Ellis, Justin Forbes and Abigail Visco Rusert
Eerdmans, 176 pages
Reviewed by Sarah Dennis
When you begin reading a youth ministry book, you might expect references to C.S. Lewis, Aladdin and Katy Perry — but not often Jürgen Moltmann, Thomas Merton and Miroslav Volf. However, as I was reading through this incisive book, I was continually struck by the graceful weaving of practical application and deep theology.
As someone who felt called into pastoral ministry to youth, grounding youth ministry in a theological construct compels me. I’m drawn in by theology that is not esoteric but rather highly accessible. The authors do that masterfully. In “Delighted,” they equate the joy of God – God’s delight in humanity simply for their being – to the role youth workers play in the lives of young people in a readable and relatable way. They accomplish this by urging readers to rethink the concepts of friendship, celebration and confession in youth ministry. Rather than employing an attractional model that allures youth with flashy ministry, their aim is to help those in ministry with youth to create opportunities that delight in the youth for long-term discipleship.
I was particularly stuck by the authors’ understanding of friendship with youth. For too long, the loudest rhetoric has been that youth workers should not be friends with their youth. The authors skillfully challenge that ideal while upholding the importance of boundaries so that a nurturing spiritual friendship can occur. This is accomplished by framing the conversation in terms of friendship being something we do for the other, rather than a transactional relationship to get something from the other. This reframing of friendship does not require mutual levels of vulnerability, but instead offers fidelity to youth — something they are often asked to give and rarely offered in return.
“Delighted” offers a theological window into what rooted ministry can look like, even if the ministry is not perfect. The authors’ use of celebration in the midst of sorrow and confession as a means to further turn to the God who is at work among us is inspiring as well as applicable. Each chapter ends with questions you can discuss with a youth ministry team, or use for personal reflection. This, combined with its brevity, makes it a great book for a leadership team to read for training. This book does not offer ready-made youth group plans. There is no “do this and your ministry will grow” chapter.
However, if you are looking for something to spark imagination and creativity, “Delighted” will offer you lots of kindling for your fire. So often we hear that what young people want is authentic ministry, with authentic pastors. “Delighted” presents concepts that can be used to create such a ministry.
Sarah Dennis is pastor at Tuckahoe Presbyterian Church in Richmond, Virginia.