11 Books Every Youth Leader Should Read

Every once in a while, the team from Kindred Youth Ministry wants to point out great resources available for youth workers. So, we have decided to put together a list of books we think every youth leader should read.

11 Books to Read

Now, if you know me personally, you know it was challenging to keep this list short. In fact, I’ve decided to do another post in the future about books we should all read that aren’t specifically about youth ministry, but are incredibly helpful. This list is short – only 11 books! And that means we won’t cover everything, but instead will offer a great list of books we think are really important.

The kids we love and serve deserve our best. They deserve pastors, leaders, and mentors who are thinking critically about life, culture, and ministry.

They deserve to have voices in their lives who have done the work trying to understand how to speak faithfully about the Lord, the Kingdom of God, and their lives.

Reading might be one of the best way to cultivate that kind of leadership in our ministries. We must be students of scripture, always pointing back to the work of Jesus, to the love of God, and to big ideas like creation, sin, justification and many more.

We must also be students of culture, able to offer developed thought on how to see the work of God in the world, how to discern what is happening through our own lived experience, and what it means to be faithful witnesses in and through our lives.

Reading great books and working through them, together, might be one of the most accessible ways to do this work. What if you picked one of these books each month and read them with other youth pastors? What if you read them with your volunteers, staff, and leadership teams? We don’t promise you will agree with everything mentioned in each of these books below. That simply isn’t the point of reading.

Somehow, Christians seem to have fallen into a trap where we believe we have to agree 100% with an author in order to learn from their work. This seems foolish to me. I imagine it keeps many of us from reading authors who might challenge our presuppositions, push us to think through our commitments, or simply read a book from another perspective.

The Plan

So here is the plan… I am going to offer these 11 books as resources I think we should all struggle with. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. I haven’t covered every perspective or theological background and my biases will show, I’m sure. But… I think these books are great gifts to the larger church. Over the next few months, we will release in depth blog posts on each of these books in order to further invite you into the work of these authors. We hope to interview some of the authors as well.

So, in no particular order, here are 11 great books!

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry:

From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation 

by Andrew Root

Revisiting Relational Youth MinistryThis book is a must read. Andrew Root invites the reader to reconsider what it means to be in relationship with kids. Helping us understand a theology of the Incarnation; Root rejects influence as the primary goal of ministry, as often seen in relational approaches to ministry, and helps us move towards a more faithful vision of what it means to be with and for kids. This book was convicting, helpful, and is a graduate level piece of work on theology and youth ministry.

Practicing Passion: 

Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church

by Kenda Creasy Dean

Practicing PassionWe could probably make a top 10 list of books just by Kenda Dean, but this one has to be included here. Dean is convinced that the church has lost its first love – a deep theological understanding of Jesus – and settled for educational approaches to working with kids. The problem is that kids are wondering if there is anything out there worth living for, and not experiencing that in the church. Dean helps us learn how to recover the art of cultivating this passion in the lives of the kids we so dearly love.

Sustainable Youth Ministry: 

Why Most Youth Ministry Doesn’t Last and What Your Church Can Do About It

by Mark DeVries

Sustainable Youth MinistryThis book is a must read if you want to do ministry for more than just a few years. Mark DeVries is the founder of Ministry Architects and brings a wealth of insight into the long-term health of a youth ministry. This book is simple, straightforward, and incredibly helpful not just for a youth minister, but their supervisor as well. If you want to stick around for any length of time, read this book.

Amplifying Our Witness:

Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities

by Benjamin Conner

Amplifying Our WitnessAlmost 20% of adolescents have some sort of developmental disability, and I would say youth ministry, in large part, is failing these kids. We can do better. These kids, and their families, have so many great gifts to offer the church, belong in the church, and are sadly rarely even seen. Conner offers this excellent book that helps us re-imagine what it could mean to be a church that offers hospitality and friendship to every kid out there. This book has changed my own personal experience of youth ministry and church; I can’t recommend it enough!

Almost Christian: 

What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church

by Kenda Creasy Dean

Almost ChristianGrounded in the largest study on adolescents to date, Dean takes the data and gives us a front row seat to the kids we know and love. Taking a hard look at the apathetic faith lives of kids, Dean exposes “do-good, feel-good spirituality”. The scary thing about this book is Kenda suggests kids are doing exactly what we, the church, have shown them! This phenomenal books helps us recover an accessible yet deeply theological response to this crisis of youth ministry today.

Contemplative Youth Ministry: 

Practicing the Presence of Jesus

by Mark Yaconelli

Contemplative Youth MinistryThis book is a must read for those of us trying to invite kids into a deeper relationship with Christ. Yaconelli helps us move beyond a consumer model of youth ministry and goes further than a content model focused on a transfer of information. He, instead, suggests we should invite kids to walk with us as we experience and follow Jesus. This is an excellent book.

Beyond the Screen: 

Youth Ministry for the Connected But Alone Generation

by Andrew Zirschky

Beyond the ScreenAs we try to figure out what it means to faithfully minister to millennials, we must learn to engage with technology, social media, and the ultra-connected world that we live in. Zirschky does the work of theological reflection and cultural engagement, showing us a way forward that offers more than the run of the mill frustration about cell phones. This is an important and timely book for today’s youth minister.

Presence Centered Youth Ministry: 

Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation

by Mike King

Presence-Centered Youth MinistryPlacing the presence of God at the center of all things Youth Ministry, Mike King helps us reframe the work of the youth minster. Knowing and being known by God replaces the typical obsession with frantic busyness and programs. I think this is good news for youth ministry! King suggests a return to the ancient spiritual practices of the church and shows us how to carry this out.

Hurt 2.0: 

Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers

by Chap Clark

Hurt 2.0Grounded in his sociological tool-belt, Chap Clark shows us that todays adolescents have been systematically abandoned by society, the church, and their parents. Left to figure life out on their own, kids develop two worlds- the world they share and the world beneath where real life happens. This book is a helpful introduction to the reality of kids today, offering a framework for how we can better understand their lives and how we as youth ministers can relate.

Sticky Faith, Youth Worker Edition:

Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers

by Kara Powell, Brad Griffin, and Cheryl Crawford

Sticky FaithPowell, Griffin, and Crawford face off with the challenge every youth minister and parent wrestles with… what happens when our kids leave high school and head off to college. The terrifying number of kids who abandon their faith and fellowship warrant a read of this book for sure. Sticky Faith looks to invite parents and youth ministers to partner in more faithful practices to address these issues.

Family Based Youth Ministry

by Mark DeVries

Family-Based Youth MinistryMark DeVries wrote this book out of his own experience raising kids and ministering to hundreds of kids over the years. Here is the big idea… get more adults involved in your kids lives and embrace a larger view of family as grounded in the family of God. With an “extended family” point of view, DeVries invites us to surround our kids with people who will love them, support them, and point them to Christ.

Ok, there you have it! 11 books that are important, helpful, and easily accessible by all. Now pick a few, and get started!

But first… a question… what did I miss? Which books have been most helpful for you and your ministry? Tell us why and lets all keep the conversation going… Thanks!

About the Author: Justin Forbes

Justin Forbes - Kindred Youth MinistryJustin serves as the director of the Youth Ministry program at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL and has been involved in youth ministry since 1998. He’s also a co-founder of Kindred Youth Ministry. His passion is teaching and mentoring youth ministers. Click here to read more about Justin.