How to get a free copy of Relationships Unfiltered and partner with Andrew Root

Friends and fellow youth workers

Below is a note from a good friend of mine and excellant youth ministry thinker and resource Andrew Root. I have known Andy for a few years now, read all of his books, and had the privledge of attending the First Third conference and being a guest on his radio show.  He knows what he is talking about and his insights into teen culture, faith, and Christianity have both inspired and shaped my own ministry with my students.

From Andrew……

“Hello Youth Ministry friends, I’m sorry to interrupt your regularly scheduled blog reading, but I have broken transmission to offer you an opportunity.

I wanted to get before you the chance to get a free copy of my book Relationships Unfiltered. As the new school year approaches and you think about volunteer leader meetings and trainings I would like to suggest you take a look at Relationships Unfiltered. It’s written just for this setting with discussion questions and chapters filled with illustrations and stories–but also promises to get you and your team thinking theologically about your core practice this coming school year: forming relationships with young people.

Here’s what I can do: If you’ll email me (aroot@luthersem.edu) I’ll send you a free copy of the book so you can look it over and decide if it would be of help to you and your volunteers.  If you’re interested in using it you can then go to Zondervan.com or Zondervan.com/ministry and type in the code 980752 in the “source code” box.  Starting August 1 this will give you a 40% discount on as many books as you’d like.

And I’ll also offer this, if you do use the book with your team, I’m willing to do a select number of skype or ichat conversations with you and your team after getting through the book.”

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I hope you will take him up on this offer, or at the least, look up his resources and see if they can be useful for your own personal development and ministry.  I have used this particular book with my leaders and it is extremely valuable for both full-time youth pastors and volunteer leaders.

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Live appearance on Relationships Unfiltered-Episode 16

In this episode Andrew Root was kind enough to have me on as the guest as we chat about chapter 8 of his new book Relationships Unfiltered.

via Relationships Unfiltered-Episode 16, Chapter 8.

You can click on the link above to log on and listen in.  We would love to have you join in the conversation as we dialog about the shape of faithful place-sharing in relational youth ministry.

Relationships Unfiltered

Relationships Unfiltered

Zondervan was kind enough to send me Andrew Root’s second book, Relationships Unfiltered, and I am glad they did.  I am not sure what the official release date was or is, but if you have not picked up this book, you will want to.  Author  and former youth pastor Tony Jones writes, “Relationships Unfiltered is the single most important youth ministry book in a generation.”

A quick summary:  This is a revised version of Root’s first masterpiece, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry.  I wrote an extensive three part review of that book and have included the links below.

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry_review part 1

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry_review part 2

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry_final review

While the first book was soaked in theological ideas and seminary language, this book appears to be written for a more general audience.  Not to say that others could not read or benefit from his first book, but Relationships Unfiltered is a perfect blend of stories, reflections, Scriptural interpretation, and practical approaches that can benefit anyone in youth ministry.  Besides, any book that mentions some of my favorite movies has to be worth the read.  In this book Root uses analogies and excerpts from such films as About a Boy, Good Will Hunting, Little Miss Sunshine, Freedom Writers, and I Heart Huckabees.

The subtitle of the book is “Help for youth workers, volunteers, and parents on creating authentic relationships. ”

I would love to have my parents and volunteers read this book and discuss together how we can implement Root’s ideas about what real incarnational ministry can and should resemble in our lives and community.

Enough of the introduction…let me provide a brief overview and synopsis of the content.

Root begins from a place within.  His own experiences (both as a husband and youth leader) lead him to question the methods and beliefs commonly ascribed to by many in youth ministry.  He came to the conclusion that his approach to youth ministry was that of influence.  His goal had been to build relationships with students so to influence them towards some end. He writes, “but my desire to influence them was keeping me from really being with them-in a truly relational way.”

He further confesses, “We cared more about getting them saved, baptized, confirmed, or involved in positive activities than about being truly with them in the deepest joys and sufferings of their lives.”

Rather then entering into their lives, he had simplified his role to “fixing” students.  Of course, the problem is that students are smart and savvy, and see straight through that, dont’ they?

As youth workers, we may think that having an agenda for our students is a good and necessary thing, especially if the agenda is to lead them to Christ.  Once again, the problem arises when our students don’t agree that the agenda is such a good thing, thus spoiling or preventing relationships to deepen.

Root continues by making a strong case why relational youth ministry cannot be about influence.  Without giving away too much, a basic premise is that we cannot act or be perceived as sales reps for God and salvation.  No one likes people who attempt to start a friendship with you, only to then try to sell you on a business pitch.  Anyone been in that situation before? As adults, we see through that and often end up resenting those “friends”, so why would our students think differently of us if that becomes our approach?

Root asks a bold question to youth workers, “Do we have a ‘point’ going into a relationship that dictates the direction of the relationship and overshadows our ability to truly be with and for a young person, learning real need?”

Ouch!

Andrew believes, and rightly so, that relationships in ministry are not pathways to quick decisions. Rather, they are invitations to share life (all of life, its good and bad) together.   “At its core, relational youth ministry is about being with students in the midst of the all-too-common (and tragic) feeling of being alone. ”

Root moves on  to examine the life and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (whom I love) to help further understand relational youth ministry as place sharing.  He really develops this theme in his first book, and if you are a Bonhoeffer fan, you should read it.

Place sharing means “to suffer with” and “stand in” for the full person of the adolescent.  It was and is what Jesus does for humanity.  It is represented as community in the essence of the Trinity.  Root spends a few chapters diving in theologically and showing how place sharing fits into the nature and role of Christ as Incarnate, Crucified, and Resurrected.

Incarnate

To be incarnate in youth ministry has little to do with magnetism, little to do with your ability to attract adolescents with your aura of cool. But is has everything to do with gently entering the lives of adolescents as we invite them to enter our own.”  That is what Root calls authentic place sharing.

The incarnation claims that God is among is, God is with us, and God is for us. It proclaims we are free– free to be human, free to love one another, and free to love God as God made us, human.”

Crucified

Since our world is full of brokenness and suffering, the fact that Jesus entered into human history and experienced pain and death can give us hope.  Bonhoeffer wrote “Only a suffering God can help.”  Youth ministry is not about fixing students suffering, but about being brave enough to see it and live with it in hope; to see it, to name it, and then to respectfully enter it and to share in their journeys.

“When suffering is shared, often its power to strangle is broken.  The power of suffering to determine our destiny is broken when suffering is shared in relationships.”

Resurrected

“Relational ministry in the shape of the resurrected Christ is to live and love in the now”  This enables us and our students to live fully present in this world, but also to have hope.  “What makes us different from non-Christians is that we live fully in a fallen world of death and loss and nevertheless hope in God’s promises won and witnessed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”  Our job, as youth workers, is to hope with them as we suffer with them.” What a great statement!

“When we assert that God is present in Jesus Christ in relationship (not in where we take the relationship), we are free, because God’s presence is not dependent upon us- it’s already a reality.

“Our call is simply to be with youth, to share their place, to see them as they are as we invite them to see us as we are, and is so doing confess that Jesus is present between and with us. We don’t have to do or be anything other than our authentic human selves.”

In order to truly be human, we must be both real and open with students, as well as closed when necessary.  We put our lives on display, but in a real way that fits into our personality, family, and basic realities of existence.  Let’s be honest, being open and available to students 24-7 is not healthy or realistic, yet why do so many new youth pastors attempt to do that?

What are we saying about the value of rest, privacy, family, and our own interests?  We need to be ourselves and share that authenticity with our students.  They will respect us more for it in the long run, and ultimately the lessons we exemplify will be far more sustainable.

Root concludes with some practical approaches and ideas depicting what place sharing might look like in your ministry context. I especially appreciated the story about a small group of leaders and students who meet at a church.  As often happens, the students seemed disengaged and hyper active. Yet, when the time came for group prayer, the students shared personal requests and prayed for each other with sincerity.

Root writes, “There in that nondescript room that lacked flat-screen TV’s, video projectors, and a platform stage that the leadership seemed to covet as marks of success and relevance, adults were sprinkled throughout, sitting with kids, touching and smiling at those who spoke, nodding with them as they expressed their fears and brokenness into the life of the community.”

To me, that is youth ministry at its core.  It’s not about what we have to offer, it’s about entering fully into the real lives of real students.  Here in the northeast, we do youth ministry out of what we have, not what we want.  I am glad Andrew shared this particular story as a hallmark of success, because in many viewpoints (by comparison) no one would take notice of that small raggamuffin group of people sharing life together.

I will conclude my review with some key concepts and a few final statements that spoke into my heart and ministry.

Practical Actions for Youth Workers:

Be a relational matchmaker

recruit and serve volunteer leaders

communicate with parents

share the vision

pass on the faith through doubt and struggle

include students in your life

A section that especially challenged me to critically think about my own youth ministry was a set of questions proposed.

Root articulates that if our ministry is about personal influence, then these are the type of questions we are focussed on:

How can we get kids to come?     How can we do the most cutting edge ministry?   How can I do a good job and be esteemed?

However, if we are able to shift from a ministry of influence towards a ministry of place sharing, the questions shift from “How” to “Who”

Who are these young people and what is impacting them?  Who I am alongside them?  Who is this God we serve, and who is God calling us to be and be with?

Personal Reflections:

These questions left my mind spinning, as I contemplated my ministry and realized just how often I ask myself and leaders the first set of questions, and how seldom I am asking the second set.   Relational youth ministry is not easy.  It is easy trying to “fix” my students and make them believe and behave the right way. That way, I can show them off to the elders of my church and don’t have to deal with the drama and struggles of teen life.

However, true youth ministry means getting involved in the mess and not avoiding or ignoring it.

Is it easier to look the other way?  Yes.

It is more presentable and manageable to not have the addicted, abused, and depressed in your group?  Of course.

Let’s face it, they often complicate things.  But isn’t that how real life is anyways?  No one has it together, and to promote that kind of message to today’s students, I think does more harm than good.  Yes, Jesus can and does heal our brokenness and we should celebrate that when it happens, but it usually does not happen overnight.

After I read this book I uttered a simple prayer that God would stir my heart and make me more sensitive and compassionate to students in need. I don’t want my youth group to be a place where students feel they have to hide their doubts, anger, and issues.

Just this week, a girl opened up in our small group about cutting herself and contemplating suicide, another stood in court to testify to sexual abuse in her family, another is battling sexual addiction, one is threatening to overdose on pills, and the list goes on.  Just last night, a number of students opened up about major issues going on at home.  Tears were being poured out like offerings and I witnessed other students (who have gone through similar struggles) rise up and pray for those in need.  It was truly a magnificent and powerful occasion.

In years past, I would have almost prayed that these students simply not show up each week (problem solved).  Now, I want these students in my group. I want to hear their stories and enter in their pain.  I want to pray with and for them and to give them hope.  I prayed just the other week that God would give me more compassion  and opportunities to enter into the lives of students.  Be careful what you pray for!

My prayer is that my life and ministry will celebrate brokenness and hurting students and I will not run away from issues, rather enter into them with compassion, faith, hope, and love.

Everybody Hurts (for web)

My top 5 list for youth workers

As I meet new youth workers in my area, I am often asked the question “What books or resources do you recommend?”  My thoughts have changed over the years, but having read most youth ministry books out there, I have come to some decisions.  Granted, every youth worker is different and so is every context .  These are the five books I would recommend a new youth worker read and, in fact, I have given this list to my former interns who are now in full-time youth ministry.

(There are other non Youth Ministry books I highly recommend as far as theology, personal and spiritual development, church ministry, etc…, but this list is primarily about progressive and innovative youth ministry ideas, philosophies, and content that I have personally found to be the most helpful and inspirational in my situation)

I have posted a page on my blog with a more complete list of recommended books, but I chose to keep this list limited to five so not to overwhelm someone.  All of the books are fairly short and easy reads, and my advise is to read one book a month and really digest it.  After six months, you should have a good understanding of new models and thoughts for an every-changing youth ministry)

Each book speaks into different aspects of youth ministry including relational approaches, spiritual development, philosophical/theological perspectives, cultural/worldview changes and implications, and new ministry models.  I have written some reviews of these, which you can find by searching the blog, and intend to have a review written on each book shortly.

In no particular order:

A New Kind of Youth Ministry– Chris Folmsbee

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An excellent book about re-culturing forms and structure of traditional youth ministry models such as evangelism, disciple ship, leadership, missions, etc..

“A New Kind of Youth Ministry should be the handbook for a generation of forward-thinking youth workers.” – Tony Jones

Youth Ministry 3.0– Mark Oestreicher

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Marko realizes that the way we have been doing things is already not working. This book looks back historical to the major shifts in youth ministry while attempting to create a third way- new approach in ministering contextually and cross-culturally to new generations of students.

“This book will inspire, equip, and challenge you with an extremely thoughtful and realistic approach to youth ministry for the 3.0 orbs we find ourselves in.” -Chris Folmsbee

Postmodern Youth Ministry- Tony Jones

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Probably the first book published that researched the effects of postmodernity on students and attempted to re-think what youth ministry needed to look like.  Eight years after publication, it is still probably the best book out there on the issues and countless people are finding encouragement as they realize the inevitable influence on postmodernity in their own contexts.

Presence-Centered Youth Ministry- Mike King

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This book sets the bar for creating a theological and historical foundation for God’s presence in youth ministry.  The book shows how classic disciplines, symbols, and practices can shape the worldviews, virtues, and habits of young people today.    “If Brother Lawrence had been a youth pastor, this book would have been his favorite resource.” – Kendra Dean

Relationships Unfiltered– Andrew Root

relationships unfiltered

Andrew Root challenges youth workers to reconsider our motives for relational youth ministry and begin to consider simply being with and dong life alongside teenagers with no agenda other than to love them right where they are, by place sharing.  “Relationships Unfiltered is the single most important youth ministry book in a generation. ” -Tony Jones

Contemplative Youth Ministry- by Mark Yaconelli

Contemplative Youth Ministry

I must admit that I was a bit skeptical prior to reading this book.   However, after reading through the book for a second time, it has become one of my favorite youth ministry books.  Mark Yaconelli has a witty and authentic way of storytelling and teaching how to help students practice the presence of Jesus. I appreciate his journey; his mistakes, failures, lessons learned, and advice he has to offer all of us attempting (and praying) to see our students grow spiritually.

Central to this book is the theme of presence.  The author shares that the central problem in sharing the Christian faith with young people is this:

We don’t know how to be with our kids.

We don’t know how to be with ourselves.

We don’t know how to be with God.

But if we look to the life of Jesus as our example and inspiration, we find that Jesus enjoys being with people and being with God.  “His ministry doesn’t come from a pre-planned formula but instead arises in response to the real situations and relationships he encounters.”

To be “present” with our students means relating to youth in the way Jesus related to people…with authenticity and transparency.

The idea of “contemplation” means being with God within the reality of the present moment.  As Mark explains, “it’s about attentiveness–opening our eyes to God, ourselves, and others.”

Ignatious of Loyola referred to contemplation as “seeing God in all things.”  Brother Lawrence called it” the pure loving gaze that finds God everywhere.”  Teresa of Avila referred to this experience as “Awareness absorbed and amazed.”

One of the questions asked in the book really spoke to me.  “What is my deepest hope for the youth I know?”

As I prayed and thought through this, I could sense and feel the way God sees and loves my students.  I began viewing them through God’s eyes and not through my own agendas for them.

I especially appreciated the section dealing with being transparent and vulnerable before our students. Often, the assumption is that as youth leaders we must live above our students and, without realizing it, a certain level of disconnect and unapproachability inevitably creeps in.  Mark writes (and I agree) that youth want to know about our marriages or romantic lives.  They want to meet our friends and find out what we do when not in church.  They want to know what makes us angry and whether we agree or disagree with their parents.

They want to know how to live well and live fully human, and they need us as real examples that they can relate to.

Probably my favorite chapter is entitled “Becoming a Good Listener” simply because I struggle with this approach and quite frankly needed a healthy dose of inspiration and challenge.

The first part of this approach is learning how to surrender.  “We need to stop trying to make kids love God…to surrender means to recognize that we don’t control how God lives and moves. We don’t control our churches and we certainly don’t control the spiritual lives of our young people.”

As youth leaders, we need to be able to trust that our students belong to God; that God has been seeking to love them since before they were born and will continue to love them long after they leave the influence of our ministries.  This concept is revolutionary to me and freeing in the same breath.

We also need to receive from God, and place our students in positions to receive from Him as well.  “When we allow ourselves to be open and receptive to God’s love and presence, we begin to notice that God is alive and available.”

Mark provides a great chart comparing/contrasting the different ways we approach youth ministry when we’re rooted in anxiety rather than love.  Interestingly enough, I was able to use the same descriptions and characteristics and compare “traditional” to “emerging” youth ministry approaches .  In many ways, traditional youth ministry is based upon anxiety (control, professionals, products, results, conformity, activity, and answers).  Contrary, emerging youth ministries demonstrate and implement contemplation, processes, presences, guides, relationships, creativity, awareness, and questions.

This chart forced me to critically reflect upon my youth ministry and see how we have been operating in the past:  out of anxiety or love?

The next big section offers different ways to enter into the presence of God. Most are rooted in ancient Christianity and have been transformative for centuries.  Now, I have been doing a number of these for some time, but each process would be powerful if we can find ways to implement them into our youth ministries and model them for our students.

They include: Lectio Divina (holy reading, Centering Prayer (indwelling Christ), The Awareness Examen, Silent Prayer, Creative Arts prayer

By far, the best chapter for me (and I think one of the best chapters in all youth ministry books to date) is “Being with young people”

Being human is “seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard, being moved by others and allowing others to be moved by us, responding with acts of kindness and receiving acts of kindness, and embodying a sense of delight in all our interactions.”  In many ways, author and professor Andrew Root picks up on this theme and wonderfully runs with it in his books Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry and Relationships Unfiltered.

Seeing

We love young people when we see them with the eyes of Jesus; seeing them as they are, not as the culture judges them to be or as we wish them to be.

Yaconelli shares a wonderful story about being on a youth retreat with a particularly terrible bunch of students (haven’t we all had that experience before!)  He became angry and yelled at them and demanded that the fun stop and they all go to bed.  Feeling bad about the way he treated them he got up and walked around the sanctuary where they were sleeping.  Watching them, he began to notice their innocence and remembered their pain and hurt. His anger at them was transformed into compassion for them as he began to see them with the eyes of Christ.

Hearing

We also need to listen; to open our ears to the words and feelings youth speak.  As a youth pastor, I often feel the need (and desire) to speak.  Even when students are unloading their problems and issues, I fight the urge to interrupt with my sound advise. Most of our activities at youth group are designed to help students sit and listen to us. But imagine if we could turn that around and listen to them.  “Its almost a conversion experience in this day and age to be authentically heard by another person.”  I couldn’t agree more.

I debated whether to share this story or not, but here goes.

A few years back I had the priviledge of attending a course on Postmodernity and the Emergent Church taught at Alliance Theological Seminary by Tony Jones.  I had met Tony briefly on a few occasions and we planned to spend some time together after class.  I will never forget the time, attention, and care he gave me while the two of us sat and chatted at an Irish pub in Nyack.  He asked questions like he actually cared about my life and he listened.  He could have talked about his experiences, his writings, his theology..and I would have listened and loved it. But instead, the whole evening was about me.  And the timing was perfect because I had issues that I really needed to talk about with someone, but no one (up to that point) had thought to ask.  I finally felt free to share with someone who would not judge and had no self interest.  My respect and appreciation for Tony grew that night and I left feeling such a weight lifted.

I want to be that kind of friend, mentor, and youth pastor to students.

“Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking. Many people are looking for an ear that will listen.  They person who can no longer listen to others will soon be no longer listening to God either.” -Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Action with Kindness

These are moments in which we embody the love of God.  This love of God “is often more powerful and transformative in small acts of love than in the lights, energy, and charisma of large outreach events.”

We need to take time to experience the everyday moments of life together with our students.  These can occur over simple meals, while driving or shopping, watching a game together, etc..

Before reading this book I associated contemplation with being still…perhaps a monk in isolation in a cave somewhere!

Parker Palmer debunks that thought and writes the following: “At root, contemplation and action are the same. As our youth ministry becomes infused with contemplative prayer and awareness, the effect is not more prayer and silence; instead, what begins to emerge is authentic action. Activities within the youth ministry no longer are chosen frantically from resource books; they no longer are prescribed from the outside.  Instead, as we widen our awareness, our actions with youth become more guided by their needs and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  Being prayerfully present to kids enlarges our capacity to act out of love rather than anxiety. Contemplative awareness nurtures our creativity and draws us to act from the heart. We find ourselves responding more and reacting less.”

Delight

As youth pastors, we should be amazed and delighted by students.  I have found that even though dealing with middle school antics and high school drama can be taxing, there is no greater joy than seeing young people “get it”.  I have more fun with students than with any other age group.  It is fun and a delight to be around them, and I feel blessed to be a part of that on a daily basis.  I know that if and when God leads me to do something else, I will always miss the joy I experience when with young people.

Jean Vanier writes that love is “to reveal the beauty of another person to themselves.”  When students are seen, they feel valued.  When they are heard, they feel respected.  When someone is moved by their situation, they feel loved.  And when others delight in their existence, they sense the very breath of God!

“Youth Ministry is about holding up a young person’s deepest identity until he or she is able to see it too.”

The last major section of the book developes a process of recruiting and training a community around you to serve the youth. Mark calls this a “covenant community” and he outlines some pretty complex and detailed steps to help build up your volunteer leadership team. Now, it is hard to deny the results he shares, but the six steps seem a bit much to me.  However, if you follow them I am sure you can double your team with solid volunteers.

A good point that he makes that we all need to be aware of is this:  You’re not just looking for a warm body, you’re seeking people who sense that their participation in ministry is intimately connected to God’s movement in their lives.   Secondly, when people spend time in prayer and relationship building, the ministry becomes a great source of nourishment; people enjoy the ministry, serve with great authenticity, and stay involved longer.

Another great thought found in this book is the idea that youth ministry is truly a calling and blessing at the same time.  For many of us, we need to be doing youth ministry.  We need to be with and for our students, because by doing so, we connect with God.  Mark writes to all of us youth leaders that perhaps we are more pliable among these youth, more open to God shaking us up or offering us a word of healing. maybe youth ministry is our spiritual discipline.

“It’s not just a place where we serve, it’s a place where we are transformed, healed, and made new.”

Below are a few more helpful and inspiring quotes I discovered.

“It’s this movement from prayer to presence–from being open and available to God to being transparent and accessible before teens-that is the real work of ministry.”

“Our first task as youth ministers is to be with young people just as Jesus was with people.  Our second task is to help youth develop the eyes, ears, and heart of Jesus for themselves.  We’re not only called to be witnesses among young people, we are also called, like Jesus, to be teachers. We’re called to awaken youth to the presence of God in the world.

To help do this we 1) point 2) question 3) invite 4) we create circumstances

All of this takes patience and time.  Faith takes time and we need to stick around long enough to see it go through its ups and downs, highs and lows, and eventually develope, mature, and blossom.

“Our role is to help youth recognize the ways in which Jesus is already near, already seeking trust and friendship.”

“An efficiently busy life is “more potentially destructive of spiritual growth than debauchery or alcohol or drugs.”

“The purpose of integrating contemplative presence in youth ministry is not to turn kids into monks, it is to deepen our awareness of god, others, and self so that we might become fully alive!”

“Through greater prayer and presence, we notice the moments of connection between youth and God and try to build our programs accordingly.”