There's an anxiety in youth ministry that there are trends or programs out there that youth leaders are unaware of. But one author calls youth leaders to step back and affirm what they knew all along – that if you have Jesus, you have all you need.
The newly released book Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry by Mark Yaconelli reminds youth ministers that "your desire for God and your desire to love kids is all you need."
"I don't need to be anxious or needy for some formula ... but trust God's presence is enough," the author says, according to Youth Specialties.
Growing Souls is a follow-up to Yaconelli's first book on contemplative youth ministry (Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus) and contains more research and reports of youth experiences for youth ministries that are often times stressed and busy.
Not many may be aware of contemplative youth ministry. It's actually a fad from some 20 years ago when more books on spirituality were being published, according to the author. Although behind the cultural curve, Yaconelli wants to invite youth workers to slow down and remember what young people need most are people who know how to be present to God and present to others.
"It's necessary," he says. "Listening and attending to the presence of God is a necessary part of a healthy relationship with God. If we're not listening in our ministries then we're susceptible to be listening to other forces in the culture, our own anxieties, [and] the pressures of the marketplace; other voices will take that place."
This could mean more prayer-focused youth ministry, less program-based activities or just slowing down.
"Suddenly, you began to feel that the adolescent soul is being addressed, not just the adolescent need - relationship needs or needs that are appropriate for fun," says Yaconelli as he describes a youth ministry in Houston, Texas, that adopted the contemplative approach.
Contemplative youth ministry grew out of a Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project around a decade ago when Yaconelli desired to run youth ministry that was healthy for him rather than the 80 hours a week he was working.
"I needed God, I needed God to remind me that I wasn't the center of youth ministry," he recalls.
"Mostly what we focus on in the ministry is what's not happening – the kids that didn't show up, the lesson that didn't go well," he explains. But when youth leaders take the time to reflect after a service or youth event and ask God where His grace was during that time, they "begin to pay more attention to what God is doing."
"And as we notice those moments where God's showing up, it begins to change the way we look and move within our ministry," Yaconelli says.
When he visited 16 diverse churches across the country for the spirituality project, youth ministries at each church were encouraged to try out the contemplative approach with more prayer. What Yaconelli discovered was the ministries were transforming, leaders were reaching out in a deeper way and kids were developing a prayer life.
While the contemplative approach may be just a fad that comes and goes, Yaconelli hopes more Christians will realize that they're supposed to take a day to spend time with God and to pay attention to the presence of the Holy.
But, he warns, a lot of things that looks like spirituality really aren't. "Spirituality is always asking us to pay attention to our experience with God and that there's a certain trust that God is present."