Book Review | Spiritual Disciplines Handbook

Youth Specialties
December 21st, 2018

One of my favorite resources for youth ministry is actually a book not specifically intended for youth ministry but for all ministries of the church. I am referring to the great work by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.  The book is an overview of all things spiritual disciplines, and gives examples of how to practice each discipline.

I was introduced to this book during one of the first semesters of my time at seminary and it quickly became (and has remained) one of my favorite books of all time. What this book did for me was open my eyes to the many different types of spiritual disciplines that Christians have been practicing over the years. However, just because Christians have been practicing all of these practices, it did not mean that I was practicing them, or had even heard or thought of some of them. One of the most shocking realizations for me was my narrow understanding of prayer. Calhoun lays out seventeen different types of prayer, and I realized that I had only practiced two of those seventeen before then. I could not believe that despite growing up in the church, in a Christian home, (and even as a pastor’s kid), I had truly only practiced two out of these seventeen different types of prayer.

I believe all youth ministers agree that spiritual disciplines are an incredibly important part of a Christian’s life. Practicing spiritual disciplines is like working out. We train, practice, and lift weights so that we will grow, get faster, and get stronger. Spiritual disciplines are  even more important in the lives of the students in our ministries. If we believe that these middle and high school years are some of the most formational years of their lives, (not to mention these are also the years when so many of them are practicing constantly with band, orchestra, sports, etc.), why would we not also emphasize the need for discipline, practice, and spiritual growth in their lives as well? Thus, in my own ministry, I make it a point to highlight and intersperse spiritual disciplines, times to practice, and walk through them with students. I create a space during a retreat, or I focus one of our lessons around the idea, explain the discipline, and then give students the chance to actually practice it then and there.

This book has been a huge blessing in my own ministry and personal walk with the Lord. I have been able to easily and quickly get an overview of the many spiritual disciplines and practices.  I have been able to teach and practice things like visio divina, lectio divina, rule of life, examen, etc. I have been able to challenge the busyness of our culture with lessons and times set aside to focus on retreat, Sabbath, rest, slowing, simplicity, centering prayer, etc. And I have often used this in my meetings with my leaders as well. There have been many days where I am walking into a meeting after a really busy day of ministering and I need to take a couple minutes to slow down.  So, I grab this book on my way to the meeting and lead my leaders through an exercise like breath. As you can see, the book remains a blessing to my ministry.

This book is extremely helpful for all ministers and ministries. If you already focus on and challenge your students to practice spiritual disciplines, great.  This will be a fantastic supplemental resource for what you are already using. If you are not yet focusing on spiritual disciplines, this book is one that can help you get started and to hit the ground running. Regardless of where you are, or even what ministry you are involved in, I would argue that this book is an asset to anyone’s library and would be a great resource for your own spiritual life. It has been a fantastic resource to me and my own life and ministry with students.


Wes Rasbury | wes@greenvilleoaks.org | Instgram: @wesraz

Youth Specialties

Youth Specialties exists to elevate the role of youth ministry and the youth worker to grow the faith of the next generation.

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