Resource Review | Adoptive Youth Ministry

Andrew Hall
June 24th, 2019

In Adoptive Youth Ministry: Integrating Emerging Generations into the Family of Faith, Chap Clark makes a concerted effort to help youth leaders reconsider the way we integrate young people into our church family. He does this by arguing in favor of using adoption language. We could continue to speak about youth ministry in terms of engagement or connection. Such language permits us to build an effective youth ministry program that reaches out and trains disciples who will train more disciples. However, such a ministry can be done without the youth being fully adopted into the church family—which Clark believes should be one of the greatest concerns of youth ministry and our society at large. He and others already argued in Sticky Faith (2011) that long-term faithfulness on the part of young people grows out of receiving genuine care, attention, and investment from multiple adult Christians. Speaking in terms of adoption compels us to think in familial terms and precludes us from creating youth programs that run entirely separate from the rest of the church’s ministry. A young person isn’t merely assimilated into a program; they join our family. And as a result, our entire familial identity is changed. 

Clark elaborates on “the ministry of adoption” by prescribing four characteristic tenets: “1) Adoption recognizes that in every church or organization there are insiders and outsiders; 2) I am adopted into God’s family as a child with other children; 3) Jesus has his eye especially on the vulnerable; 4) Adoption is not limited to the gathered but includes the outsider as well.” (Clark, 2-3) This is where I question Clark’s reasoning. I agree that the church should take a more familial approach to youth ministry integration. And I agree that Clark’s four tenets are valuable to any ministry. Taken separately, they are both strong. However, I’m not sure that those tenets are a necessary outwork of adoption language. One could replace the word “adoption” with “selection” or “acceptance” and still hold the same tenets. In this regard, adoption language makes better rhetoric than it does hard reasoning.

Adoptive Youth Ministry was not at all what I expected. Without doing much prior research on the book, I expected to set it on the shelf right next to Purpose Driven Youth Ministry (2000), Family-Based Youth Ministry (2004), Contemplative Youth Ministry (2006) and other books that put forth a valuable but specific philosophy of youth ministry. Adoptive Youth Ministry certainly puts forth a philosophy of ministry, but it attempts to show how the idea of adoption can and should impact all youth ministry philosophies. In the introduction, Clark explains that the book is meant to be a comprehensive commentary on several approaches to youth ministry. To this end, it is a compilation of twenty-three chapters written by twenty-five authors expounding on their particular fields of expertise and how they are understood through an adoptive lens. This sets up adoption to be a goal for all aspects and approaches to youth ministry. The result is a single volume that helps the reader filter and sort through many youth ministry philosophies, not just one. 

Each chapter of the book stands alone as its author builds on Clark’s introduction. They do not need to be read in any particular order. Clark has written a very helpful and brief introduction to every chapter. It gives a short biography of the author and their work, explains the central thrust of the chapter, and suggests that the reader keep certain considerations in mind as they read. These introductions give the reader direction in what to focus on and can help them decide if they should read carefully, quickly, or at a later time altogether. Of course different authors have different writing styles, but each consistently maintains a balance of academic authority and personal insight that leads the reader to imagine how the ideas could be applicable to their particular context.

If at all possible for you, I do not recommend reading this book on your own. It presents so many good ideas in such good light that you will likely feel overwhelmed. Rather, I suggest you read this book in concert with other youth workers—either the team that you work with in your ministry, or with youth workers from nearby churches—so that you can discuss the approaches to youth ministry. I would also read it slowly, giving yourself plenty of time to discuss the myriad ideas. With your discussion group, you will be able to solidify how the ideas could impact your ministry and weigh the relative value, thereby setting priorities. As I said, there are too many good ideas for you to incorporate all of them at the same time. If you don’t have the time to read such a large volume at all, I recommend that you at least read the introduction. It clearly presents the central ideas that embody adoptive ministry.

While not every youth worker will read Adoptive Youth Ministry, I suspect that every youth worker will be impacted by Clark’s philosophy of youth ministry in the coming years. 

Andrew Hall

Andrew Hall is a youth pastor who has spent over seven years helping young people make a lifelong commitment to Christ and his Church. In the Fall of 2018, Andrew received his Masters in Systematic and Historical Theology from the University of St Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland. He now resides with his wife in the Washington, DC area. You can reach out to him on Facebook and Instagram by searching for Anjroo Hall.

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