Interview: Global Youth Ministry

By Youth Specialties Posted on April 05 2011


Here at Youth Specialties, we are very excited about the release of Global Youth Ministry from Dr. Terry Linhart and Dr. Dave Livermore. With the United States becoming increasingly culturally diverse, we think there is a lot to be learned about our own local ministries when we take the time to discover what is wokring outside of the United States.

Recently I had the opportunity to share some time with the book's co-author, Terry Linhart. If you aren't familiar with Terry, he is a long-time youth worker and professor of Youth Ministry at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana.

YS - You've co-authored this book with Dave Livermore. He's a Michigan State guy and you're a Purdue guy so while you have the Big 10 in common, that had to be awkward during basketball season. How did you meet and what is something fun we need to know about working together on this project?

TL - First….. Boiler up! There, that’s out of the way. David and I met through the fact that our dissertations both focused on short-term missions in youth ministry… and we both earned (endured?) them at major ‘secular’ research universities. When we met, we discovered that we’re kindred spirits in our views on cross-cultural work, research, and passionate to see missions and ministry done well in various cultural contexts.

We don’t get to spend enough time together in person now that he’s taking off (literally most days) with his work at the Cultural Intelligence Center. So, it was a delight to work in a truly collaborative manner on these two books with David (yep, there’s another one coming in August). Oh, and since I finished my dissertation at Michigan State, he still holds that over my head.

YS – On the surface, it may seem to some that two Americans might not have the ability to write an informed book on the global youth ministry movement. What kinds of things have you and Dave done to gain this level of credibility?

TL - Well, we agree with that perspective….. so we didn’t write it! When we proposed this project, we said we wanted it to be written by non-North Americans and the leading voices in global youth ministry. So, we consulted with leaders in the know, including some colleagues within AYME and IASYM and we made a “dream list” of 20 leading global youth ministry authors/leaders (both practitioners and teachers). We looked for authors who had influence beyond their country’s borders, a history of great writing, and had some reputation within North America. And kudos to Jay Howver and the whole Zondervan/Youth Specialties team for publishing such a book. From Argentina to Korea, the Philippines to Norway, and Uganda to Ireland, this book has a special richness yet centers on a common commitment to reach adolescents around the world. Check out the author lineup at http://www.globalyouthministrybook.com

YS - Why is it important for youth workers to know what's going on globally in youth ministry?

TL - The original intent for Global Youth Ministry is provide a resource for the teaching and training of youth workers in various contexts who are interested in global youth ministry. However, we've received overwhelming responses from local youth workers as well. I know I’m a bit biased (but, again, I didn’t write most of the book), but it is fascinating to read and learn from leaders in other countries. So, early readers have said, “You had me from the very first page” while another just told us today that he couldn’t put the book down. The book has been helpful to me to identify some areas where my own view of youth ministry has been heavily shaped by my culture. Reading the book may have a similar effect to when we go on a short-term mission trip and gain a fresh perspective on our own life and ministry back home.

YS – In the last 120 days, the world has been reawakened to the power of youth banding together for social change. (In the United Kingdom, in Egypt, to name a few) What types of things would bind American youth together for social change?

TL - Dave and I have said all along that the economic problems are the number one issue facing youth today (more of that will come out in our next book in August). And the economic pressures have been a chief contributor to many of these uprisings. Right now, I’m not sure that we'll see a binding of American youth for social change in North America for a while. If economic problems arise, then I think that will galvanize youth (and we may see that related to college tuition costs for the 65% who go to college). But, it took quite some time for Egyptian youth to take a stand. It will be some time in the US.

Personally, I'd like to see American youth in youth ministry groups grow in their knowledge of the Christian faith. I think this need has emerged from the research of Christian Smith (who works at nearby Notre Dame, go Irish!) and others: We're not helping students establish deep foundations in their understanding of key theological tenants of the faith. So, I see college freshmen who have been in a youth ministry group for 6-7 years come to a Christian college and not know much about their faith. And, if challenged about their faith from someone from another religion, they can't give an answer for the hope that they have (I Peter 3:15).

I think that Global Youth Ministry tells a story along that ecclesiological line versus one that focuses on social change. In this book, you'll read people from various contexts who share how leaders within that country and culture stood up and said, "This is how youth ministry works well in our culture." And the goal for the authors in this book is to share the Gospel and develop youths’ Christian identity as they follow Christ versus one focused on social issues. But, it’s still a holistic approach since, in many contexts, social realities affect the Gospel message.

YS – What are your hopes for this book?

TL - That the book will serve as a rallying point and ignition switch to help propel the growth and effectiveness of global youth ministry and will challenge us in our youth ministries to recognize our cultural moorings, to think more missionally, and to reach even more adolescents for Christ in our communities. David and I prayed from the very beginning that God would lead this project and that the end product would be his will and be something that would what would serve the field best. We knew it could go many different directions and end up quite different from what we had dreamed. We feel like that prayer has been answered and the end result has been even more that we could expect. Every one of the authors, every one, demonstrated a high level of humility, graciousness and collaborative spirit throughout this project.




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