Wayne Rice was present for the very dawn of youth ministry. Or at least, that's how he tells it in his latest book Reinventing Youth Ministry (Again). Rice, cofounder of Youth Specialties with Mike Yaconelli, tells the story of his involvement with the parachurch movement in the early 1960's - a movement that would birth and partly morph into what most of us today know as the attractional model of congregationally-based youth ministry. Reacting to the recent criticism that the last 40 years of ministry with Christain youth have resulted in their developing a watered down theology (i.e. moralistic therapeutic deism), Rice writes:
I don't think there a too many youth pastors who are teaching Moralistic Therapeutic Deism to the teenagers in their youth groups. Most youth workers I know would say they have been doing their best to teach the gospel week after week. That our youth are not getting the message is not necessarily because they haven't heard it or aren't being taught it. But perhaps we're sending other messages to teenagers that are just coming across a lot louder and clearer than the message we want them to hear.
These "other messages," Rice admits, can likely be traced to efforts by such groups as Youth for Christ to do whatever it took in those early years to get teens in the door -- from wacky games and stunts to groovy folk music (so much hipper than those boring old hymns!). With a good measure of self-deprecation, Rice paints an image of himself and other youth ministers of the time that had me thinking instantly of the hilarious Revered Tim Tom, the groovy youth minister who pops up ocassionally on the tv series "The Middle."
Rice then details how he and Yaconelli started Youth Specialties with little more than a mimeograph machine and lots of ideas gathered from their time leading Youth for Christ groups. Eventually Rice would leave YS, not an easy decision, and focused his attention on teaching parents and other adults about how to better understand teenagers.
The real gift of this text is that Rice was, in fact, there at the dawn of youth ministy as we know it today and he provides some real perspective for us younger folk who may think we know it all but have no idea where and how the current models of youth ministry originated. Ultimately, Rice's text is not only full of useful insights about the past but also offers thoughtful suggestions for the best way forward for the future. This book is both a fun read and a useful tool for helping us map the trajectory of youth ministry for the decades ahead.
Note: A complimentary copy of this text was provided to RYM by the publisher.