Doug Fields is probably best known for “Purpose Driven Youth Ministry”, which was written back in the mid 90s.  This book, still written 10 years ago, isn’t really a follow up – in some ways, it is more a book that gives each of us involved in ministry a context, the values and the ethos we should have before we start thinking about which tool; which youth ministry teaching book; which resource we are going to use in ministry.  This is why, as I look at this whole list of my essentials, there is not really a book for running a programme or doing youth ministry with young people – it is not the most important stuff.  The best thing we can offer young people is a healthy US.  This book from Doug seriously helps with that.

The book is split into chapters around particular topics, all with a view to helping you have a healthy view of ministry, our role as youth leaders and – especially helpful – we can drawn on the experience of others throughout the book who are honest about their mistakes and some of the pitfalls we might avoid with their generously offered hindsight.

I did not read this book in my first two years of youth ministry – but, it is an essential read, at whatever time you get your hands on it!  The most helpful chapter (which I wish I had the opportunity to read back in 1986) is about working with parents.  Seriously, if you read nothing else in the book, or browse the other chapters with the “i know this stuff” feeling . . . don’t skip through this chapter!  As a single guy from the late 80s to the late 90s, I spent a decade ignoring parents almost completely – duh!  Parents, and their faith and values, are essential to the spiritual health of their children, we ARE NOT.  Doug shares from his own pain of missing this, but doesn’t wallow – through what he has learnt along the way, he helps us get to grips with why this needs to be a priority of ministry with young people and how to go about it.

You may not see a chapter heading that stands out to you, maybe as I write this it is because I have a particular desire to help others (and myself) get it right with parents – maybe it is because I am a parent myself now.  This is another reason this book is so critical, Doug has this “360 view” of the place and purpose of youth ministry – I think, so often, in my own practice, I have just been looking at what I am doing right now (barely thinking to the next session, never mind the impact of the work with young people in 3 or 4 years time).  I guess this has been emphasized at different points in ministry – I have worked for churches where the senior pastor has young children, so the kids work is “vital”; a senior pastor with young teens, so the 11-14s work is “vital”; a senior pastor who’s kids were about to go to university so the key question was, “what are we doing for students?” . . .

This book helps me reflect across every area of work and, rather than focus on the work itself, get me to focus on ME and what I am prepared to bring to every piece of work, every relationship, in the pursuit of reaching and discipling children and young people.

Further highlights that mean I keep returning to this book – for a “pep talk from Doug” are:  Dealing with discouragement // Establishing (or recovering) a strong spiritual foundation // Time Management! . . .

The area of the book (for me at least) that I keep returning to is right at the back . . . Doug’s recommendations for what to practically focus on in your “first two years”, the thing is – they are not “jobs” to be ticked off a to do list . . . they are habits, actions that need to be kept up.  So, whether you are brand new to youth ministry (or any kind of ministry, the same applies!) or been doing it in various ways for 27 years (yep!) this is the kind of gold dust book that will keep reminding you, in an encouraging way like a good friend, to keep going, to have hope and to love ministry . . . not just for now, but for as long as God has called you to it.

Get this book.