If you are old enough to remember a world before Google, a world where postage stamps needed to be licked, a world that wasn’t connected through wi-fi, then you’ve already successfully survived your teenage years. For young adults entering college this fall, these things have always been ubiquitous, according to this year’s Mindset List released by Beloit College as a reference point for adults to understand the mindset of the next generation.
For those of us who are called to work with or raise teenagers, it can feel overwhelming to speak the gospel into the lives of our younger neighbors, especially when we consider how much the world has changed since we were teenagers ourselves. Alongside, a new book by first-time author Drew Hill, insists that pursuing the teenagers in our lives doesn’t require us to be savvy about what’s next and new. We can model our ministry on the life of Jesus. After all, most of his disciples were likely teenagers or young adults.
Alongside envisions a kind of youth ministry that happens at the slow and steady pace of our Savior, who spent most of his ministry walking. The book begins by describing the internal chaos that characterizes young adulthood in the first section titled “The Runaways,” but Hill’s thesis really takes off in section two, “The Pursuer.” Just as the Holy Spirit is the “one called to your side” (42), any ministry to teens should flow from our recognition that we, too, are sinners in need of grace and our willingness to walk alongside our teenage friends with Spirit-led persistence. Hill, who has spent the better part of his post-teen years working with Young Life, reminds us that “we’re not inviting kids into a behavioral modification program. We’re inviting kids into a love relationship with the person of God. Love is what truly transforms us, not willpower” (48).
Parents and youth ministry workers alike will appreciate Hill’s pastoral approach and practical guidance. In section three “The Pursuit”, Hill offers his own suggestions for how to engage with teenage friends, drawing from his own years of experience and the wisdom of his mentors. He’s been paying attention to the ways he’s been mentored and loved by others, and he has put this into practice in his own friendships with teenagers. The final section, The Long Road Home, speaks directly to the reader about the challenges of walking alongside their teenage friends while we wait for the seeds of the gospel to bear fruit.
Each short chapter ends with questions or specific thoughts for parents and those in youth ministry. And if these questions sometimes feel piercing, just wait until Hill unpacks his own honest confessions. This book consistently emphasizes, as one of Hill’s mentors puts it, that “faithfulness is way more important than giftedness” (168). Alongside demonstrates and teaches readers how to be sympathetic to the challenges of the teen years. I hope his next book expands this final section to explore how youth ministry programs, families, and churches can encourage one another and learn from one another as all seek to disciple the next generation.