John Losey, author of Experiential Youth Ministry Handbook: How Intentional Activity Can Make the Spiritual Stuff Stick, grew up attending camp and later went on to serve at one. His time at camp influences how he runs his youth ministry. This is very noticeable through the writing in his book. He has been in the ministry for over twenty years and wants to share some of his insights with us.
Borrowing from his own experiences, Losey sends us on a quest to find our own answers to youth ministry questions. He claims his main goal is not to tell us how to conduct our youth group, but rather to give us the tools and framework and let us figure it out on our own. He encourages us to tweak his methods and templates and make them our own.
His first section teaches the value of experiential activities. There are no “throw away moments” in youth ministry. He shares how something he did as a youth leader that he thought was insignificant – letting a youth carry his backpack while hiking – actually had a greater impact on the teen than the rest of the trip.
Losey teaches us some theory behind experiential learning including “praxis” – the “learning loop of depth.” Praxis, as he defines it, “Is a way of understanding the world when, through reflection, what you do impacts how you think and how you think impacts what you do.” Praxis contains three parts: theory, action, and reflection.
He also gives relevant examples from the Bible when similar experimental methods such as object lessons, parables, and initiatives were used. Personally, I like the example of Jeremiah (found in chapter 27) walking through town proclaiming his message with a yoke around his neck. I’m sure strange actions such as that turned as many heads in Old Testament times as it would now. However, that action truly demonstrates how getting the people involved can increase the hearing of the message. Experience is often the best teacher.
If the first part of his book was informational, the second encourages us to try it. The middle section of the book provides the youth worker with many outlines for activities with various groups, many of which I have either participated in or led at my own camp, and some which are new and I’m excited to try.
However, as Losey said, he is simply giving us the form, or the tools to use and we have to fit them to our own experience. I also see the value of initiatives and team building activities that allow the kids to get to know each other so they become comfortable in small group settings where deep thoughts and feelings are eventually going to be shared. One might use the trust fall sequence to help the team build trust with each other first, and as a leader, you would be watching for those who are hesitant.
Even though this sounds like a book for camp directors, if you understand the materials it will help you move these practices from “mountains to meeting rooms.” His last section focuses on giving us practical advice on planning common events such as youth meetings, small group time, day trips, or even camps and retreats. He turns boring jobs, such as brainstorming and planning logistics into a game, either for the youth worker or in combinations with the youth worker’s team.
Two summers ago, when I saw this book sitting on my director’s desk, I thought, “this looks like a good resource.” I’m happy to have been able to investigate it. As a camp counselor, this topic seemed right up my alley. We often combine physically or intellectually challenging team games with our group time and Bible studies. However, sometimes I had a hard time seeing how they connected to biblical concepts we were learning that day. This book fixed that problem for me.
The Experiential Youth Ministry Handbook contains a myriad of potential games and activities for youth, yet games are not the central idea of the text. While these experiential activities are tools, they only are part of the process to having a successful youth ministry in Losey’s eyes. The most important part of ministry is how these activities fit together in the praxis process and learning loop to provide youth not only with intentional activity that will make the moment memorable, but also the information to connect and the time to reflect.
Allison Kochheiser is a second-year student at Concordia University Wisconsin in the Lay Ministry program. She is looking forward to becoming a youth director or working for Lutheran Bible Translators when she graduates. She spends her summers working with the youth at Camp Okoboji in Iowa District West.