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Spring 2015 · Vol. 44 No. 1 · pp. 118–119 

Book Review

Inter-Generational Youth Ministry: Why a Balanced View of Connecting the Generations is Essential for the Church

Mel Walker. Salem, OR: Overboard Ministries, 2013. 248 pages.

Reviewed by Cory Seibel

Mel Walker believes the time has come for the Christian community to abandon its traditional approach to youth ministry “in favor of a new paradigm and a new model” (xii). In recent decades, suggests Walker, churches have tended to practice “generational segregation.” This siloed approach to ministry is proving ineffective in transmitting a vital faith generation-to-generation.

In this book, the author offers a framework for responding to this problem by calling the church to better balance “the advantages of peer ministry with the importance of connecting the generations” (xii). Walker, president of Vision for Youth and vice president at Baptist Bible College and Seminary, chooses to employ the term “inter-generational” in his title to emphasize the development of healthy relationships between adults and teens in the church. He notes that while younger and older people all need one another, adults within the church hold a particular responsibility for being intentional in investing in the rising generation.

After devoting the first two chapters to outlining the intergenerational challenges facing churches today, Walker provides an informative overview of the “generation-to-generation” principle in Scripture in chapter 3. While the themes covered in these chapters have been treated extensively elsewhere, Walker addresses each topic succinctly and with clarity.

Chapters 4 and 5 constitute the heart of Walker’s argument. In chapter 4, he makes a compelling case for the importance of parents and churches working together to encourage the faith development of their youth. Then in chapter 5, Walker explores key principles for “Building an Inter-Generational Church.” In both chapters, he models the very balance he calls the church to embrace. He cautions against approaches to youth ministry that emphasize the family’s role to the exclusion of the church, as well as approaches that prioritize the church’s role to the neglect of the family. In {119} addition, Walker sees the importance of striking a balance between peer-oriented and cross-generational activities. These themes are revisited at the end of the book in chapters 12 to 15, which outline practical principles for implementing this intergenerational ministry paradigm.

Chapters 6 to 11 provide some of the most original contributions in this book. Walker moves through the life course, a chapter at a time, and explores how an intergenerational approach to youth ministry interrelates with ministry among people in each life stage. Each chapter has something of value to offer. Chapter 6 (children’s ministry) and chapter 8 (young adult ministry) are noteworthy for the stimulating ideas they introduce. Chapter 10, which focuses on “Senior Adult Ministry,” is especially distinctive in what it contributes to the broader discussion of intergenerational ministry.

There are a number of reasons to celebrate what Walker has accomplished in Inter-Generational Youth Ministry. A handful of recent youth ministry books have touched on intergenerational themes. However, none addresses intergenerational issues as centrally, comprehensively, or practically as does Walker. Walker strikes a commendable balance between socio-cultural description, scriptural reflection, and practical counsel. The tone and content of this book bears the imprint of a seasoned leader and long-time conversation partner within the world of youth ministry.

Although he provides a succinct overview of the development of an age-segregated approach to youth ministry since World War II, Walker overlooks the societal forces that were already giving shape to such an approach in the preceding decades. He also chooses not to address the impact that modern theories of human development have had on the church’s approach to youth ministry, which is a significant omission. But the biggest surprise is the absence of any reference to the writings of Malan Nel, recognized internationally as a leading proponent of an intergenerationally integrative approach to youth ministry. His argument would have been far stronger had Walker demonstrated some familiarity with Nel’s contribution and acknowledged its significance within this field.

In the final analysis, this book is a valuable resource for any church leader interested in exploring intergenerational approaches to ministry. It would also make a good textbook for undergraduate and seminary-level youth ministry courses.

Cory Seibel, Adjunct Instructor
Tabor College School of Adult and Graduate Studies, Wichita, Kansas
Fresno Pacific University, Fresno, California

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