One of my more vivid childhood memories is catching my first fish. My grandparents lived on a reservoir and their cove was littered with catfish. One day when I was around six years old my grandfather taught me how to fish. The whole process was fascinating, from going to the flowerbeds to dig up worms, to the precision it took to properly tie a hook, to baiting the hook, tossing it in the proper spot, and waiting for a bite.
Catching your first fish is an enthralling experience and my grandfather opened that world to me by carefully walking me through the process from start to finish. Not to mention his patience as, I am sure, I asked every question imaginable along the way.
Oftentimes in life it takes a wise mentor who patiently walks you along a journey to open up the beauty of another world. My grandfather was that for me in fishing. Mike McGarry desires to be that for you and your team in youth ministry.
McGarry has given youth workers a gift in his latest book Lead Them To Jesus:A Handbook For Youth Workers. Don’t be misled by the title; this book is not a list of do’s and don’ts for student ministry. McGarry is not interested in giving you quick tips for jumpstarting your youth group’s dead battery. Instead, with each passing chapter he takes you by the hand and welcomes you into the glorious, burdensome privilege it is to disciple students toward lasting faith in Jesus.
Three years ago, while I was in the process of pioneering our church’s youth ministry, I wish I had this book. As I did my research and looked for footings I found that there was a hole in the “youth ministry resource world.” I’d find excellent books about youth ministry philosophy, but they often didn’t address important practical topics like organizing a ministry calendar or navigating relational challenges between students. On the flip side, the books that focused on practical help often didn’t show how it connected with a gospel-centered ministry philosophy.
I believe the brilliance of Lead Them To Jesus is its expansive yet clear integration of biblical truths and practical help. In fact, that is McGarry’s central aim, to bridge the gap and provide youth workers with a biblical and practical resource that will help them build their ministry to teenagers around the gospel (2).
The book breaks down into two sections.
Section One offers clear, concise explanations on important theological doctrines. McGarry firmly believes that if we want to make lifelong disciples then, “we need be prepared to go deep with students about what they believe and why, and you can’t take them where you’ve never gone” (3). Each chapter navigates deep theology with clarity and brevity. These chapters will become required reading for my leadership team particularly because they answer the questions in language that is helpful and easily transferrable to students.
Section Two features a treasure-trove of practical skills gleaned from McGarry’s fifteen years in youth ministry. He covers everything from fun and games to leading effective small groups to supporting students from unbelieving families. Still, even in the practical stuff, he doesn’t lose sight of making sure the gospel is front and center. Our games and programs, albeit great, don’t bring true life and joy. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t serve a purpose. McGarry points out that, “It is the gospel that gives life and joy and hope to the way we play games, address conflict, partner with parents, integrate students into the life of the church, or talk about sex”(3). It is the good news of Jesus and the redemption he has secured for us that fuels us to plan, and play, and lead the students and families God has entrusted us.
I am grateful for Mike McGarry writing Lead Them To Jesus because it is truly a helpful book. I mean that as the greatest compliment. I’ve read plenty of books where the purpose is unclear and it seems that the author just felt like writing words on a page. Lead Them To Jesus isn’t that book. Throughout my reading I was challenged and comforted. I felt seen and known. When I finished I felt equipped to be a better minister of the gospel.
Mike McGarry wants this generation of youth workers to leverage their lives and their resources to lead students to Jesus, where true life and everlasting joy is found. If you work with students, buy this book for yourself and for your team of leaders who support you. I simply cannot recommend this book enough.