Loewen, associate professor of youth, church and culture at Tabor College, received his first copies of “Beyond Me: Grounding Youth Ministry in God’s Story” about a month ago from his publisher, Faith & Life Resources.
Holding the 167-page, soft-cover book in his hands marks the end of a long and challenging journey. It began when he took on his first job as a youth minister right out of college, then took literary shape when he completed his doctoral dissertation at Fuller Theological Seminary in 2005.
The past three years have been a seemingly never-ending cycle of revisions, reviews and more revisions, as Loewen recast his doctoral material for a popular audience.
“When (copies of the book) first came, I didn’t even want to look at it—I was sort of sick it,” Loewen said with a smile. “I had been working on that thing for quite a while. Finally, you just get tired of it.
“Then I started to thumb through it a little bit, and I’m going, ‘Hey, this isn’t half bad.’”
Loewen said he tried to produce a resource that would help youth workers better understand the consumerism and alienation in postmodern youth culture, then offer youth a mature understanding of God’s call.
“Most youth ministry books are pretty thin theologically,” Loewen said. “What I tried to do is to take adolescent development, contemporary culture and biblical theology, and try to get them in conversation with each other.
“That’s not easy to do, but I think it’s something we have to do in youth ministry if we want to be effective.”
Loewen said contemporary youth are asking three basic questions: Who am I? How do I fit in my world? How do I know that I make a difference?
“Youth ministry ought to clearly understand where teens are today,” he said. “For the most part, we’re targeting teens that don’t exist because, developmentally, they’re at a different place then they were 20 years ago.
“In some ways they’re developing sooner, but in a lot of ways movement toward adulthood is taking a lot longer,” he added. “I’m worried about what I see in graduates of Tabor, in that they’re not really feeling ready for adult roles—and they’re not worried that they’re not there.”
Loewen said youth workers need to understand the subtle influences of today’s culture.
“Most youth workers are young and they think they know culture, but what stories is the world telling our kids?” he said.
For example, youth are looking for answers in a consumer-driven environment. And the answer they’re hearing is inadequate.
“It’s a salvation story really—consumerism tells you are saved from a life of misery when you buy one more thing,” he said. “Youth workers don’t always analyze what our culture is telling kids—and that goes beyond movies and the media.”
Once youth workers understand the values of the culture, they need a solid and durable theology that can respond to those misleading messages.
“I use the kingdom of God as the governing paradigm for the biblical story,” Loewen said. “If we were to offer a new story to our kids, and they were reading it through the filters of identity, belonging and autonomy, what answers would the Scriptures give them?
“That’s what I try to do in the book. I do take on some other youth ministry models that have good elements but are inadequate—but it’s not the point of the book to hammer on those.”
Loewen has been on the Tabor faculty since 1997. He also works quarter-time as youth minister for the Southern District Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
“The idea of this book, for me, is not to sell a lot of copies, but to contribute the broader youth ministry conversation and see where it goes,” he said.