This past week Seth Godin wrote that real-time news is neither. He said, “Go watch an hour of cable news from a year ago… what were they yelling about that we actually care about today?”
It made me think about my field of youth ministry and the books that we clamor for and trumpet each year. Some received a LOT of press when they came out but today are rarely mentioned or discussed. Others have seemed timeless and continue to inform the field. Others may not have sold as many copies, but have a devoted following.
I just finished Curating Worship by Jonny Baker (I know, finally). The delay wasn’t the book’s fault – it’s quite readable – but rather my own as I worked it in here and there. And then reread it. Jonny’s work has affected almost every conversation I’ve had about ministry or teaching over the last three weeks. Just last night I talked with a Christian leader who lamented hearing the same 30 choruses over and over at his church – and the quality levels for some didn’t render themselves to repetition.
The bulk of the book is series of interviews with different leaders who facilitate worship experiences. It will introduce you to what is happening in some traditions within the UK, Australia, and in parts of the US. You will note a theological range as well within the interviews, something that I think is healthy for someone who wants to be introduced to a particular practice within Christian churches. Those prod and challenge me – and I find that helpful.
The last few weeks have been a bit harried as we close the books on another semester at the college, the Christmas season approaches, and we dive into the final edits on GLOBAL YOUTH MINISTRY. Oh, add in an academic paper presentation and I feel like I’ve just been keeping plates spinning ’round. A bit like this guy:
Yesterday I began my tenth year as a full-time college professor. I truly enjoy the teaching/writing life and the students who come to Bethel College each year. The college has grown so fast that we’ve had to restructure how we administrate it and I oversee the Department of Religion and Philosophy, a position that has been called “Chair” then “Dean” and now “Chair” again.
Each year I receive a fair amount of self-published books by authors who want us to adopt their work as a textbook. The letter or Emails usually plea that our students must read the invaluable resource, it covers what’s missing from most other books, or the urgency of the material wasn’t worth waiting two years for traditional publishing routes. And some of this may be accurate. The problem is that it is highly unlikely a self-published book will be taken seriously by the academic community. Though I’m sure some of the books have lovely writing, stellar research, and may truly focus on material overlooked by more mainstream texts , there is little or no chance that I would adopt a self-published book. And I don’t know of any other college, seminary, or university doing the same (the only exception exists when a professor uses his/her own text in a class).
I am always on the lookout for books that can help improve my writing, and that might be helpful to my college students as well. I’m more comfortable upfront, speaking to groups. The writing process has been less natural and a struggle to develop in my early days. I remember when Dr. Shulze handed my college paper back to me with a “C-” on it and the hefty recommendation that I visit the university’s writing center. I think it said, “Your writing is no good.” I’m not sure why I was stunned by his words, the consequence of turning in a hastily-written first draft were lost on me. Didn’t he know how well I had written in high school?
One of my first papers in graduate school had these words from my professor, “This is NOT a philosophical paper. Poorly constructed argument. Please revise.” Grammatically error-free, the paper lacked in content. I couldn’t just do the assignment. I had to say something in my writing. The truth is that writing well IS difficult. For some, it’s a gift. For others, it’s a craft. For the rest of us, it’s like pottery. The first throw is a lump – and the weeks, months, and years of molding make it more useful. Yet, most of us write as part of our work. At the very least we communicate via writing. I knew people who circled the typographical and grammatical errors (average was about five) in the church bulletin and put it in the comment box after each Sunday’s service.