A Review of Giving Up Gimmicks. By Brian Cosby.

P&R, 2012.

I have worked with young people, but I am not a youth pastor or a youth worker. However I have often stated that one of the hardest jobs there is in the church today is to be involved in youth ministry. And there is good reason for this.

We have a whole generation of kids who have grown up in a culture which disdains involvement, serious thought, deep commitment, real contentment, dedication, and solid content. Instead, image, instant gratification, pleasure, focus on self, distractions, selfishness, and entertainment are everything.

We seem to have an entire generation which is afflicted with ADD. This is not just affecting a few, but the whole lot – and the ability to sit still, to concentrate, to focus, to not have to be entertained, to not have to change topics every few minutes, is simply disappearing.

Kids raised on Sesame Street, video games, pop culture, mp3 players, and MTV have a hard time even just sitting still, let alone being committed to one thing, dedicated to a task, or involved in altruistic and selfless service for others. Our modern culture, in other words, is all about self.

And with the worship of self we have non-stop entertainment, obsessive self-gratification, and constant amusement. No wonder it is so hard for youth leaders to be able to reach and disciple the young in that sort of environment. It is a whole different world out there, and what Jesus demands of us is nothing at all like the surrounding culture.

Yet instead of being radically cross-cultural, so much of the church – and so much of youth ministry – is simply involved in trying to be just like the world. Thus youth ministry is all about entertainment, videos, and parties. The trouble is, the world usually does a far better job of these sorts of activities, so bored Christian youth eventually just give up their faith.

That is the thesis, and the challenge, of this book. With the subtitle, “Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture,” Cosby asks some important questions: How in the world are we going to reach young people, and keep them in the faith? Why do most teenage Christians leave the church and lose their faith once they leave home? How can we reverse these worrying trends?

Cosby knows full well that simply relying on gimmicks and entertainment is certainly not going to cut it: “The numbers are staggering for those leaving the church after high school, yet youth ministries across the nation continue to pack in more and more pizza parties and video games to keep youth coming back – thinking that somehow their lives will be changed.”

Simply offering our young people yet more entertainment will do nothing. The truth is, “teens are leaving the church because they have not been nurtured and established in the faith through a Christ-centered means-of-grace ministry.” The rest of this book is about elaborating on such a ministry.

Cosby believes that youth not only need such a ministry, but in fact want it as well. Despite all the glitz and glamour of pop culture, despite the endless and mind-numbing entertainment and amusement, many young people actually want something more. They want something to hang onto, to commit to, and to dedicate their lives to.

That is just what the church should be giving these young people, but that is often just what they are not getting. Instead they get more mindless amusements and trivial pursuits. No wonder they eventually drift away, bored and dissatisfied.

Cosby offers us a five-fold ministry to reclaim our youth. It is a ministry that “seeks to communicate God’s grace through the teaching of the Word, the administration of the sacraments, a life of prayer, gospel-motivated ministry, and grace-centered community.”

In other words the very things that nurture the church as a whole, and Christians of all ages, is what must be recovered if we are to effectively minister to our youth. And it must be a family-centred and church-centred approach, bathed in Scripture.

Writing from a Reformed perspective, he seeks to wed biblical principles to youth ministry. The five components are detailed in the bulk of this book, and helpful appendices round it out. Although a brief volume (under 150 pages) it does move us back to the basics – something which has been missing for far too long.

His chapter on the importance of Christ-centred service for others is itself rather unique. How often are our young people being told it is not about them? Not too often I suspect. Instead, it becomes all about them – they are pampered and coddled and made to feel like little gods, with plenty of self-image and self-esteem teaching, but little about giving your life away for the sake of the Kingdom.

Far too often we have pitched Christianity as a sort of divine therapy to our youth. Says Cosby, “God is a cosmic therapist and divine butler, ready to help out when needed. He exists, but isn’t really part of our lives.” With that way of thinking, no wonder most Christian youth are self-absorbed and blind to the needs of others.

Teens are taught – even in our churches – that the main thing is to be happy, and if your happiness wanes, then it is time to move on. “Both churches and marriages have seen the devastating effects of this anti-commitment tendency.”

That has to change, and getting young people to become aware of the needs around them, and doing something about it, is part of the road to recovery. Instead of providing yet another movie night or games weekend, why not take the young people to a local poverty-stricken area, or on a short-term missions trip to a nearby country in the developing world?

Let them know that there is more to life than just themselves. Let them see real needs, and how they can be part of rectifying those needs. Jesus of course taught his disciples about this by actually doing it. He performed acts of service all the time, and modelled for his followers what the Christ-centred life is all about.

At the end of the day, much of what is found in this book is just basic old Christianity. But we need to have this reemphasised because we have simply lost track of so much of this basic Christianity. For those frustrated with entertainment ministry and lukewarm youth, this book may serve as a way to get things moving in the right direction.

[1080 words]

15 Replies to “A Review of Giving Up Gimmicks. By Brian Cosby.”

  1. Ken Moser has written a couple of excellent books on having youth ministry that is centred on teaching God’s Word to kids (probably a decade old now). I highly recommend his work too.
    Lee Herridge, WA

  2. I’m heartily ashamed to admit of falling into this trap as a youth leader. Although, when I did try to bring in more than a Bible Study tacked on the end of an hour and a half and games I was met with blank looks and polite smiles. As a rather quiet young person, I let it slide. Now I’m reaping the consequences…..watching my former youth groupers ridicule the Bible, become more and more worldly and be subject to abuse for my views on homosexuality. I wish I’d done better!

    Julie Lawson

  3. This is an article about an “entertaining” church, using many of those “gimmicks”, that appeared in our community newspaper, recently:

    “Westside Church coming soon to a theatre in North Van”
    http://www.northshoreoutlook.com/news/144654205.html

    The most interesting statements in this article:
    “We don’t water things down and take into consideration we live in 2012, not 1952. We’re finding the younger generation, 20 to 30, they want that. They don’t want soft messages. They want people to realize and appreciate what they’re into and how do the scriptures speak into that.”
    “Technology is important to this generation — you’d better understand it. Social media is part of the ministry.”

    So far it seems to be working…

    Monica Craver

  4. Julie Lawson
    I for one commend you.
    You’re open to God’s voice and you’ve heard him…..now. I’m not working with youth in my church, mainly because if someone suggested we do a video games night or session or anything to do with pressing buttons and looking at a screen, I would say No. But yet I’m not winning any friends by bringing up the subjects of abortion or Gayness or children respecting their parents and being quiet when adults speak. No I’m so hate filled.

    Daniel Kempton

  5. One of the major things that needs to be tackled in youth ministry is evolutionary thought, since it is constantly being fed to them from the moment they set eyes on the television, then re-inforced at school. It is a toxic world view that teaches the kids that there is no meaning to life or price to pay for sin. It needs to be combatted, and kids need to be shown that the biblical worldview is more than just an alternative. It is the absolute truth!

    Mario Del Giudice

  6. Yes and amen, music to my ears. Young kids aren’t any different to us adults, they just want the real thing, Jesus, just like we do.
    I will get a copy for our youth group and one for the “christian” school my children go to. Maybe we can have that youth revival-revolution I have been praying for after all.
    Thanks for renewing my hope, Bill.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  7. I wonder how teaching on, (1) The substitutionary atonement, (2) The inerrancy of Scripture, and (3) Expository youth teaching (working through books of the Bible), would go in the contemporary, evangelical youth group. I have found that such doctrinal teaching doesn’t go down well with contemporary adults in evangelical churches either. Frankly, I’m tired of trite stuff, in the name of being contemporary, from the pulpit of evangelical churches. Or, am I just too old fashioned?
    Spencer Gear

  8. Spencer, I don’t think it has much to do with old-fashioned, but more with loving the truth and knowing where LIFE really is, the life of a human being and neither a human being dressed up like God or artificial life.
    Our youth group I believe is getting scriptural teaching at least that is what I am told, for parents are not encouraged to come and sit in, but it is probably still dressed up in “contemporary” or should I say “cool” terms.
    We are in the process of trialing a gardening project as part of the youth group, hoping to lead them into more service focused activities to counter the prevailing me-first-consumer attitudes
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  9. Having more than two kids (if we physically can) is a great way to help our young ones be concerned for others. Our family is far from perfect, but I have noticed that our kids have benefited enormously being in a larger-than-average family. Of course, not everyone can do this, but it’s something for young parents to think about.

    In our families, at least, we can surely find some little ways of serving our neighbours. I sometimes ask my older kids to do some voluntary baby-sitting for neighbours. We have two widows living near us and I know we ought to find ways of lending some assistance, even though they do have adult children who can help out.

    What other things can families, or church groups do with young people to help them serve others?

    Louise Le Mottee

  10. I should have spent more time talking to my kids and praying with them, when they were teenagers, specifically about the Holy Spirit.
    They know all the Bible stories, but I wonder what their hearts know when it comes to prayer, commitment and baptism. Their friends and the media seem to have so much influence that is easy and quick to digest, they may find me asking them anything about the Holy Spirit too hard to contemplate.
    John Archer

  11. Thanks Bill got my copy of this book last week.
    A pleasure to read and a very helpful hand book for any parent. Already this book has sparked discussions in my church and at home. He mentions quiet a lot but two points I love so far, children are starving for Jesus and want more than visual stimulation and it’s in the visual that we have lost the art of listening.
    I would like to see this book circulated throughout all schools & churches.
    Daniel Kempton

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