Foundations for Youth Ministry – A Review

Foundations for Youth MinistryIntroduction

Youth ministry is not always known for being theologically deep. Whether it is the Nerf battles or Taco Bell runs (both of which I have done this week), too often there is an overemphasis on the entertainment or fun aspect of youth ministry. Thankfully there are some very gifted thinkers that are looking to inspire youth workers to go deeper in their ministries. Dean Borgman, a professor of youth ministry at Gordon-Conwell Seminary, is one of those gifted thinkers.

In Foundations for Youth Ministry Borgman challenges youth ministers to think theologically about their calling and ministry. Unlike most books geared towards youth workers, this book is not a nuts and bolts guide; rather, this is a book to help youth workers think and process through their ministry. Borgman is not trying to tell youth workers how to do youth ministry, but to get them thinking about the why behind their ministry. He does this by getting youth workers to think about how students are shaped by culture. By the end of the book, he wants readers to experience and think about how the world affects the church, how the church can impact the world (xi).


The book is divided into 4 parts. In Part 1, entitled Practical Theological Foundations, Borgman introduces readers to practical theology by getting them used to asking questions and thinking about interpretation. In Part 2, called Theology of Persons, the reader looks at the different influences that shape a person. Part 3—Practical Theology Engaging Culture—gives youth workers advice on evaluating and interpreting cultural influences on students. Finally, in Part 4, labeled Practical Theology for Holistic Youth Ministry, Borgman summarizes his findings while providing a vision for how this book can impact a youth ministry.

Every part has between 2–5 chapters, each covering a relevant topic in that part. The chapters cover relevant research and writings in the area, along with anecdotes from Borgman’s years of ministry experience. Footnotes provide ample opportunity for further reading.

Part 1

In Part 1 Borgman lays a theological foundation for the rest of the book. He is more concerned with practical instead of systematic theology, mainly because he wants the book to be read by youth workers from all Christian denominations and affiliations. Rather, he focuses on doxological theology—theology that worships God as it explains him.

He challenges readers to begin thinking as theologians, processing and interpreting culture around them and their students. Borgman notes that he is not trying to completely reject culture. Rather,

This book seeks God’s wisdom to explore the complex and subtle ways culture promotes and hinders youthful growth (8)

Much of Part 1 is introductory theological work; it is foundational and necessary for those without formal training, and helpful for those with biblical or seminary education. Most of all, he wants all readers to be thinking critically, to evaluate why and how they teach and relate to students.

Part 2

In this part, Borgman turns to discussing theologies of the self. As a large part of youth ministry is building influential relationships with students, it is important to understand what makes and shapes them. He walks readers through the processes of growth and development (chapter 6), along with how students are shaped by their community (chapter 7), family (chapter 8), and sexuality (chapter 9). In each chapter, he highlights recent research and developments in these areas.

Part 3

For Part 3, Borgman turns to the various ways students are impacted by culture. Again, he is not rejecting culture outright, but wants readers to interpret and analyze the good and bad influences of culture. He provides some more thinking about the nature of culture (chapter 10), followed by a journey through history to see how the church has engaged with culture in the past (chapter 11). This is followed by two chapters looking at specific 21st -century cultural influences: the digital revolution (chapter 12) and the consumerist age (chapter 13).

Borgman concludes this part by discussing the theology of humor (chapter 14). Not often found in systematic theologies, Borgman is right for covering this subject in a youth ministry theology book! In this chapter, he provides a balanced look at humor—giving reasons for the necessity and importance of humor, as well as the reasons for caution and limits to types of humor.

Part 4

In Part 4 Borgman seeks to tie in the whole book into a final bit of encouragement for youth workers. He provides a few thoughts on the different types of methods or models in youth ministry, and how this theology would work in them (chapter 15). Finally, in the last chapter (chapter 16) he reminds youth workers of their sacred calling, writing:

You are indeed called to what might be considered the church’s most neglected mission. [Students] are the church’s closest and most critical unreached people group. (287, emphasis original).

My Thoughts

Dean Borgman has done youth workers a great service by producing a well-written book on practical theology. By focusing on the theology behind youth ministry, he gives readers a chance to think through the implications of youth ministry, especially in interpreting and evaluating cultural influences on teens.

Part 1 is by far the strongest of the entire book. These chapters would be helpful for any church leader or aspiring theologian, as their content is not exclusive to youth ministry. His thoughts on doxological theology alone are well worth the price of the book.

The chapters are thoroughly researched, with plenty of footnotes and citations to serve as starting points for further research. The chapters cover a wide variety of topics, several of which could be lengthened to book-length. Some chapters try to cover too much, making them feel like disjoined essays rather than a unified chapter. A few other chapters are weaker than others, consisting of little more than a review of relevant research. The final two chapters of the book do a great job of concluding the book by encouraging youth workers to be thinking theologically about teens and culture.


In Foundations for Youth Ministry, Dean Borgman has left generations of youth workers with a mighty fine tool to help shape their thinking about ministry. He builds a theological framework which youth workers can use to process developmental, cultural, and social influences on teens. This is an excellent book for all youth workers to work slowly through, thinking about the implications in their current ministry context.

Book Info

Thanks to Baker Academic for a complementary review copy of this book!

Brandon Schmidt

I am Brandon Schmidt: writer, husband, father, brother, reader, and laugher.

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