Youth Ministry

Book Review: Growing Souls, by Mark Yaconelli

Author: Mark Yaconelli

Title: Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry

Publisher: Youth Specialties/Zondervan

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

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This book is the professional follow-up to Mark Yaconelli's Contemplative Youth Ministry, detailing the development of contemplative youth ministries throughout the U.S. This book is a collection of stories, insights, A collection of stories, experiences, conversations, and insights from experiments in contemplative youth ministry failures and successes from actual churches and communities that have experimented in contemplative prayer and action. 

Why this book is important. Thomas Merton, Trappist monk and author, once remarked: "Contemplation cannot be taught. It cannot even be clearly explained. It can only be hinted at, suggested, pointed to, symbolized."

Mark Yaconelli structures this book by finally realizing this fact, for he often tried "to explain, teach, measure, and systematize... but that's not how Christianity works."

Contemplative Youth Ministry is brought alive off of the pages through this latest book. It contains conversations with youth ministers, scholars, pastors and teenagers and their insights to show us what it is like to try, in the real world, to have a youth ministry structured around contemplation. Thus Mark is not the sole author of this text, with several contributing authors giving their practical stories and experiences.

Growing Souls is divided up into three main sections, plus appendices. Section 1: The Project (chapters 1-4) "outlines the rationale, design, and theology of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project" to make anxious ministries "more patient and transparent to the life of God. 

Section 2: Images of Prayer and Presence (chapters 5-8) "presents stories of four different youth ministries, focusing on how each of them embodied a particular principle of contemplative youth ministry." Mark does not sugarcoat his approach, as "these chapters present the struggles of ordinary congregations as they sought to practice a more contemplative approach to youth ministry."

Mark Yaconelli.jpeg

Section 3: Testimonies (chapter 9-10) are interviews with youth directors and the teens themselves, offering "the people involved in the program to speak directly about their own experiences" and concludes with Mark's "own summary of the struggles and difficulties of a contemplative approach.

Mark Yaconelli (author) Director of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality ProjectFinally, the appendices (of which there are 7) contain the different spiritual practices that were developed in the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project (whose website has been down for a while- www.ymsp.org). These spiritual exercises include things like Lectio Divina, a modified Ignatian Examen, a piece on centering prayer, guidance with helping facilitate such practices with the youth, as well as a YMSP reading list and more.

Growing Souls and the New Evangelization. Read this book after you've devoured multiple times Yaconelli's first title. From there you can use this as a guide to renovate existing ministries or to establish new ones that foster silence, stillness and solitude as the heart of contemplation and practicing God's presence in the world.

While I'm not exactly a fan of centering prayer (being a follower of Fr. Thomas Dubay, may he Rest in Peace), the parts on Lectio Divina and the Ignatian Awareness Examen are really excellent resources for leading Catholic youth groups using the tools that foster the new evangelization.

If you read and like Contemplative Youth Ministry, you will have to get this book. They compliment one another too greatly to be ignored. These experiments and encounters with the presence of the living God may just be the thing your ministry has been missing. Start slow with ever-lengthening moments of silence, or get your priest to overhaul the whole ministry.

Either way, get this and pray with this book. Loan it to your pastor, your Pastoral Committee, the parish school principle- anyone that works with the young Church. Start a discussion, start dreaming, start discerning how Jesus wants to purify your work and make it His work again!