Essential Reading List
"Lo! I heard from a neighbouring house a voice, as of boy or girl, I know not, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; Take up and read. “ Instantly… I began to think most intently whether children were wont in any kind of play to sing such words: nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So… I arose; interpreting it to be no other than a command from God to open the book, and read the first chapter I should find.”
—Confessions of St. Augustine, Chapter XII
To minister with young people is a holy calling. These “top ten” books are an excellent investment in your ministry, whether you are a pro or just starting out.
Titles and book covers are linked to each book's Amazon page.
Stages of Faith
If you want to develop an excellent mind as a Christian educator, there is no better text to start with than James Fowler’s Stages of Faith, a classic in the discipline. Building on the work of developmental psychologists, Fowler identifies six distinct (albeit not necessarily sequential) stages by which humans make meaning of our lives, allowing us to better understand our own pilgrimages of faith, as well as those of the people with whom we minister.
The Prayer Book Guide to Christian Education
Sharon Ely Pearson
This one-volume guide is the go-to reference tool for people who teach the faith with children, youth or adults, offering week-by-week grounding in the ethos and tradition of The Episcopal Church. Recently updated to meet the diverse needs of educators in a changing church, it remains grounded in the Book of Common Prayer — the cornerstone of Anglican liturgy and theology. Keyed to the Revised Common Lectionary, all activities and lessons are structured on the seasons and lessons for Years A, B, and C. This essential tome stresses the major themes of baptismal theology and shows how teachers, parents, and children can live the liturgical cycle in Christian formation ministries at church and at home.
The Church as Learning Community
Norma Cook Everist
Although neither inexpensive nor a quick read, Norma Cook Everist’s The Church as Learning Community is exactly as its subtitle promises: a comprehensive guide to Christian education. Packed with case studies and tools for planning, this is a practical resource you’ll want to keep nearby throughout the program year. At the same time, it situates the practicalities of Christian education within a vision of congregation-wide learning. "The purpose of this book is threefold,” states the author, “to put forth a vision of the entire parish as a learning community; to help faith communities create and maintain learning environments that facilitate us being different together in a pluralistic world; and to provide a comprehensive guide for religious educators leading a congregation toward fully becoming a learning community."
Fashion Me a People
Another must-have text for those who care about Christian formation (for those of any age) in a congregational context, Maria Harris’ Fashion Me a People presents a vision for a whole community becoming disciples and practitioners of Christian faith together. She considers the questions of how we teach through koinonia, (community) leiturgia, (prayer and worship), didache (teaching) kerygma (proclamation), and diakonia (service). Each of these “curricula” have an implicit and explicit expression in the congregation, which can be shaped to serve the creation of a Christian community that is always learning, in all ways.
Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood
Joyce Ann Mercer
Joyce Ann Mercer, Professor of Pastoral Theology at Virginia Theological Seminary, has written an indispensable manifesto and practical guide to integrating children into the worshipping life of of the Christian community, at home as well as in church. Welcoming Children: A Practical Theology of Childhood marries exhaustive scholarly research on childhood development with Scripture and theological reflections on the challenges of the culture in which our children grow up. This is a foundational book for every Christian educator’s bookshelf, and also a useful text for fostering deeper conversations with parents.
The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook
Sharon Ely Pearson
You may not use it every day, but you’ll want The Episcopal Christian Educator’s Handbook on your shelf for the inevitable time when you need an Education Planning Calendar, a Teacher Commissioning Service, best practices in Church Nurseries, and much more.
Kenda Creasy Dean
Kenda Creasy Dean, professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, opens this absorbing portrait of teenage religiosity by throwing down a gauntlet: the faith of America's teens is "not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school. One more thing,” she says: "We're responsible." Dean, who worked on the National Study of Youth and Religion with sociologist Christian Smith, argues that Christian formation too often emphasizes "a do-good, feel-good spirituality" at the expense of deep discipleship. She identifies four factors teens need to develop a “consequential faith" — a personal encounter with God, a strong church or youth group, a sense of being called to duty, and hope for the future. This is reading that will challenge and inspire your ministries with young people of any age.
The Godbearing Life
Kenda Creasey Dean and Ron Foster
The Godbearing Life is a spiritual primer and practical guide worth returning to time and again. Authors Kenda Creasey Dean and Ron Foster offer those who pastor young people a way of understanding their youth ministries within classical spiritual practices of the church. Games are only part of the story! Rather than competing with secular programming, this book argues for Christian youth ministries to develop families, congregations, and mentor relationships as the "holy ground" where young people are most likely to say "Yes!" to God.
Sustainable Youth Ministry
Taking a systems approach to understanding the success (and all too frequent failure) of congregational youth ministry, Sustainable Youth Ministry focuses on the importance of creating a leadership team that builds relationships among youth and between youth and the entire congregation. It’s about youth ministry and so much more: It’s an important read not only for youth ministers but also for the clergy and vestries who seek to support them.
To Dance with God
Gertrud Mueller Nelson
Gertrud Mueller Nelson’s To Dance with God is classic of home-based ritual-making, worthy of a place of honor on the bookshelves of both parents and all who minister with children and youth. This book — as readable as it is robust — is full of seasonal practices that make it easy for families to bring meaningful liturgies into the home. As the book reviews attest, Mueller Nelson “manages to escape the trap of many writers on this subject — superficial piety — and makes relevant for the modern reader the importance of ritual for connecting us to the meaning and flow of life."