Youth Ministry in Modern America, by Jon Pahl

If we pay attention solely to popular media's portrayals of youth, we might be tempted to believe that adolescents are more free and powerful today than ever before. But some have detected a cultural hostility toward young people, manifested as blaming them for everything from rising crime rates to cultural decline. Since the early 1970s the real earning power of youth has diminished by approximately 30 percent, while requirements for securing middle-class employment have escalated, leaving the young less free to explore vocation and make their mark on history.

This marginalization of youth is reflected in recent legislation in which over 15 states have criminalized what were once considered experimental behaviors--public mischief, minor vandalism and gang affiliation. And the church has relegated youth to the periphery of congregational ministry. Theological scholarship has, with few exceptions, failed to offer critical perspectives or constructive approaches.

In his groundbreaking Youth Ministry in Modern America, Jon Pahl, associate professor of American religious history at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, addresses this problem. He describes four youth movements that he calls "the most significant groups of Christian believers in the second half of the twentieth century": Walther Youth League (Lutheran), Young Christian Workers (Roman Catholic), Youth for Christ (Evangelical Protestant) and African-American congregational youth ministries (Methodist, Baptist and United Church of Christ). Pahl traces these movements from 1930 to the present, focusing on them through the lenses of purity and practices. He argues that during the past 70 years youth ministry has moved from an emphasis on purity, centered on protective enclaves of like-minded individuals emphasizing Christian knowledge, to practices, consisting of active Christian service and engagement in the adult roles, risks and contradictions of the modern world.