Presence—Centered Youth Ministry by Mike King

Mike King is president of YouthFront, an organization creating an environment for youth to experience spiritual transformation. He is also on staff at Jacob’s Well Church in Kansas City. King is definitely somewhere in the emergent/emerging camp, but he says little about his doctrinal beliefs in this book so it is difficult to know exactly where he fits. Like many others in the emerging “conversation,” King is reacting from unpleasant experiences in conservative and what he could consider legalistic churches (chapter 1). But he does have a legitimate concern—the majority of church-raised young people drop out in their twenties. How are we to reach these young people for Christ?

I found myself in consensus with many of King’s general philosophies:


• “The notion of youth workers as entertainers and program directors must give way to youth workers as authentic shepherds, spiritual guides with a holy anointing to lead youth into the presence of God” (pp. 24, 25).

• He believes it to be a mistake to segregate youth ministry from the rest of the church (pp. 33, 37).

• We should not pressure or trick young people into making a decision for Christ, as it is all too common in many circles (pp. 36-37).

• Our worship services should not be seeker–sensitive, rather they should be a bit odd for visiting unbelievers (pp. 38-39).

• And the post-2000 culture is tired of noise, phoniness, glitz and the superficial—it is searching for an authentic encounter with God (pp. 62, 70).

I think, given the fact that people are still flocking to seeker-oriented megachurches, the jury is still out on this last one, but I hope he is correct.

The problem lies, however, with the particulars. King wants to provide young people with an encounter with the presence of God. But what does that really mean? One clue to King’s thinking is those he admires and quotes: Thomas Merton, Tony Jones, Tony Campolo, Mother Teresa, Brennan Manning, John Richard Neuhaus, G.K. Chesterton, Thomas Howard, Ignatius of Loyola, Mike Yaconelli, and various monks and mystics from the ancient Roman Catholic tradition. In short, King believes that the mystics of medieval Catholicism have the inside track on encountering God. If we can but adopt their practices, techniques and methods, we too can enter the presence of God (e.g. p. 38).

To this end King goes on to prescribe virtually every practice ever invented by Catholicism: sacred spaces—where God’s presence is real (p. 87), labyrinths (p. 87), stations of the cross (p. 95), candles (p. 95), incense (p. 96), icons (pp. 132-134), respiratory prayers (pp. 121-123), the Jesus prayer (p. 121-122), prayer ropes (pp. 123-124), making the sign of the cross (pp. 129-132), daily offices (pp. 134-136), lectio divina (p. 147), crucifixes (p. 170) and confession to a priest (p. 171). He speaks highly of monks, monasteries and monasticism.

While King never actually defines what encountering God’s presence is, he gives numerous mystical experiences which apparently describe what he has in mind (pp. 74, 84, 114). The most disturbing experience is his own which moves from mere mysticism to occultic visualization (pp. 184-185) King wants us to know that we cannot be certain about the meaning of much in Scripture (p. 141), but apparently we can be certain about mystical encounters with God produced largely from adopting practices developed from the apostate Roman Catholic Church.

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