Books for Christian Teens Who Want to Change the World

Books for Christian Teens Who Want to Change the World - Parenting Like Hannah
Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

Do you have a teen who wants to change the world? Thankfully, for all of its issues, our society is encouraging children to become more involved in making a difference in the world. As a Christian though, I want to make sure my daughter understands one very important principle the world does not teach. Souls last longer than bodies.

Serving the felt needs of people without sharing God with them, only helps them temporarily. We have done nothing to make sure they have an opportunity to go to heaven when they die. On the other hand, trying to share the Gospel with someone who is starving or in pain is cruel. How can they hear God’s love, when you aren’t even taking the time to get them some food or medicine so they don’t starve? Serving felt needs and sharing the Gospel should always be done together.

My daughter wants to start a non-profit organization at some point in her life. She has a heart for serving others and has lots of practical experience. She has had a difficult time though deciding what her focus issue will be in the future. We wanted to find a way to introduce her to the real stories and pain of a large variety of people – people it might take us many years to expose her to personally.

Since we homeschool, I made this her English class for one year. (She had already read more classic fiction than children much older than her.) I decided to mix books on leadership and decision making with books on different groups of people she may choose to work with in the future. Almost all of the books are non-fiction. The ones about various groups are designed to try and give her not only a glimpse into other worlds, but the various problems different people face in their lives.

If you don’t homeschool, you can buy these books a couple at a time or check them out at the library for your child to read during breaks or in their free time. A child who is passionate about helping others will probably want to learn and explore about their passion anyway. If your child is apathetic about the plight of others, some of these are great books to shake your child’s world view a little.

As with any list of books, not every book may be appropriate for your child. Our daughter is very mature and can handle things other children may not be able to handle. Because of the harsh environments some of these people inhabit, some parts of the books may describe behaviors and language that are not appropriate in our house. Please read any of these books before giving them to your child to make sure they are appropriate for your child to read. I personally have found several of them to be very helpful in my own volunteer work.

1. Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations by Alex and Brett Harris- A great book to encourage teens to try and change the world.

2. Start Here: Doing Hard Things Right Where You Are by Alex and Brett Harris- The follow-up book that offers more specifics on how to get started.

3. Lose Your Cool: Discovering a Passion that Changes You and the World by Zach Hunter- Helps teens discover their passion.

4. Be the Change: Your Guide to Freeing Slaves and Changing the World  by Zach Hunter- The author relates his journey as a teen to help free slaves around the world. It also has tips on how teens can change the world.

5. Take Your Best Shot: Do Something Bigger Than Yourself  by Austin Gutwein- How the teen author used his love for basketball to make a difference for AIDS relief in Africa.

6. Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality  by Henry Cloud- Most teens don’t have the business experience to fully appreciate this book. He teaches some very valuable principles though, that I hope she will remember as more opportunities arise for her to lead organizations.

7. Take the Risk: Learning to Identify, Choose, and Live with Acceptable Risk by Ben Carson- If your child isn’t familiar with Ben Carson, you may want to have him read Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story first. The author does an excellent job of teaching teens how to measure risk and determine what is an acceptable risk. He helps them avoid both extremes of taking dangerous risks and doing nothing because of a fear of risk. (The tv movie, with Cuba Gooding, Jr playing Ben Carson, is also very good.)

8. unSpun: Finding Facts in a World of Disinformation by Brooks Jackson and Kathleen Jamieson- Explains how the information we are given in the media and other places can be presented in ways that are meant to push a certain viewpoint. Helps them understand how not everything they see is necessarily totally accurate.

9. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die  by Chip and Dan Heath- How to get your message across so people remember it.

10. Outliers: The Story of Success  by Malcolm Gladwell- An interesting look at what makes some people succeed. This book should lead to a lot of interesting discussions. (Whether you agree with it or not!)

11. Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion  by Jay Heinrichs- The author analyzes “famous” orators to see why their arguments are effective.

12. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt- While I disagreed with a couple of his points theologically (He does not believe baptism is necessary for the remission of sins. Although, I believe he may have changed this belief recently.), he does a wonderful job making you take another look at your priorities. He examines what God demands and how it has been clouded by the American Dream.

13. I Beat the Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond – Michael Oher does a phenomenal job telling his own story. In the process, he shows how people can make a real difference in the lives of hurting children. Chapter 20 should be required reading for every hurting child and the people who are trying to help them.

14. Voices from the Fields: Children of Migrant Farmworkers Tell Their Stories – The children of migrant farm workers tell about their lives in their own words.

15. Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution by Ji-Li Jiang- Life in communist China during the time of Mao.

16. Thinking In Pictures: and Other Reports from My Life with Autism by Temple Grandin- A wonderful look into the world of autism, written by a woman who used her autism to change how animals are slaughtered. (Not as gory as it sounds. This is one of our favorites and there was an excellent movie made about Temple Grandin recently.)

17. Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich- The author experiments on how to work and live on minimum wage. This book annoyed my daughter and I, not because of the issues raised, but because of the author’s personality. It made for some good discussions though.

18. Three Little Words: A Memoir  by Ashley Rhodes Courter- A harsh look at life in foster care. One of my favorites, although it broke my heart to read it.

19. In the Sanctuary of Outcasts: A Memoir  by Neil White – The memoir of a prisoner who is placed in a facility that also houses people with leprosy. This is also an excellent look at arrogance, entitlement and how to handle great pain and rejection with grace and love.

20. ERIC LIDDELL: PURE GOLD  by David McCasland- The story of a man who not only stood up for his beliefs at the Olympics, but went on to become a missionary.

21. Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman’s Quest to Make a Difference  by Warren St. John – The story of how one woman helped refugees from war-torn countries. My daughter loved this book and is currently volunteering with immigrant children in a tutoring program.

22. The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World by Jacqueline Novogratz – A woman tries to provide assistance to the people of Africa. Along the way, she learns that her ideas of their needs are not necessarily the same as theirs. Still on my list, but everyone, including my daughter who has read this book raves about it. Explains the problem with “helpers” assuming they have the answers without talking to the people who are experiencing the problems first.

23. Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa  by Dambisa Moyo- Examines why throwing money at the problems of the world is not necessarily the best answer.

I am sure there are plenty of other good books that address even more issues. Unfortunately, the length of the school year has limited us to an extent. Reading these books has given my daughter an outlook that is more mature and worldly (in a good way) that many teens her age. She has learned that solutions to the problems of the world are never as simple as politicians and pundits would have us believe. She has also learned a lot of important skills and has empathy for people she might otherwise know nothing about.

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

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