How Do You Talk About The Cross with Adolescents? Thoughts from Andrew Root’s New Book
We could easily have asked the question, “How do you talk about the cross with adults,” because Andrew Roots thoughts from his new book on the cross packs as much potent content for taking the cross to adults as it does for taking the cross to adolescents.
In his new book Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry, Andrew Root voices through his narrative theology style why this week’s question is so important: “a lot of kids have questions about [the cross.] Every year around Easter we get kids asking questions in Sunday school about why it was necessary for Jesus to go to the cross and why God needed to go to such extremes to forgive us.” (28)
So why was the cross necessary? And how do you talk about this necessary cross in your own youth ministry?
More personally: How do you take the cross to your own youth ministry?
Andrew has some potent words for people in youth ministry regarding the cross, some blunt words that I’d like to quote at length because they get to the heart of why our question this week is an important one:
Youth ministry is littered with images of the cross—on T-shirts, book bags, bracelets, and boxer shorts. The symbol of the cross is everywhere, and it has lost its shock value. For us, the cross has become a logo, but for what? Too often, it’s viewed as little more than an image of religious socialization, a badge we want young people to commit to and identify with. We want them to have loyalty to it like they do to their favorite jeans or high school insignia. But this makes the cross no more than a lifeless symbol to which we ask young people to pledge their allegiance. Such a cross has no connection to action, to God’s own movement within the world. (34-35)
Given this general trajectory of cross-talk in youth ministry, how can you course-correct in your own church? How can you talk about the cross with adolescents?
You’ll recall in a few other columns on Andrew’s new book series we noted how Andrew sees the point to youth ministry being to participate in God’s actions. In Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, Andrew says ““Youth ministry could be defined as the ministry of the church that seeks to participate in God’s action with and for a culturally identified group called adolescents.” (39)
Likewise, the gospel itself is about God’s actions—the good news that God is moving and active to rescue and re-create the world. And youth ministry is about proclaiming and exposing that action. Thus, the cross itself is wholly about God’s action in the world, “God’s action of love” (35) and “the very power to bring forth something new, to turn what is not into what is. It is the power to turn death into life.” (37)
Is this the impression that your students have when they consider the cross? That it is God’s action and movement to bring forth something new, to turn death into life? Here and now?
I don’t mean to question your work with these questions, but rather to provoke some serious conversations among your staff and volunteers this week about how you are taking the cross to your own youth ministry. Because as Andrew writes, “If youth ministry is about participation in the action of God, then youth ministry is not about knowledge that leads to growth, advancement, and preparation (even for heaven). Instead it is about encountering God at the cross, where God takes on nothingness, and from nothingness brings forth new life, new possibilities, an all-new reality.” (55-56)
And you, youth worker, get to cultivate experiences—teaching, singing, praying, contemplating experiences to help your youth encounter this active, moving God at the cross! Reading through Andrew’s thought-provoking book has challenged me to consider how I as a pastor take the cross to my own ministry. Because as Paul says, whom Andrew quotes and interacts with extensively: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
In light of this privilege, what is one thing you can do this week to take the cross to your youth ministry? What is one experience you can craft to connect your adolescents to this active, moving God who “takes on nothingness, and from nothingness brings forth new life, new possibilities, an all-new reality.” Perhaps you can share here the experience you craft to stimulate ideas among your fellow youth workers, or even the results of that experience.
Jeremy Bouma is a pastor with the Evangelical Covenant Church in West Michigan. He is the founder of THEOKLESIA, a content curator dedicated to helping the 21st century church rediscover the historic Christian faith; holds the Master of Divinity and Master of Theology; and writes about faith, life, and everything in between at www.jeremybouma.com.