“What’s the Point of Youth Ministry?” A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry Guided by Andrew Root
I’ll get straight to the point: If you’re in youth ministry you need to get and read Andrew Root’s new series, called A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry. Even if you’re not in youth ministry but are involved in overseeing your church’s ministry at some level or coaching your student ministry’s pastor/volunteers, you need to get and read Andrew’s new series. Why? Before I get there, first a confession:
I haven’t always had respect for this important, vital, guiding, shaping component of church life. In fact, when people have asked me if I am a youth pastor when I share my profession as pastor, I’ve often felt mildly indignant at the question—probably because I’ve considered youth ministry the least theological part of the entire church. That is, until reading through the first book in Andrew’s new four-book series, Taking Theology to Youth Ministry.
Andrew acknowledges this perception, contending that “a number of hidden or implicit purposes that drive many youth programs…have little to do with our theological commitments.” (26) But this is why I am thrilled with Andrew’s latest offering, and why I think you should get and read them: Andrew offers a theologically rooted and robust answer to a question that often haunts practioners and participants in youth ministry, what is the point?
According to Andrew what is the point? It isn’t keeping kids good, or making them into servants, or even passing on a denominational/theological tradition. (32-33). For Andrew, and I think he’s dead on, “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)
As a pastor and theologian I love this definition—and I must add that my indignation is confronted by it! Because as Andrew makes plain, “What this means in the end is that youth ministry is every bit as theological as every other form of ministry, because its core isn’t games and skits but the action of God.” (39) Touché!
What’s the point of youth ministry? Simply, beautifully, and deeply put, To participate in God’s actions.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the reputation youth ministry has garnered, though. As Andrew writes,
much theological language surrounding youth ministry has focused on justifying our own activity, and so little has been about articulating how God acts, and who this God of action is. This misguided focus is the reason youth ministry has a poor theological reputation. But like all ministries, youth ministry is fundamentally a theological task, because it is about participating in God’s actions. (41)
What I love about this series is that it helps youth pastors and volunteers alike better understand how to participate in God’s rescuing, re-creating acts in the world, and then get students to join in with this God of action. Perhaps as equally, I love that Andrew approaches his theological task narratively—meaning the series talks about the essentials of the Church’s teachings on God and God’s work using a fictional story of a youth worker named Nadia. This strategy serves the book well in helping you benefit from Andrew’s potent theological insights in a form that’s easy to engage, digest, and understand.
Andrew likens the series to an energy bar: it’s a small item, no bigger than a candy bar, but it serves as a meal. Like an energy bar, Andrew hopes this series of short 100-page books will “satisfy your theological appetite; I hope that like an energy bar they will give you a protein-filled theological power-up to your concept and practice of youth ministry.” (10) As someone who holds a Master of Theology in historical theology, I think Andrew has done his part in providing a bite-sized meal worth of theological insight, challenge, and guidance for youth workers of all strips.
In the coming weeks I want to engage some of Andrews content more thoroughly, but I want to end this introduction with a question that was posed to Nadia at her annual review:
“What’s the purpose of this youth ministry?” More personally: What’s the purpose of your youth ministry? Whether you are a full-time youth pastor or volunteer leader why does your youth ministry exist?
Perhaps you could sit with this question a few days and then report back here with your answer. Doing so could be a great way to hone your own purpose statement as you begin 2013, while also encouraging your fellow youth workers along the way.
Jeremy Bouma has spent a decade ministering among our postmodern culture, first in Washington D.C. and most recently as an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor 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 from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, and writes at www.novuslumen.net.