PART 3: “The Normative” The Great Emergence & Youth Ministry

Posted: June 9, 2009 in Uncategorized
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The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Normative practice in earlier eras of youth ministry were linked to Adolescent psychologists like “Storm & Stress” originator G. Stanley Hall who said the primary role of teenagers is to form their identity. In the late 1980’s youth ministry’s best minds suggested the role of the youth worker was to create a safe place (usually a portable building called the ‘youth room’) where youth could create this identity. Somehow effective socials, games, retreats, and bible studies would help youth see how their identity should be formed by Christ.

Listening to God’s Word in light of the larger question of ecclesiology realized in vocation give us praxis revealed clearly in the narrative of Samuel. Samuel’s call to significance emanated out of God’s Word and he could only hear it because of the mentoring partnership between his family and the congregation realized in the life of Eli. Life long partnership and community were necessary for Samuel to hear God’s Word resulting in vocation and ultimately transformation for the world through Samuel’s life of ministry. Fidelity, longevity, and faithfulness are attributes of God that become the new marks of disciple life relationships.

Normative practice in today’s Great Emergence must be grounded by a life dwelling in God’s Word. This first language of faith is the source and norm for our way forward. Luther in the Reformation, monasticism in dark ages, prophets in the exile, and guides like Eli all testify to reality in ‘rummage sales’ throughout history.

Hope and faith are passed down through this “thin tradition” as Douglas John Hall refers to it in The Cross in Our Context of the theology of the Cross is still with us as it always as been. The Holy Spirit seeks to anchor us to the Passion of Christ and remind us all in this era as in every era with the knowledge that no one grows beyond kneeling at the foot of the cross. Hall proclaims that “Christianity makes the astonishing claim that God, who is preeminent in the only unqualified sense of the word, for the sake of the creature’s shalom suffered-suffers-the loss precisely of that preeminence.”

God’s preeminence is revealed as He initiates life. This central tenet of the “rua” (or God’s breath) filling us with life is God’s action that precedes our own and reminds us that leadership, ministry, and vocation emanate from God through us His creation. So what we do only happens and is dependant on what God has already done. Christian leadership, normative living, and faithful praxis therefore emanates out of a faithful attentiveness to this ‘rua”“Karl Barth has suggested that the structure of these opening verses [in Genesis] deliberately create the condition of a void in order to show that only when God speaks is there a response. The word of God creates the response. The void – the ex nihilo – is the necessary condition for the Word to bring for God’s creation.” We are the void that God’s word speaks into, breathing life, vocation, and purpose into our being.

Life and vocation are exhaled from theological reflection of Christ’s incarnation, the inter relatedness of the Trinity, and the work of the cross. We can no longer use the felt needs of the Human condition as a “Strategy of Influence” (Root) even if it is well founded adolescent development as the soul basis for ministry (as Oestreicher laid out in YM 1.0 – 3.0). Barth reminds us that we like Josiah who rediscovered God’s Word must die in the waters of Baptism to become the void that is filled into our nothingness with God’s Word. Kenda Creasy Dean puts it this way, “Anchoring youth ministry in the life, death, andThe image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. resurrection of Christ suggest an approach to youth ministry that relies less on the order of human development and more on the order of salvation.”

Through this unexpected new order God speaks into those voids through, with, and alongside humanity. The call of Samuel (in 1 Samuel 3) reflects God’s “rua” which initiates Samuel’s vocation and work in the world through community. God calls Samuel through the faith and sacrifice of Hannah who offers Samuel to God. God speaks into the void through the wisdom and humble ear of Samuel’s mentor Eli who didn’t keep God’s Word to himself but helped Samuel hear it. God’s Word becomes the voice and authority for Samuel’s work in the world.

Notice how God speaks into a dependent community which reflects the inter-relatedness of God’s perichoretic imagination. Life which reflects God’s order is dependant first on God’s Word and then on the community God uses to give voice to that vocation.

So like the Karate Kid again its not just good educational models to give us catechesis that Smith articulated we were lacking but mentors to teach us the reality of what we’ve already learned and in fact The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.what God has already done. This gets at what Dr. Andrew Root articulates as ministry preceding theology, so the ‘other-ness’ and ‘with-ness’ of God is unveiled in being with Christ. Mentors like Eli or Hannah do this when they are steeped in the Word made flesh around us and not just culture where the cry for good teaching by Smith and Denton makes the largest impact. Like Eli, mentors must partner with and empower our first circle of influence, the family ,as Samuel’s life reflected with Hannah. This normative praxis begins first with God’s action revealed by God’s servants living incarnationally among, “place holders” Root might call them.

Sociologist Jeffrey Jenson Arnett can’t understand how youth steeped in years of religious educationThe image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors. disregard life long catechesis so quickly when encountering this quest in emerging adulthood. But it makes complete sense in a world wanting meaning that a system “stripped of grace” and forced into a crude data dump of religious info is quickly lost on those who have grown up in the information age wanting the depth that lies beneath. Dietrich Bonheoffer gives us a lens on all of this when he writes candidly, “Christian means community through Jesus Christ and in Jesus Christ. There is no Christian community that is more than this and none that is less than this…We belong to one another only through and in Jesus Christ.” So it is only in relationships of fidelity that we truly encounter Christ, and truly encounter what it means to be the church, and only then gives imagination for what we are called for in the world.

It should come as no surprise in light of the this new era that relational didache or teaching that the Great Commission demands of us happens in our most fundamental relationships – our families. The apostle Paul recognizes the intimacy of family so much that he often uses marriage as the closest human imagery of what our relationship with God is like. Kenda Creasy Dean in Practicing Passion puts it best when she says, “Belonging precedes Believing.” Her example is poignant, “For teenagers, true love is bound to the promise that they are “to die for,” whether that promise enacted by the Crips or the Bloods or their parents” (shades of Clarks clusters). Therefore any practical theology of Youth & Family ministry but be living and breathing in the heart of the relationships where teenagers find their most significant belonging. The incarnation and cross are tied together in this type of didache that must be lived out in a life together of community (ecclesiology) and is realized in our own connection with God’s missio dei (vocation).

Acts 16 give us two examples (representative of many in the New Testament) of evangelism, the power of family ministry, and what I think is a theological foundation for the dynamic of nurture vs. evangelism in faith formation. These texts and others like it outline how we are called to share the Gospel with those who have yet to hear the story and how that message quickly infects the whole household. They eliminate the dichotomy between nurture and evangelism and remind us that both are needed. They affirm the household as faith formative, and make Luther call in Large Catechism, “Surely Parents are the apostles, priests, bishops and teachers for their children” possible in the same way Eli made it possible for Samuel (because the lived together). These texts prioritize the role of the household in the Pastoral Epistles in places like Titus 1:6 we are told that the criteria for an elder include passing on the faith to their own children. Deuteronomy 6 gives us the clearest command to pass on our faith through our families and it provides a long history to remind us to remember this essential discipline of faith.

Andrew Root noted that “Education often happens in community of faith and not in class rooms” and at its best family is our first and most frequent experience of community. Picking up on this history of practicing devotions, ritual, service, and relational work is why the Youth & Family Institute tell us faith is caught more than it is taught. If ministry precedes theology and belonging precedes belief then the family sits at the center of the theological formation of the Church as affirmed by both the Scriptures and our Confessions.

The Reformation predicated these ecclesiological questions first hinted at in the reformation with the priesthood of all believers now seen in adolescents who demand full participation or nothing. Hall’s analogy, “ A hammer is just when it is capable of doing the thing that hammers are meant to do…Similarly, justification is the righting of the human person so that he or she will behave humanly – will become, so to speak himself or herself, will be as Bonheoffer put it, a human being.” As youth dwell in the grace of God’s Word and do what they were created to do, they get in touch with what it means to be fully human. So praxis becomes signs of God’s work and not just a means to an ends.

Timothy is being called to be a martyr, a witness—getting at the heart’s desire of youth and describing the need for a mentoring relationship that is shaped by discipleship. Focused on the cross and grounded in his practice in the real world; Timothy isn’t just being challenged to “do what’s right” his life is being held up as salt and light in the world. Remember those 8% in Youth & Religion study described as devoted youth in America have been engaged in leadership. The thin tradition calls us into an identity shaped by the cross or as Hall put it a “cruciform” people.

However our pluralistic and departmentalized world looks much different from that of Josiah, Samuel, or Luther who called families within a backdrop of cultural unanimity not seen in our world today. How can this be done then? What do partnerships like with home and church look different than Eli and Hannah model? We begin with faith in God’s Word. If the Holy Spirit did it among a remnant of Israel in exile and if the Holy Spirit spoke words of dynamic faith in the midst of the evil scourge of Nazism through Bonheoffer then we can trust the Holy Spirit is still at work today.

In Youth Ministry 3.0 Oestreicher quotes a youth worker confessing an allegiance to the false idea of the “if we build it they will come” mentality of youth ministry. He admitted that what really worked in his ministry was never really ‘his’ at all but only what God’s Spirit did as they were connected to His incarnational and redemptive work in the world. In the Great Emergence of youth ministry the old crock pot for relationships, the ‘program’, needs to shift to the side course while primary relationships in families, mentors, and the deep koinonia of the worshiping community become central. So in the same way one would see an outing at Ranger Stadium sponsored by the Big Brother Big Sister organization as a secondary and supplemental to their primary essence of the relationship between a teen girl and her big sister we now programmed events in the role of youth ministry and the calling of the youth minister as supplemental and secondary.

The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Instead of simply counting the number of events and youth who attended we now count the number of meaningful relationships that help youth listen to God’s Word that develops attributes that reflect the Josiah like redisovery. The Exemplary Youth Ministry study led by Dr. Roland Martinson have mined the ministries of those already living in this new reality and have identified 7 markers of a mature Christian in line with the revealed Word and work of the Spirit in our lives and communities of faith. Note how numbers and accountability still matter. We are not allowed to say numbers which reflect people are less important we just need to understand how to count more accurately. The new accounting system also gives the youth minister a measuring stick for the difficult task of knowing how much time to give to affinity rather than events and programs by asking if they serve our first priorities. This doesn’t make discernment easy in light of old expectations but we do now have a framework to judge our time, schedules, and ministries agenda against.

  1. […] and our youth ministries? What does it mean in light of the Great Emergence? (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 where I’ve written about the Great […]

  2. […] in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, & part […]

  3. […] Part Two is Empirical, Part Three is the Normative, and Part Four is the Pragmatic. part 1, part 2, part 3, & part […]

  4. […] in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, & part […]

  5. […] in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, & part […]

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