Theological Proposition for Youth Ministry…part 1

Posted: March 20, 2010 in Uncategorized
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NOTE: I first wrote this in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, & part 4

In her book “Practicing Passion” Kenda Creasy Dean makes the case that youth around the world are looking for something to die for. Adolescent psychologists like “Storm & Stress” originator G. Stanley Hall tell us that the primary role of teenagers is to form their identity. When I started in youth ministry the best minds in youth work suggested our role was to create a safe place (usually a portable building called the ‘youth room’) where youth could create their identity. And with effective socials, games, retreats, and bible studies see how that identity should be formed by Christ. While God has certainly used those experiences, I have found them to be something much different than finding something to die for.

Dieing for something denotes passion, passion comes from love, and love happens in a relationship and all three establish the meaning for life. This statement is a theological reflection about how Christ’s incarnation, the inter relationship of the Trinity, and the work of the cross orientate our ministry to, with, and for youth and families. Dean puts it this way, “Anchoring youth ministry in the life, death, and 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.” (Dean pg.255)

Keeping in mind that “order of salvation” we will remember with Paul,
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.” 1 Corinthians 5:3-4 (ESV)

Anderson points out (working I think on ideas formed from Barth) that the theological beginning point in Judaism is the Exodus. Likewise as Paul describes what is of first importance we are reminded that for us as Christians the center of the universe must be the cross. The suffering incarnational presence of Emmanuel (God with us) is at the heart of every ministry including one focused on youth & families. Dr. Andrew Root articulates it as ministry preceding ministry theology, God being with us defines everything else. We will examine three biblical texts that reflect that theological “with us” and I think giving us praxis in light of embodiment.

Never before have youth been so isolated, in his book Hurt Chap Clark points out that youth have been abandoned often by their families, schools, neighborhoods, and in fact society. Prior to the industrial revolution teenagers (a term that didn’t exist then) were with their families, mentored by their parents, and had an important life giving role to play in their family. Identity was gifted to them through their family and the community who knew their name and honored their place. This lifestyle of presence and purpose provided meaning and the movement from childhood to adult was much clearer.

A youth minister friend and mentor of mine writes about himself on his Myspace, “I live in the space between things. I live in a world of adolescents….those between child and adult….” Stanley Hall while wrong about “Storm & Stress” was right about identity but as Dean’s point illustrates our identity goes much deeper than portable buildings. Forming an Christological identity is complicated by an isolated in-between world and will take the humility of an incarnational presence stand in its place. This new world of the adolescence lives a gap that is only getting wider and wider in an increasingly stratified world where 11 year olds start puberty and 30 year olds still live with their parents. It’s no wonder Smith in Soul Searching describes a world of “whatever-ism” because we as a society and even a church have replaced incarnational presence with entertainment, gone after feel good and instead of sacrifice, and except for 8% of what Smith describes as devoted teens replaced meaning with busyness.

All is not lost, this era also provides an opportunity, the 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 no one grows beyond kneeling at the foot of the cross. The work of youth and family ministry then is a deeply theological enterprise as we seek an incarnational ministry that is wholly with the other, extending the call for sacrifice, and creating deep partnerships with households. This must be done through Biblically grounded relationships, more to come…

  1. […] I first wrote this (along with part 1) in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, part 2, […]

  2. […] I first wrote this (along with part 1, part 2) in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, […]

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