Archive for the ‘Thesis’ Category

It’s been too long since I blogged specifically on the Great Emergencce.

I recently heard a great sermon that included the life and testimony of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and our call to evangelism (hear part three of the sermon series here: faithabq.org). Bonhoeffer’s witness and writings help us consider what it means to confess our faith in the society marked by a life together through vast global social media outlets. As I look through lens of a Christian in the Lutheran tradition called to youth ministry here is what gets mixed up in my blender:

We can begin to grapple with ecclesiological question in the Great Emergence when we consider:

1. Bonhoeffer says that ultimate reality is found in Jesus Christ.  
2. Global mediums has made us interconnected producers of media – not just passive recepients
3. The Great Emergence suggest the church is wrestling with it’s identity, vocation, & has stirred up the question of the authority.
4. Nearly every expert observes a sea change in youth ministry, regardless of the how, all suggest the biggest change includes a deeper connection with a WHO (see Andy Root’s two recent books)

Given all that I think it leaves youth ministry along with the rest of the church striving to figure out how to be church fully embedded in the world without abandoning the vine which is Christ, or the Word of God which is Christ incarnate.  We are tempted to be synconistic with culture while we are embedded there instead of loving the world towards a place of redemption.

So what does all this academic mumbo jumbo mean for youth ministry?  We have to figure out how live with teenagers because we love them, because we need them, because we all need redemption, and teenagers need to hear and know through relationship the powerful good news of Jesus Christ. It’s not enough to just be “with” on facebook, twitter, or even hang out with on a Wednesday. We must strive to truly live with, suffer with, and boldly proclaim the Gospel in the name of Christ.

As part two of that sermon series reminded me. Bonehoeffer preached Christ to his death, living and suffering with his fellow prisoners in a concentration camp. His life was marked by genuine relationships and a bold spoken overt witness. We are called I think to do both today.

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        Marty* was well known as the lowest of lows in the 7th grade popularity totem pole.  Sadly my only claim to fame was that I managed to stay the slightest notch ahead of Marty in the minefield of junior high (or at least I thought so).  At the time my family had very little money, lived in section eight housing, most mornings you could see the smoke and smell the marijuana that some of my fellow students enjoyed at the bus stop.  As low man on the totem pole at our stop I was often fending off fights to those who wanted to show off their status.  Without the means to buy the status clothing or move much beyond daily survival, to say that junior high was hard would be an understatement. 

            Marty ended his junior high career broken, on drugs, and failing most of his classes.  I ended junior high with more friends then when I started, hopeful for the future, and confident that God had a plan for me.  I thank God for Mr. Germino who helped make that happen.  Mr. Germino was the eccentric social studies teacher who you either loved or hated.  Though I loved his class and my appreciation for history blossomed, I never imagined he would become such a blessing in my life. 

            Spurred on by a powerful youth trip at my home church the summer before, God encouraged me in those days through the emerging Christian music movement of the 1980’s.  Whether I was desperate or just a cheese ball, music by Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Phil Driscoll, Keith Green, & Petra where my friends and a huge source of Christian encouragement in my life.   I was lonely and when I wasn’t inside the doors of our home I keenly felt the weight and onslaught of the junior high world I lived in.  The Christian community I’d experienced the summer before seemed like it was light years away and we lived too far away from the church for me to have a regular connection with that group.  I even tried getting involved with our local Christian skate night on Monday nights to listen to those musical partners of faith and find an island in the storm.  Yeah, I know, I said Christian skate night!

            I can still remember the hope of possibility I felt when I saw the list of lunch-time clubs at junior high included one on the “new” Christian rock.  Could it be there were others in the darkest place of my life that also held on to the same island I did?  Each club was hosted or sponsored by a faculty member and what a surprise it was as my eyes scrolled over to the right column to see that it was none other than my eccentric, balding, Santa Clause shaped, Italian history teacher Mr. Germino.

            The first lunch meeting was nothing fancy and to be honest the spectacle of it couldn’t match the hope of sanctuary I’d placed on it.  As we listened to musicians who compared to popular artists at the time I wondered if other people in the room got the kind of companionship I did from the music.  It wasn’t long before I began to learn that Mr. Germino not only loved the music our club listened to and discussed but was sincerely interested in the kids that showed up.  Slowly I began to feel that Mr. Germino considered me a ‘somebody’ beyond just another student on the role call.  

            Mr. Germino surprised me one week with a dubbed tape of one of his albums.  Instead of just giving me a gift, he offered me an invitation to share music together.  As an adult now I’m pretty sure the few albums I had may have already been in his collection but when I reciprocated with a tape I’d made for him.  However when he responded with true gratitude he affirmed me even more than the gift I had received.  Though the music sharing we did throughout junior high violated all kinds of copyright laws, it also inspired me to mow lawns so I could afford to make the 3 mile trek on my bike each Saturday to check out the latest music at our local Christian bookstore and buy the latest album of my favorite artists.

            Looking back the place-sharing he provided for me was something no youth group despite all of its blessings could have ever provided.  Squarely in the midst of my darkest place of suffering and assault Mr. Germino stood with me, and through our relationship became an incarnate presence of Christ on a campus that until then I had only dreaded.  Mr. Germino didn’t solve all my social and economic problems.  Life didn’t become rosy after I joined the Christian music club.  The battles at the bus stop only got worse, and my status on the junior high social ladder never soared.  However unlike my friend Marty, Mr. Germino provided a vision for me to see Christ and claim an identity for myself as fully human, indeed a precious child of God.  Jesus did this through Mr. Germino in a place that I never expected to be life giving, in a moment I needed it most, and at the location of my greatest suffering that no else had access to, not even my parents: the halls of Junior High.

            To be sure Mr. Germino was part of a chorus of place-holders that Christ put in my life and a critical bridge to the other work God was up to in me.  Through that relationship I understood in tangible ways that Christ was truly part of every corner of my life and not just compartmentalized to a summer experience, Christian skate night, home, or later on church groups on Sunday or Wednesday’s.

    When the greek word ζαω or Life is used in the New Testament it’s always talking about life in Christ.  Imagine a youth ministry for the Great Emergence that is built around relationships and not program.  Imagine empowering families, teachers, parents, congregational members, godparents, coaches, and adults to be more than the role that they hold but become for the Life Team of a youth concerned about who they are and their LIFE IN CHRIST.  Imagaine a youth minister whose job is more about empowering and connecting youth to these kind of God-bearing relationships and less of a program director.  Imagine mobilizing the Mr. Germino’s in the world around youth intentionally.   Imagine making sure the Marty’s of the world seek real LIFE through connecting them with the hand’s and feet of Christ with the Mr. Germino’s of the world.  In the comilng posts I plan to give real life examples both from my life and from others what LIFE TEAM chorus surrounding youth might look like.  I’ll  explore Biblical, theological, and recent research suggest reasons for a “team” and I hope to give some practical ideas on how a congregational ministry might Imagine a ministry like Life Teams.

      Marty missed the gift of purpose and drowned it out with drugs and alcohol before leaving junior high.  I still pray for that gift in his life today.  The witness to the otherness of God, the transformation of my own identity, and the light of hope in the midst of darkness will forever be marked in my life by the way my eccentric, Italian, hero Mr. Germino became the incarnate Christ in the halls of junior high.      Imagine that in a middle school near you!

*Marty isn’t his real name

Life Teams are one example of practicing the narrative of Samuel’s life in our world today. Whenever the greek word for life zoe is used in the New Testament it’s always referring to life in Christ. Given what we’ve seen in this hermeneutic of our world today its easy to see we need a praxis that involves the longevity of living together, the partnership with our first circle partner the family, and the fidelity of the only way to life itself in Christ.

https://i0.wp.com/www.killahbeez.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/ateam.jpgSo in our context in Plano, TX instead of confirming youth into the cultural concept of ‘now you go do it’ we say those who confirm their faith also commit to an intentional LIFE together. Through that partnership youth hear their calling and engage them into the missio dei as full participants in the great commission. Life Teams create open systems that “bridge” the secular world and the kingdom of God. Though these systems include programs, the bridge will not be a program but will be a part of the way we equip our youth for the sake of the Gospel with tools like Peer Ministry for youth in relationship not for themselves but for the ‘other.’

The first goal will be to create a mentoring ministry. We’ll call life teams which will be adults like Eli with the blessing of Hannah to guide youth into their vocation (which includes mission) and recognize the Word of God still speaking into their lives today. To measure our goals we will use the research from the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study as a guide for that evaluation. It could look like this:

1. Youth participants will Exhibit 1 characteristic from each category of the Exemplary Youth Ministry “Characteristic of Mature Christian Youth” by the end of their Life Team lifecycle. The categories are: Seeking Spiritual Growth, Both Alone and With Others; Believe God is Present in the World;, Act Out of a Commitment of Faith;, Are Active With God’s People; Possess a Positive; Hopeful Spirit; Live Out of a Life of Service; Live a Christian Moral Life.

2. These characteristics begin to be reflected (as reported by youth & parents) in the home relationship between parent & child.

3. PMLC understands this as the primary source of faith formation in our youth ministry with 100 adults engaged in the lives of youth after 3 years.

These Life teams for each youth will include their parents, their confirmation mentor, another caring adult in the congregation, and one youth. The vision is for intentional relationship that is built around a long term commitment (from confirmation through college), includes conversation around the EYM marks of a mature Christian, and is evaluated together through conversations with their parents. It’s not a group that will meet with youth, it is members of the body of Christ who have committed to invest in that youth. Youth ministry fellowship activities shift to become venues for nurturing those relationships. Outreach activities & Mission trips become opportunities for youth to practice their vocation and participate in creating that bridge to the world.

Mission then gets lived out not just in a program but in the lives of youth where they live. And when it happens formally as church it’s about the body of Christ living out it’s vocation together whether on a mission trip or on an event aimed at welcoming youth in our community. Outreach that once attempted to be flashy enough events to get busy AP students to carve out a few hours from their busy AP schedule now are more dependent on Peer Ministry trained youth who have naturally fostered a relationship.The image “https://i2.wp.com/ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51R7MEi%2BFnL._SS500_.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.
Eli equipped Samuel to listen. The greatest gift the congregation can teach its partners today is to know how to truly listen to God’s word. Mentors and parents alike must be taught the gift of discernment. Mark Yaconelli author of Contemplative Youth Ministry suggests that this foundational skill is taught when the church practices spirituals disciplines of contemplative prayer and Holy listening and offered the church a “Liturgy of Discernment” to be done in community to accomplish this task in our crowded and noisy world today. Listening together, living together, praying together, forgiving together as the zoe life in Christ. These are the gifts Eli (representative of the church today) provided Samuel and these are gifts youth workers can gift parents, teens, families, and long term mentors with to help youth like Samuel respond to God’s Word and transform the world.
May all of us emerge as cruciform people in this Great Emergence in Youth Ministry. Clinging closely to God’s Word venturing out of that dwelling place only to pray for wisdom in a 500-year shift that has ramifications for generations to come. Reformed then by God’s Word may we rediscover what it means to be the community of faith in the ecclesia. Having heard God’s voice there, feeling the presence of Spirit, knowing the grace of an incarnate Emmanuel who suffered, may we recognize the call to participate in the vocation of God’s redemptive work and unleash scores of Samuels out into the world.

Youth ministry first began to notice Youth Ministry 2.0’s (see what Marko calls this in Part 1) failure when one of it’s champions Mike Yaconelli told us, “the youth ministry experiment has failed” in an article in the Youth Worker Journal in 2003. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Statisticians and neighbors in the church had already felt the high powehttps://i1.wp.com/www.sethbarnes.com/blogphotos/sethbarnes/www/yaconelli4.jpgred vacuum that seemed to suck youth shortly after high school or in traditions like Lutheranism (thats my denomination) not long after confirmation (before the next Sunday for example).

Researchers like Gallup, Barna, and denominational sponsored studies like Lifeway began noticing that 50% to 70% of our youth are exiting the church after high school. The Youth & Religion Study sponsored by the Lily Fund observed that more than 85% of those youth had participated in youth group at least once. Researchers in the same study found these absent youth didn’t leave as an act of rebellion and if anything they had fondness for the Church they just found it vacuous of meaning. With data like that confronting present day realities that twenty something males and twenty something females are absent from the church at a rate of 90% and 75% respectively we can no longer claim these rebellious youth will return when they have kids.

http://vialogue.files.wordpress.com/2008/04/the-great-emergence.jpgSeen as a whole these voices (read part one to hear all the voices I’m talking about) become part of the chorus of a world that seems to change systematically every 500 years or so. Theologian, historian, and author Phyllis Tickle says we don’t need to wait for another shake up to occur because we are in one right now! Quoting Anglican Bishop the Right Reverend Mark Dyer she writes, “the only way to understand what is happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.”

If one were to do a track back through the blog of history we would see Luther and the Reformation on October 31, 1517 AD wrestling with the Christological question of what does Christ do and by whom are we saved; ontologically? Track back 500 more years to the Great Schism in 1054 AD as they debate and part ways over the theological identity of the Godhead in the filioque controversy. Keep clicking backward to the dark ages, Gregory the Great, and the fall of Rome as the church debates the nature of the incarnation. The next 500 year journey takes us to incarnation and Passion itself or the beginning of the Great Transformation as some historians have come to call it.

Often these 500 year markers are just a convenient way for us to understand the questions that led up to major shifts in Church and society. Like the Karate Kid it may be that after days of painting fences orhttps://i1.wp.com/mphs1988.com/images/pics/80s/wax-on-wax-off-karate-kid.jpg washing cars we may only learn what we learned after the fact. However when we scroll ‘back to the future’ we find the same kind of convergence of questions, symptoms, and cultural tidal waves the emerging Church notes today. Listening to God’s work through this history will lead us to the swirling theological questions of our age. Ecclesiology. Or put in the form of a question, ‘What does it mean to live in, become, and be the body of Christ today?’

In youth ministry this ecclesiological question is expressed in the life of an adolescent as vocation. Listen to how these voices can be heard in light of this larger reality: The incarnation has been removed of it’s passion as Root would say, Clark might describe ignoring these ecclesiological and vocation questions as an experience of abandonment, Dean puts flesh on it when she says, “youth are looking for something to die for and we give them pizza.”

Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Dentonin in the study of Youth and Religion articulate the ramifications of not paying attention http://missivesfrommarx.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/christian_smith_soul_searching_sm.jpgto the new era of emergence in their book Soul Searching. They discover that both youth and their parents don’t know what their tradition believes and have adopted instead what they coin as the moralistic therapeutic deism of culture rather than the cross-shaped lens of the God incarnate. This cultural religion is a “belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order but one who is not particularly personally involved in one’s affairs.” In light of Clark’s work in Hurt we begin to understand that this belief system assumes God abandons us in daily living. Interestingly the Youth & Religion research revealed that 8% of religious teens do know the story. Who are they? These are teens who have been given a vocational leadership role in the church.

Translate that to a process of understanding the Passion of Christ as the meaning maker in the daily life of teens. Smith contends that youth and families actually believe the church is a participant in rampant ‘whateverism’ that YM 2.0 shaped by consumerism mistakenly models. In light of an age of an emergence whose fundamental question is vocational meaning it’s no wonder Clark concludes, “Once students begin to see youth ministry in the same light as other institutions that have abandoned, it becomes something to experience only in inauthentic layers…if at all.”

https://i1.wp.com/farm1.static.flickr.com/102/295647268_45ec853b07.jpgDawn of Time: God breaths, life begins, relationships are made, broken, and restored. 2093 BC: God calls Abraham, God establishes a covenant, Abraham waits, then goes, Sarah laughs, God is faithful, and Isaac is born. The world has a new beginning. 1089 BC: Hannah brought Samuel to the temple, Eli Mentored him, God called him, Samuel spoke God’s word, the world was changed. 5 BC: Mary says yes, Joseph doesn’t leave, Mary prays, Jesus is born, Jesus mentors, teaches, heals, dies, and is risen, all of history is transformed. 200 AD: Bishops start a 7 year process of education and call it confirmation. Passing on Faith is institutionalized. 1505 AD: There is a thunderstorm in Germany, God call’s Luther, 12 years later Luther reminds us of 95 ways to remember this it’s Christ who changed history, Luther teaches us to tell the story again. The next millennium is reminded to remember. Fast forward: Lutherans in the 20th century take the rite of confirmation back from the Bishops and turn it into the church’s first teenage rite of passage. Fast forward:

Root says we need incarnation relationships. Smith says we need to teach the faith. Martinson says we need to theologically frame our best practices. Dean says we need passion and abandon program. Clark tells us we need to heal the hurt. Oestreicher says we need to shift to affinity. Fields says we have to be purposeful. Devries says we need the family. Griner says we need peer ministers. King says we need a new ‘center’.

Everybody is rethinking youth ministry these days. Everybody says it’s time for a shift. But what does the meta-narrative of God’s history with His people teach us? What does faithfulness to the Gospel look like in 2009? With those questions and histories ringing in our ears we will seek a 2009 AD: Redesign.

The image “https://i2.wp.com/www.filmscorefocus.org/uploads/images/back_to_the_future.jpg” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.Shift. Move. Transition. Change. These words express the climate of our culture and the earth rumbling under our feet felt by youth ministers today. What has changed? What do we do now? These two questions preoccupy us with publishers pumping out different answers to each. This paper will survey the commentary of experts and suggest each points to a larger landscape of change and momentum in the life of Church today. I propose what Mark Cannister calls the “Back to the Future”[1] approach to youth ministry. But unlike Cannister I suggest going further back than just the short history of youth ministry and offer what I think the meta-narrative of biblical history provides for our culture, a plan for redemption that is repeated throughout human history.

When Josiah was 26 years old and had been King for 18 years his high priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law (basically Deuteronomy) and after hearing it read to him Josiah tore his clothes in repentance immediately realizing how he and his people were sinning against the LORD. Josiah’s reign after that was a return to God’s Word, a reemergence of God’s Spirit with His people, and a transformation that brought about redemption. Throughout Scripture and throughout history God’s people have forgotten the Word of God and it was always God’s word that brought about transformation. As we’ll read, youth ministers have articulated the symptoms of this kind of God void in youth ministry (and our culture). It’s time now for the church to respond like Josiah with a surprising return to God’s Word, repentance, and turn around.

Our Lutheran heritage with the theology of the cross, unveiled by the Emmanuel whose Word dwelt among us must be our guide. A recent surge and pursuit of a theology of youth ministry I believe is evidence of this deeply felt need, and a place I contend the Spirit calls us to begin.

In his book Youth Ministry 3.0 Mark Oestreicher suggests three eras in the history of modern Youth Ministry. He describes Youth Ministry 1.0 as focus on identity in the shift from the agriculture society to an industrial and the onset of what we now call adolescence. As it’s identity slowly formed in industrial nations youth ministries sought to participate in that process of formation. After youth culture became the norm, Youth Ministry 2.0 shifted with youth who in the 1970 & 80’s pursued autonomy and ministries adopted the “if we build it they will come” Field of Dreams theology. Oestreicher soberly notes YM 2.0 has produced “in pretty much every youth ministry our impact, the transformation of kids’ lives seems less than what we’d hoped. Study after study is bringing this harsh reality into focus.”[2] He contends rethinking youth ministry today includes a shift from autonomy to affinity, that teens are desperately looking for a place to belong and have meaning. This new development is what he calls Youth Ministry 3.0.

Consider the two volume work of Kenda Creasy Dean in the God Bearing Life and Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church who calls us away from the cruise director youth director to a theological passion center shepherd. She identifies the shift as a move away from shaping the right youth event to focusing us on the greatest event in history, Christ’s passion. “We are facing a crisis of passion, crisis that guts Christian theology of its very core, not to mention its lifeblood for adolescents. Teenagers are quick to point out the oxymoron in passionless Christianity, quick to smell danger in suppressing their emotional range, quick to question faith that fails to register on the Richter scale, and quick to abandon a church that accommodates such paltry piety…In short, without passion, Christian faith collapse. And young people know it –”

In his book on roughly the same topic entitled Presence-Centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students intohttps://www.inspire4less.com/productimages/9780830833832.jpg Spiritual Formation Mike King gives us a vivid image of what this passionless Christianity looks like when he quotes a non-Christian, “How come when I meet a Buddhist leader I feel like I am in the presence of a holy man, but when I meet a Christian leader, I feel like I have met an entrepreneur, a mover and shaker, a wheeler dealer?” Both Dean and King recognize that in our attempt to contextualize we have often neutered the gospel so much so that Dean and co-author Ron Foster say, “Adolescents are looking for a soul-shaking, heart-waking, world-changing God to fall in love with, and if they do not find that God in the Christian church, they will most certainly settle for lesser gods elsewhere. Youth look at the church to show them something. Most of the time we have offered them pizza.”

These authors identify the hunger for meaning and significance that we all hunger for and that youth recognize is missing when we just give pizza. Found only in the one true God who formed us and redeemed us. This takes us towards Josiah’s path of re-discovery.

https://i0.wp.com/i43.tower.com/images/mm101684223/hurt-chap-clark-paperback-cover-art.jpgChap Clark gives us a window into the broken world Christ’s passion seeks to reconcile in his book Hurt. He steps into the world of High School youth and discovers what he calls the “world beneath” which in fact is the world he discovered of loneliness and abandonment. By embedding himself with teens at a southern California high school Clark observes and documents how youth have experienced abandonment by their families, social structures, schools, and society. He writes “Even the most solid students confessed that life is far darker, far more violent, far more difficult, and far more tiring than adults, including their parents realize.” Clark describes the affinity groups that Oestriecher notes is a longing for youth today that go beyond clichés and really serve (albeit often short term) as familial units for support in every area of life, groups he calls clusters. Basically the stability gangs provide for inner city youth are what clusters provide for abandoned teens in the North American high schools today.

Clark reminds us that this abandonment is not “limited to the world but is alive and well in the systems and structures of the church.” The Lutheran church has a name for this like “confirmation” or “Sunday school.” In our faithful desire to do catechesis we often forget going beyond just getting folks to show up and never make the real journey from the head to the heart.

Andrew Root steps into the fray here in his book Revisiting the Relational Youth Ministry. He critiques what we have called relational youth ministry as “instrumental relationalism” whose first concern is getting the youth to show up, or seal the deal, or as Root puts it has an agenda. He contends that this kind of strategy is not theologically sound and removes the cross from the incarnation. In other words unlike Jesus who died “for us while we were yet sinners” youth ministries have only tended kids if or when they show up and respond. Root argues that our concern is based in their response instead of God’s suffering passion to reconcile us unto Himself. Root writes, “Out unwillingness to acknowledge the cross as well as the incarnation has deceived us into believing that we are justified in neglecting a great many adolescents who at first respond to our offers of friendship with ridicule and aggressive rejection…We have offered them trips to Disneyland, silly games and ‘cool’ youth rooms, not companionship in their darkest nights, their scariest of hells.” Like Clark, Root calls us away from program or strategies of influence and towards what he calls “place sharing” an incarnational ministry grounded in the suffering transcendence of the cross.Effective Youth Ministry: A Congregational Approach

In 1988 Dr. Roland Martinson published the book Effective Youth Ministry and quickly became the textbook for youth ministers across the country. Martinson suggested then that youth ministry is theological, relational, includes the family, and is congregational. He noted, “The best indicator of whether or not teenagers will be active worshipers and congregational participants is the past and continuing participation of their parents.” All true still today. However the landscape of youth schedules, weight of authority of the Pastor and congregation in family life, and the systemic failure to catechize our church membership has radically changed the structures he suggests in the book. Though theologically grounded, the program based approach is nearly obsolete because it’s just no longer effective in the context it once assumed existed (a new reality Clark’s book describes as a culture of abandonment).

Dr. Martinson’s work, the Search Institute, and research by the Youth and Family Institute collectively sounded the alarm that we were overlooking the family. From the Scriptures like Deuteronomy 6 to our own Lutheran heritage calling parents the “Apostles, Priests, and Bishops” for their children the family is called to play the central role in faith formation. And yet in our modern euphoria of professionalism we’d undercut the very fabric of how the church passed on faith for nearly two millennium. Even Martinson in 1988 who valued relationships with youth and adults thought the congregation could include adults in a mentoring role with youth only after Church staffing resources were exhausted and “Other adults can be recruited if necessary.”Such an understatement! Something I am sure Dr. Martinson would articulate differently today. Biblical exegesis, history, Church Confessions, modern research, and ancient faith practices have led us back to the future again with faith formation in the home. Mark Devries articulated a new structure for ministry based on this idea in his book Family Based Ministry and David Anderson and Paul Hill of the Youth & Family Institute give us principles and practices to help families make this a reality in their book Frogs Without Legs Can’t Hear.

However as Chap Clark makes clear this isn’t the same pre-industrial, pre- no fault divorce, pre-dual income home mortgage life that Luther spoke into. While the return to the home is evident, with research from Barna, the YMCA, and others telling us that parents are still the chief influencers on their teenager’s life parents today are never-the-less products of ineffective catechesis. Their views on God are more of a product of our culture in North America than that of Scripture or of Christian doctrine and this can not be overlooked. Parents must reclaim their primary role and the Church must engage the task of equipping them. This praxis will need to be as multi-facetted and complex as the issues facing teens are and include deep theological reflection, education, and fidelity in long term partnership as the pragmatic portion of this paper will suggest.

In sum, these vast arrays of experts, practitioners, theologians, and researchers all agree that something is askew in youth ministry and cries out for transformation. I once heard Tony Campolo when talking about Democrats and Republicans say Democrats believe the problems are corporate and that we need systemic change best orchestrated by the government and Republicans believe the problem is individual responsibility best done by empowering the individual and keeping government out of it. Tony pointed out that both are right and both are wrong and that both views need to be understood together to truly tackle the complexity of issues facing the country. I take the same approach in describing the challenges of Youth Ministry today. Exclusively these authors are both right and wrong and what’s needed is to listen to these voices as individual symptoms that must be addressed due to systematic realities.

Clearly Dean, Clark, Martinson, and Root are right that we need a theologically grounded youth ministry understood in the deeply perichoretic reality of a relational God. This sacrificial and suffering God reflected in the Passion that Dean calls us back to and echoed by Root reminds us that incarnation cannot be removed from the cross. Obviously like all sinners we professionals think too highly of ourselves and we must re-center the family as primary agents of faith formation but not as new form of exclusivity but in the context of the Body of Christ. Clark is right that youth have been abandoned and Oestreicher grabs hold of that with the desire for affinity but it can’t be done as a new strategy of influence or more creative contextualization.

Dr. Martinson reminds us that all is not lost and the congregational church is still an outpost for the Holy Spirit for both symptomatic and systematic change. The Exemplary Youth Ministry study that we look at further in the pragmatic gives us a vision for this both/and reality. It must be said however that convergence of these issues point to a major shift not just for youth ministry but for the Church, it’s ecclesiology and our response to imagio dei. With Martinson, Dean, King, and Root we can say with confidence that the road ahead for youth is theological but one not just swept up in the recent history of adolescence rather something much larger. This isn’t the first time God’s people have been faced with such a cataclysmic shift and the Holy Spirit has always provided a response which inevitably returns us to God’s transcendent Word.


Dawn of Time: God breaths, life begins, relationships are made, broken, and restored. 2093 BC: God calls Abraham, God establishes a covenant, Abraham waits, then goes, Sarah laughs, God is faithful, and Isaac is born. The world has a new beginning. 1089 BC: Hannah brought Samuel to the temple, Eli Mentored him, God called him, Samuel spoke God’s word, the world was changed. 5 BC: Mary says yes, Joseph doesn’t leave, Mary prays, Jesus is born, Jesus mentors, teaches, heals, dies, and is risen, all of history is transformed. 200 AD: Bishops start a 7 year process of education and call it confirmation. Passing on Faith is institutionalized. 1505 AD: There is a thunderstorm in Germany, God call’s Luther, 12 years later Luther reminds us of 95 ways to remember this it’s Christ who changed history, Luther teaches us to tell the story again. The next millennium is reminded to remember. Fast forward: Lutherans in the 20th century take the rite of confirmation back from the Bishops and turn it into the church’s first teenage rite of passage. Fast forward:

Root says we need incarnation relationships. Smith says we need to teach the faith. Martinson says we need to theologically frame our best practices. Dean says we need passion and abandon program. Clark tells us we need to heal the hurt. Oestreicher says we need to shift to affinity. Fields says we have to be purposeful. Devries says we need the family. Griner says we need peer ministers. King says we need a new ‘center’.

Everybody is rethinking youth ministry these days. Everybody says it’s time for a shift. But what does the meta-narrative of God’s history with His people teach us? What does faithfulness to the Gospel look like in 2009? With those questions and histories ringing in our ears we will seek a 2009 AD: Redesign.

Shift. Move. Transition. Change. These words express the climate of our culture and the earth rumbling under our feet felt by youth ministers today. What has changed? What do we do now? These two questions preoccupy us with publishers pumping out different answers to each. This paper will survey the commentary of experts and suggest each points to a larger landscape of change and momentum in the life of Church today. I propose what Mark Cannister calls the “Back to the Future”[1] approach to youth ministry. But unlike Cannister I suggest going further back than just the short history of youth ministry and offer what I think the meta-narrative of biblical history provides for our culture, a plan for redemption that is repeated throughout human history.

When Josiah was 26 years old and had been King for 18 years his high priest Hilkiah found the Book of the Law (basically Deuteronomy) and after hearing it read to him Josiah tore his clothes in repentance immediately realizing how he and his people were sinning against the LORD. Josiah’s reign after that was a return to God’s Word, a reemergence of God’s Spirit with His people, and a transformation that brought about redemption. Throughout Scripture and throughout history God’s people have forgotten the Word of God and it was always God’s word that brought about transformation. As we’ll read, youth ministers have articulated the symptoms of this kind of God void in youth ministry (and our culture). It’s time now for the church to respond like Josiah with a surprising return to God’s Word, repentance, and turn around.

Our Lutheran heritage with the theology of the cross, unveiled by the Emmanuel whose Word dwelt among us must be our guide. A recent surge and pursuit of a theology of youth ministry I believe is evidence of this deeply felt need, and a place I contend the Spirit calls us to begin.

In his book Youth Ministry 3.0 Mark Oestreicher suggests three eras in the history of modern Youth Ministry. He describes Youth Ministry 1.0 as focus on identity in the shift from the agriculture society to an industrial and the onset of what we now call adolescence. As it’s identity slowly formed in industrial nations youth ministries sought to participate in that process of formation. After youth culture became the norm, Youth Ministry 2.0 shifted with youth who in the 1970 & 80’s pursued autonomy and ministries adopted the “if we build it they will come” Field of Dreams theology. Oestreicher soberly notes YM 2.0 has produced “in pretty much every youth ministry our impact, the transformation of kids’ lives seems less than what we’d hoped. Study after study is bringing this harsh reality into focus.”[2] He contends rethinking youth ministry today includes a shift from autonomy to affinity, that teens are desperately looking for a place to belong and have meaning. This new development is what he calls Youth Ministry 3.0.

Consider the two volume work of Kenda Creasy Dean in the God Bearing Life and Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church who calls us away from the cruise director youth director to a theological passion center shepherd. She identifies the shift as a move away from shaping the right youth event to focusing us on the greatest event in history, Christ’s passion. “We are facing a crisis of passion, crisis that guts Christian theology of its very core, not to mention its lifeblood for adolescents. Teenagers are quick to point out the oxymoron in passionless Christianity, quick to smell danger in suppressing their emotional range, quick to question faith that fails to register on the Richter scale, and quick to abandon a church that accommodates such paltry piety…In short, without passion, Christian faith collapse. And young people know it –”[3]

In his book on roughly the same topic entitled Presence-Centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students into Spiritual Formation Mike King gives us a vivid image of what this passionless Christianity looks like when he quotes a non-Christian, “How come when I meet a Buddhist leader I feel like I am in the presence of a holy man, but when I meet a Christian leader, I feel like I have met an entrepreneur, a mover and shaker, a wheeler dealer?”[4] Both Dean and King recognize that in our attempt to contextualize we have often neutered the gospel so much so that Dean and co-author Ron Foster say, “Adolescents are looking for a soul-shaking, heart-waking, world-changing God to fall in love with, and if they do not find that God in the Christian church, they will most certainly settle for lesser gods elsewhere. Youth look at the church to show them something. Most of the time we have offered them pizza.”[5]

These authors identify the hunger for meaning and significance that we all hunger for and that youth recognize is missing when we just give pizza. Found only in the one true God who formed us and redeemed us. This takes us towards Josiah’s path of re-discovery.

Chap Clark gives us a window into the broken world Christ’s passion seeks to reconcile in his book Hurt. He steps into the world of High School youth and discovers what he calls the “world beneath” which in fact is the world he discovered of loneliness and abandonment. By embedding himself with teens at a southern California high school Clark observes and documents how youth have experienced abandonment by their families, social structures, schools, and society. He writes “Even the most solid students confessed that life is far darker, far more violent, far more difficult, and far more tiring than adults, including their parents realize.”[6] Clark describes the affinity groups that Oestriecher notes is a longing for youth today that go beyond clichés and really serve (albeit often short term) as familial units for support in every area of life, groups he calls clusters. Basically the stability gangs provide for inner city youth are what clusters provide for abandoned teens in the North American high schools today.

Clark reminds us that this abandonment is not “limited to the world but is alive and well in the systems and structures of the church.”[7] The Lutheran church has a name for this like “confirmation” or “Sunday school.” In our faithful desire to do catechesis we often forget going beyond just getting folks to show up and never make the real journey from the head to the heart.

Andrew Root steps into the fray here in his book Revisiting the Relational Youth Ministry. He critiques what we have called relational youth ministry as “instrumental relationalism”[8] whose first concern is getting the youth to show up, or seal the deal, or as Root puts it has an agenda. He contends that this kind of strategy is not theologically sound and removes the cross from the incarnation. In other words unlike Jesus who died “for us while we were yet sinners”[9] youth ministries have only tended kids if or when they show up and respond. Root argues that our concern is based in their response instead of God’s suffering passion to reconcile us unto Himself. Root writes, “Out unwillingness to acknowledge the cross as well as the incarnation has deceived us into believing that we are justified in neglecting a great many adolescents who at first respond to our offers of friendship with ridicule and aggressive rejection…We have offered them trips to Disneyland, silly games and ‘cool’ youth rooms, not companionship in their darkest nights, their scariest of hells.”[10] Like Clark, Root calls us away from program or strategies of influence and towards what he calls “place sharing” an incarnational ministry grounded in the suffering transcendence of the cross.

In 1988 Dr. Roland Martinson published the book Effective Youth Ministry and quickly became the textbook for youth ministers across the country. Martinson suggested then that youth ministry is theological, relational, includes the family, and is congregational. He noted, “The best indicator of whether or not teenagers will be active worshipers and congregational participants is the past and continuing participation of their parents.”[11] All true still today. However the landscape of youth schedules, weight of authority of the Pastor and congregation in family life, and the systemic failure to catechize our church membership has radically changed the structures he suggests in the book. Though theologically grounded, the program based approach is nearly obsolete because it’s just no longer effective in the context it once assumed existed (a new reality Clark’s book describes as a culture of abandonment).

Dr. Martinson’s work, the Search Institute, and research by the Youth and Family Institute collectively sounded the alarm that we were overlooking the family. From the Scriptures like Deuteronomy 6 to our own Lutheran heritage calling parents the “Apostles, Priests, and Bishops”[12] for their children the family is called to play the central role in faith formation. And yet in our modern euphoria of professionalism we’d undercut the very fabric of how the church passed on faith for nearly two millennium. Even Martinson in 1988 who valued relationships with youth and adults thought the congregation could include adults in a mentoring role with youth only after Church staffing resources were exhausted and “Other adults can be recruited if necessary.”[13] Such an understatement! Something I am sure Dr. Martinson would articulate differently today. Biblical exegesis, history, Church Confessions, modern research, and ancient faith practices have led us back to the future again with faith formation in the home. Mark Devries articulated a new structure for ministry based on this idea in his book Family Based Ministry and David Anderson and Paul Hill of the Youth & Family Institute give us principles and practices to help families make this a reality in their book Frogs Without Legs Can’t Hear.

However as Chap Clark makes clear this isn’t the same pre-industrial, pre- no fault divorce, pre-dual income home mortgage life that Luther spoke into. While the return to the home is evident, with research from Barna, the YMCA, and others telling us that parents are still the chief influencers on their teenager’s life[14] parents today are never-the-less products of ineffective catechesis. Their views on God are more of a product of our culture in North America than that of Scripture or of Christian doctrine and this can not be overlooked.[15] Parents must reclaim their primary role and the Church must engage the task of equipping them. This praxis will need to be as multi-facetted and complex as the issues facing teens are and include deep theological reflection, education, and fidelity in long term partnership as the pragmatic portion of this paper will suggest.

In sum, these vast arrays of experts, practitioners, theologians, and researchers all agree that something is askew in youth ministry and cries out for transformation. I once heard Tony Campolo when talking about Democrats and Republicans say Democrats believe the problems are corporate and that we need systemic change best orchestrated by the government and Republicans believe the problem is individual responsibility best done by empowering the individual and keeping government out of it. Tony pointed out that both are right and both are wrong and that both views need to be understood together to truly tackle the complexity of issues facing the country. I take the same approach in describing the challenges of Youth Ministry today. Exclusively these authors are both right and wrong and what’s needed is to listen to these voices as individual symptoms that must be addressed due to systematic realities.

Clearly Dean, Clark, Martinson, and Root are right that we need a theologically grounded youth ministry understood in the deeply perichoretic reality of a relational God. This sacrificial and suffering God reflected in the Passion that Dean calls us back to and echoed by Root reminds us that incarnation cannot be removed from the cross. Obviously like all sinners we professionals think too highly of ourselves and we must re-center the family as primary agents of faith formation but not as new form of exclusivity but in the context of the Body of Christ. Clark is right that youth have been abandoned and Oestreicher grabs hold of that with the desire for affinity but it can’t be done as a new strategy of influence or more creative contextualization.

Dr. Martinson reminds us that all is not lost and the congregational church is still an outpost for the Holy Spirit for both symptomatic and systematic change. The Exemplary Youth Ministry study that we look at further in the pragmatic gives us a vision for this both/and reality. It must be said however that convergence of these issues point to a major shift not just for youth ministry but for the Church, it’s ecclesiology and our response to imagio dei. With Martinson, Dean, King, and Root we can say with confidence that the road ahead for youth is theological but one not just swept up in the recent history of adolescence rather something much larger. This isn’t the first time God’s people have been faced with such a cataclysmic shift and the Holy Spirit has always provided a response which inevitably returns us to God’s transcendent Word.


[1] Mark W. Cannister, Back To the Future in Youth Ministry, 13 April 2009 .

[2] Oestreicher, Mark Youth Ministry 3.0 A Manifesto of Where we’ve been, Where We are and Where we need to Go Zondervan Publishing Grand Rapids, MI ©2008 by Mark Oestreicher pg. 24

[3] Dean, Kenda Creasy Practicing Passion Youth and the quest for a passionate Church ©2004 Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI

[4] King, Mike Presence-Centered Youth Ministry: Guiding Students Into Spiritual Formation ©2006 by Mike King Published by InterVarsity Press Downers Grove, IL pg.68

[5] Dean, Kenda Creasy and Foster, Ron The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry ©1998 by Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster Published by the Upper Room Books Nashville, TN

[6] Clark Chapman Hurt: inside the world of today’s teenagers ©2004 by Chap Clark Published by Baker Academic Grand Rapids, MI pg. 55

[7] Ibid pg. 186

[8] Root, Andrew Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry ©2007 by Andrew Root Published by Intervarsity Press Madison, WI pg. 72

[9] Romans 5:6

[10] Root pg. 96

[11] Martinson, Roland D. Effective Youth Ministry ©1988 Augsburg Publishing House Minneapolis, MN pg. 103

[12] Luther, Martin Large Catechism

[13] Martinson pg. 130

[14] The Barna research as reported by the Family Based ministry organization at http://familybasedyouthministry.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=39&Itemid=47 Last accessed on April 22, 2009

The YMCA report was reported to the Clinton White House Conference on Teenagers and can be found: http://clinton4.nara.gov/WH/EOP/First_Lady/html/teens/survey.html Accessed on April 22, 2009

[15] We’ll note examples of this reality when we discuss Christian Smiths’ research shortly