Good Theology, Good Ministry?

This post is by Syler Thomas, who blogs here (sometimes) but who also teamed with Chris Folmsbee and me to write Jesus Creed for Students. Syler pastors at Christ Church in Lake Forest, and in this series examines one of the most important youth ministry books to come along in a while.

In The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry, authors Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean are intending to be both descriptive and prescriptive about that “turn,” which is for youth pastors to better embrace their role as a practical theologian. As someone who has been in youth ministry (much to my surprise) for the past 14 years, I appreciate the way they captured some of the ethos of a youth pastor: that we’re drawn to youth ministry by the opportunity for impact, that we enjoy staying on the margins, that there’s a reason why we’re OK when we’re not invited to the meetings that the adult ministry folks are invited to: we’d rather be talking to a student about their struggles than debating which color the carpet should be. But Root and Dean, while praising us, also urge us to go deeper, to consider more profoundly the role theology plays in youth ministry.

What do you think of these conclusions? Would you have circled a different statement on this pop quiz? Do think there is a good correlation between theology and ministry? Why are some ministries so good with such thin theology? Why are some churches noted by sound theology and weak ministry?

In chapter 2 (entitled “God is a minister”), Andrew Root mentions something he does in one of his youth ministry classes. He offers six phrases and asks his students to circle the one that is the most true. Here they are:

Good theology leads to good ministry.

Good ministry leads to good theology.

Bad theology leads to bad ministry.

Bad ministry leads to bad theology.

Good theology can lead to bad ministry.

Bad theology can lead to good ministry.

Now you could spend hours dissecting this and arguing for this or that combination, but the one he says is the most true is the second one: Good ministry leads to good theology. He then unpacks what that means, which is important. Because there is a sense in which this is a very dangerous statement. I don’t think he’s saying that if, from an outside perspective, a certain church has a healthy ministry, then it will automatically mean that that ministry also has good theology…meaning “correct theology.” Root is less concerned with “correct” theology and more concerned with the good theological reflection that comes when good ministry is happening.

He goes on to say that there are three steps to being a theologian: experience, reflection, and action, which will then lead back into a new experience, and the cycle begins again. He critiques the academy for only centering on reflection, and critiques typical youth ministers who only center on experience and action. All three must be present.

What do you think of his conclusions? Would you have circled a different statement on his pop quiz?

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