I had the good fortune of presenting a paper last weekend at the Association of Youth Ministry Educators — the academic guild for those who study and teach youth ministry. My paper, a version of which will appear in the next issue of Immerse Journal, was entitled, “Youth Ministry as the Inspiration and Site of Relational Ecclesiology.” (Sounds mighty academic, huh?)
At academic conferences, presenting a paper in a non-plenary session actually means summarizing your evidence and thesis in about 30 minutes, and fielding questions for about 30 minutes. So I spent my time talk about the contours of the emerging church movement, both sociologically and theologically, as developed in my book, The Church Is Flat: The Relational Ecclesiology of the Emerging Church Movement.
Then I said this to the group of largely evangelical youth ministry professionals (believe it or not, it’s mostly evangelical colleges and seminaries that have youth ministry professors): You all have strong feelings about the emerging church movement, most of them negative. Well, you are directly responsible for the emerging church movement.
I went on to describe that the major themes of the movement are a natural outgrowth of youth ministry, as practiced in evangelical churches for the past three decades. These evangelical youth ministry professors have been teaching their students, who have subsequently been practicing, relational youth ministry. Therein, adolescents are encouraged to embrace their own hermeneutical authority, my primary thesis regarding the emerging church movement.
Youth rooms are essentially egalitarian environments, in which the “clergy” shun the accoutrements of power (vestments, titles, special roles in rites). Instead, youth are encouraged to engage all of the practices of the community equally.
It is no mere coincidence, I continued, that ECM leaders like Tim Keel, Doug Pagitt, Dan Kimball, Tim Conder, and Chris Seay all had extensive experience in evangelical youth ministry.
You taught them relational youth ministry, I told the professors, so what kind of churches did you expect them to plant?
What do you think of my thesis?