Senior citizens do not have identical fellowship, worship and church expectations that young children have, and teenagers vary dramatically from what 20- or 30somethings expect of a church. As a result (good) churches are constantly listening to the various groups and adjusting ministries to the fellowship.
Take youth ministries. Having taught at a college for seventeen years and having had dozens of young adults who were pondering entering into youth ministries, I routinely heard conversations that went something along this line:
Youth ministry has too often become a technology. That is, it was designed to fix a problem. What was the problem? Low religious commitment and the desire was to get more youth into the youth ministries and attend retreats and get more saved or making commitments and get more to enroll for sexual abstinence and get kids to stop drinking alcohol and smoking pot or using drugs. The solution, then, is a technology and the constant challenge was to find the next big program that would lead youth ministries into the promise land of spiritual success.
The youth minister was measured by how successful or effective his or her technological work was.
Some got tired of this technological approach. So they moved toward theology. The game was changed. Youth ministers become theologians and teachers and preachers and pastors and they teach knowledge, fill the kids with good ideas and teach them to read the Bible inductively and give them good books to read — like NT Wright or John Piper or Tim Keller or Francis Chan or David Platt — and if you can get them thinking theologically the problems will be solved.
The youth minister is measured, in most places, by how successful or effective his or her technological work was anyway. Numbers in seats and conversions remain the measuring stick.
But others today have abandoned the technological and theology and have proposed the theological turn in youth ministry. I’m speaking here, and sketching the work of Andrew Root. In this theological turn Root (and his friend Kenda Dean) are suggesting we learn to “see youth ministry as a locale to encounter the revelation of God next to the humanity of young people themselves (the theological). Youth ministry, we believe, seeks to reflect deeply on the action of God in and through the lives of young people who are both within and outside the church” (6). That is, they want to “explore the very concrete and lived experience young people have as the location for encounter with God” (6-7).
Who is the model for this theological turn?
You may not know how involved he was but Root’s model in his new book is none other than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Join me for a short series on Bonhoeffer the Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together (Brazos, 2014).
Will the youth minister still be measured in the technological model?