Here is my Monday column at Zondervan’s Engaging Church blog, a wonderful resource for ministry leaders. This week is an introduction to a fabulous new must-read set of resources for youth ministry workers by up-and-comer practitioner and expert, Andrew Root.
Two weeks ago I introduced you to a solid new series of 100-page resources for youth workers by Andrew Root, A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry. Andrew likens the series to an energy bar: it’s a small item, no bigger than a candy bar, but it serves as a meal. Like an energy bar, this series gives you a “protein-filled theological power-up to your concept and practice of youth ministry.”
What I find so helpful about this series is that it traces the contours of the youth worker’s journey through important theological themes like Scripture, the Cross, sin, salvation, and even the foundation of youth ministry itself—all through the fictional story of a youth worker named Nadia.
It’s this last theme that’s been plaguing Nadia for a few years—and one Andrew seeks to help you navigate, beginning with, What is the point of youth ministry? Particularly, what is the point of my youth ministry.
Alongside this important question Nadis asks as important of a question, perhaps a more foundational question: What exactly is ministry? And especially, what is youth ministry and what does it mean to be a youth minister?
Perhaps, like Nadia, you’ve wrestled with these same questions: What is youth ministry and what does it mean to be a youth worker? How have you answered them yourself?
What are your answers? Sit back and consider these two questions, write down your responses, then come back here for Andrew’s (and Nadia’s) own insights.
Andrew believes the purpose of youth ministry—and I’d add all ministry—swings on two hinges: gospel and mission; revelation and reconciliation.
Gospel and Mission
First, all ministry, youth included, is fundamentally about gospel and mission. Andrew points out that often it’s assumed gospel and mission are very different realities. Thus, youth ministry is “either about kids growing in understanding of the faith (gospel) or about outreach to others (mission).” (77)
Instead, “gospel and mission are two sides of the same coin. They are fundamentally connected; neither can exist without the other. There is no gospel without mission, and there is no mission without gospel.” (77)
Andrew argues that the point of youth ministry is “to participate in God’s action with and for a culturally identified group called adolescents.” (39) If that’s the case, then gospel and mission are not about things, but God’s actions—the good news that God is moving and active to rescue and re-create the world. And youth ministry is about proclaiming and exposing that action.
Revelation and Reconciliation
Secondly, youth ministry isn’t merely about stuffing kids heads with “a stagnant pool of facts” (as is often the case with ministry generally), but “an encounter with the very revelation of God, with the very revealing of Godself in our lives.” (83)
When you ask a young person in your small group “What is God up to in your life, where is God moving?” you are speaking of this God who reveals, who acts to reveal His very Self in the life of that young person. (88) That’s what Andrew means by revelation, and part of the purpose of youth ministry.
And this act of revealing carries with it the twin movement of God: reconciliation. “Revelation always has the effect of reconciliation.” God reveals his very Self in the life of a young person for the purpose of “claiming us, coming near to us, and making a way for us to be free from death (sin).” (89)
As a pastor I know there is no greater joy than pointing this out in the life of a group of people God has entrusted to you. Youth worker: That’s your joy—exposing how God is showing up in a life to make it new.
What is youth ministry? What does it mean to be a youth worker?
Return back to your own answer to these two questions. How closely do they align with Andrew’s two hinges? Maybe you’ve just had an epiphany like Nadia did after marinating on these questions:
“I think I know what ministry is!” she said to herself as she slammed her door and walked toward her office. “It’s all about proclaiming the altogether new reality of God’s act of reconciliation. My job is to proclaim God’s mission as the gospel. Youth ministry is not about getting kids to ‘accept’ the gospel,” she thought. “It’s about helping them see and participate in God’s mission as the gospel. It is inviting them to see God revealing in their deepest yearnings and to participate with God as God brings life out of death in their lives, and in the whole of creation.” (92)
This week, my prayer for you as a fellow pastor who desires to participate in the action of God myself is that you might realize the very same thing that Nadia realized: youth ministry isn’t primarily about activities, but encountering the action of God in the lives of young people. (101)