[easyazon-image align=”left” asin=”0310670764″ locale=”us” height=”333″ src=”http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41exUhPLpRL.jpg” width=”233″ alt=”Andrew Root” ]Passionate Reflection on God’s Action
A Review of Four New Books by Andrew Root on Theology and Youth Ministry.
Taking Theology to Youth Ministry
Hardback: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2012.
Buy now: [ [easyazon-link asin=”0310670764″ locale=”us”]Amazon[/easyazon-link] ] [[easyazon-link asin=”B007JK5APO” locale=”us”]Kindle[/easyazon-link] ]
Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry
Hardback: Zondervan/Youth Specialties, 2012.
Buy now: [ [easyazon-link asin=”0310670780″ locale=”us”]Amazon[/easyazon-link] ] [ [easyazon-link asin=”B007JK5A9A” locale=”us”]Kindle[/easyazon-link] ]
Watch for Part Two of this review tomorrow,
covering Books Three and Four of this series!
Reviewed by Jasmine Smart
I did not start thinking about a possible future in Youth Ministry until I was close to completing college. I was not the type who left high school wanting to still be a kid myself, which I think, accurate or not, is a stereotype I hold about youth ministers. I was definitely ready to grow up, and if I went into ministry, I wanted it to be with adults, that way I could bring the theology I loved to ministry.
Yet I never could quite get teenagers out of my mind as I realized for many of my peers in college, much of their worldview and ideology had already been shaped in high school or earlier. So when I discovered a series of publications committed to making youth ministry more aware of its theology, I had to take interest. Andrew Root describes this phenomenon in a previous book a “theological turn” in youth ministry, and he says: “I believe a small but growing (in numbers and depth) group of youth workers are ready, even yearning, to think theologically about youth ministry” (Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, 10).
In response to that yearning, Root has written a short series of four separate books called “A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry.” The first and second are being reviewed here, Taking Theology to Youth Ministry and Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry. The second and third (Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry and Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry) will be released (according to Amazon) on January 1, 2013.
What makes these books really great is that they appeal for those academically inclined or not. I’ve heard plenty of people (even in seminary!) who say something along the lines of, “Well, theology just isn’t my thing.” By which they mean, the academic discipline of studying systematic theology can be difficult, just like any other discipline. However, as Howard Stone and James Duke write in their book, How to Think Theologically, “All Christians are theologians, simply because they are Christians” (6). If all Christians are theologians, those who lead in pastoral roles should definitely be comfortable with theology.
*** [easyazon-link keywords=”Andrew Root” locale=”us”]Other Books by Andrew Root[/easyazon-link]
Root’s approach, then, is to guide youth ministers into thinking theologically through the lens of a fictional narrative, a woman named Nadia. Although she had taken a few seminary courses after graduating college, she had found it uninteresting and unhelpful for actual ministry work. The pastoral staff she works with have very different expectations of her and of youth ministry; the lead pastor Jerry is a very energetic pragmatist, always asking Nadia if she’s come up with a new and better model of youth ministry, and the associate pastor Erica had been good friends with the previous youth pastor and was skeptical because she saw how it had burned him out; she also tended to quote theologians no one in her congregation had ever heard of. Eventually Nadia realizes that unless she is going to be swept about by everyone else’s perspectives, she needs to answer one question for herself: “What is the purpose of youth ministry?”
First, she comes up with three things youth ministry is not intended to do, despite the expectations by parents and pastoral staff that this is what it’s doing. First, youth ministry should not be about trying to keep kids good: “While there are surely important ethical implications to our faith, ultimately, Christian discipleship is not about what we can make ourselves (or our kids) into, but about how god acts on our behalf” (27). Second, youth ministry often is primarily about getting kids involved in service projects, which is certainly not a bad thing by itself since Christ calls us to love our neighbor, however we as youth ministers might make service our primary purpose “because it helps us feel like we are making a difference, like our ministry is important” (29). Ministry should be more about God’s work in the world rather than our own. And the third thing youth ministry is not about is passing on a denominational tradition, which tends to manifest itself in large youth rooms and tons of events “to convince youth that it is worth their time to stay committed to church” (30). God is bigger than any one tradition, and we should not have different church denominations in the same town competing for the same kids in order to try and have future denominational security.
With those things in mind, Root asserts (through Nadia) that ministry’s purpose is “about participating in God’s own action” and therefore youth ministry in particular: “could be defined as the ministry of the church that seeks to participate in God’s action with and for a culturally identified group called adolescents” (38-39). With that in mind, then, youth ministry has to be theological, because Root asserts, “Theology at its most basic (and its most profound) is passionate reflection on God’s action, on God’s own ministry” (55).