Archive for October 2010

On Andrew Root’s book

October 27, 2010

It took me about a year to actually read Andrew Roots book called ‘revisiting relational youth ministry’ even though I was very excited about reading it.  However, eventually between life I made it to the end and it’s taken me almost as long again to write about it.

As I’ve ranted about before I’m predisposed to be suspicious of anything that feels like it has a hidden agenda or alterier motives and that therefore feels like manipulation.  This book address this exact issue.

Let me reduce his years of work to a few paragraphs:

Basically (following from people like Buber and Bonhoeffer) Root believes that ‘in their inner reality relationships are the concrete location of God’s presence in our midst’.  He feels like we have missed this and especially in the area of youth ministry have instead USED ‘relationships as a means to influence kids towards certain ends’.  He calls for us not to use relationships as tools for influence but rather to know them as the invitation to ‘share each other’s place’ and in so doing to witness to Christ among us.

We have this idea that incarnational ministry means to be relational in your ministry strategy.  You know, forming relationships with people in their own world (going where the kids go;-) ) believing that our relationship of care will give us a platform to speak into their lives.  When they reject our care refusing to be influenced by us or accept Jesus we get frustrated (and we feel like failures).

Root suggests (as Bonhoeffer taught ’cause that always gives it more weight) that “incarnation was not a model or example, but was the very power of God present in human form among us today…  there is no end to which the relationship should lead… the relationship is the end… it is the place where Christ is present, the place where s/he and I encounter Christ… What matters is to be human alongside others…which is only possible through Christ.”  Root says ‘there is no such thing as success or failure in this ministry.  There is only faithfulness, faithfulness to Christ, which calls me to be faithful to these adolescents’ very humanity.”

Root boldy claims that “youth ministry can be understood as a creation of evangelical protestantism in reaction to modernisation”.  I find this depressing.  Something else I find depressing is Roots observation that during that time a culture developed where the ‘bottom line was what determined how employees were treated’ this was carried over into all spheres and so whatever we felt the ‘bottom line’ to be in youth ministry determined how we approaced and treated our youth.

The culture became dominated by self chosen relationships and this provided the perfect context to sell the message of a Jesus who can be trusted as a personal and intimate friend.  Leaders of parachurch youth organisations such as young life capatilized on the desire for personal relationship and used their relationships with young people to draw them into relatioship with Jesus.  “Rayburn (founder of YL) also discovered that by becoming friends with adolescents who held the gretest cool currency in the school, adolescents with less cool currency would follow them to rayburn’s events.”  ‘To do this Rayburn had to accrue a currency of cool by incarnating himself within the distinct youth culture and receiving cool capital from the most popular students.”   Root points out that Rayburns theological justification for this was the incarnation of Jesus Christ.  He positioned the incarnation as ministerial justification rather than theological explanation.  Because of this persepctive, relational ministry to this day is infused with this understanding of the incarantaion as solely a pattern for ministry.”

ok i’m going to stop there for now

but here are my questions

1) what is our ‘bottom line’ as we relate to young people (or indeed any people) and does that shape how we approach them.  it that ok?

2) is Root right when he says that relationships are the end in itself?

3) when will we ever learn that people need us to be us and not ‘cool’.  And that if Jesus targeted the popular kids the bible would be a whole lot different.