On Andrew Root’s book

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.



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9 Comments on “On Andrew Root’s book”

  1. Whoah: “He positioned the incarnation as ministerial justification rather than theological explanation.” That sums up my critique. Can I borrow this book?

    I might have a go at answering your questions on my blog…

  2. Nelly And I Says:

    and i get to be married to you… cool

  3. transfarmer Says:

    as long as you remember that the next time i piss you off nelly we’ll be ok…;-)

    Hargaden: I look forward to your post and yes please borrow the book so I can talk about it!

  4. canalways Says:

    I find it really hard (but in a good way) reading your youthwork posts – it brings it all back and makes me wince….(is that the right word?….yes, it is – wince)

    I agree with everything you’re saying, and the Root guy.
    As soon as I hear the word ‘intentional’ applied to youth work I want to thump someone, especially with regards to teenagers.I don’t know why, I just do….

    Think I need to write about my youth work day and flesh out some of my issues as I still carry it around 4yrs later. I’m just afraid of being too angry about it and mouthing off about it when many of my good friends and people I love have been/are in that line of work.

  5. transfarmer Says:

    i’ve appreciated your comments on these kind of posts about youth work canal ways and i am grateful for your honesty even though it may stir up old frustrations for you so thank you. My fear is that in 4 years time i’ll be the one walking around still wanting to thump someone so if you can figure out the path out before i get there that’d be great!

  6. Rachel McCullough Says:

    Transfarmer, thanks for your post… it sounds like a great book, one which is now on my wish list.

    These are thoughts that I have wondered for so long now. Each day I work I become less certain as to what it is that I am actually meant to do as ‘youth worker’ even if there should be a youth worker!

    To use Canalways word… I have to ‘wince’ as I look back and see how I have treated some young people. Coming at them with an agenda to point them to Jesus, thinking this is the most loving thing I can do (which I still think is true) but missing the person in the process and therefore opting out of real love…. Leaving a person feeling duped, leaving them feeling that I’m not in relationship for them, for who they are but for some ulterior motive.

    I would like to say the bottom line is love? (it is a nice word) But I’m often times unsure of how or what this looks like?

    I might be old skool but I’m struggling to see how:

    “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 relationship with Jesus.” Is altogether a bad thing….

    Ok I can see phrases like “Capatilized on the desires for” and “used their relationships” as incredibly manipulative. But in all our relationships is it not our call to point others to Jesus and our desire for them to know him? So does the question move from do we do this to how do we do this?

    Having thought about it, but wishing to be challenged further, I do not think that are relationships are an end in themselves, our relationships can lead to greater things, to “the place where Christ is present!”

    So how can Christ be present in our relationships? What does that look like?

    Canalways, please write a book….

  7. transfarmer Says:

    rachel, we’re due a coffee! thanks for your thoughts, i think i will have to attempt to respond on another post because you’ve given me so much to think about…

  8. thriveteamleader Says:

    Transfarmer – I’ve read up to chapter 6 now of this book. Infact, most of that was at the airport yesterday when I had to wait ALL day only to find out that Dublin had too much snow for me to join you guys by flight . .sad times.

    Roots thinking about relationships and the incarnation has been massively challanging and affirming for me. Like you I’ve always been uncomfortable in youth work with even the desire to ‘change’ young people. To me – that somehow is passing judgement on how they are now, and the choices they’ve made.

    Root writes about this idea of ‘openness’ and ‘closeness’ in relationships, and the need for a boundary which is what helps us see ourselves as we are, and helps us to be human.
    “as boundary we confront all actions and attitudes within the adolescent that are born from the belief that other persons have no trascendent quality but can be manipulated or abused as he or she wishes.”

    So – it’s not that we can’t desire that young person to change, because we desire good for them. But is that not an ‘end’? Are we still then ‘using’ the relationship in the hope that they’ll change? Or maybe how we illiminate any chance of ‘using’ them is to hold that hope (the hope that they’d experience life in all its fullness) in tension with the belief that actually the relationship IS the ‘end’ and so, if the young person doesn’t ever change, or experience transformation through the relationship , we don’t think of that as failure, or a waste of time.

    Does that make any sense? Does he talk at all about communicating the gospel in relationship in the book? Cause Id like to hear his thoughts on that, how do we do that as part of this place sharing and relational living without it still seeming like we have an issue with the person as they are, and that we want to move them to some other place. Maybe these are issues I have with ‘evangelism’ in general!

    We need to skype to talk about this fully!

  9. Richard Cronin Says:

    two things.

    firstly does anyone else have a massive desire to swear like a wounded sailor when they write comments???

    Secondly I’ve never understood the whole idea that Christians shouldn’t have a goal of talking about Jesus in their relationships but rather be themselves in the relationship. Surely if they are Christian and being themselves they will talk about Jesus (which i’m assuming includes a concern for their salvation). Isuppose its a question of motivation. is one doing it because of box you need ticking or a because you just want to be with them.

    I do not know what the words incarnational or missional mean. Ive never read any bonhoffer. There is a good chance i havent added anything to this conversation.

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