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Thursday, January 9, 2020

"The End of Youth Ministry?" (Andrew Root)

TITLE: The End of Youth Ministry?: Why Parents Don't Really Care about Youth Groups and What Youth Workers Should Do about It (Theology for the Life of the World)
AUTHOR: Andrew Root
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2020, (240 pages).

What is youth ministry for? What is its purpose? Some say it is for helping young people not waste their lives, to learn to be good people. Others say it is for God. Still, others, especially parents would want them to learn something good for the soul, on top of other priority activities. Still there are those who think that youths need their own space. So they carve out a ministry for young people and call it youth ministry. Does it work? According to Andrew Root, he thinks that times have changed. The youth ministries we have known in the past are now dwindling fast. Not only is it difficult to sustain the model of the past, it is impossible to see it growing in the future. Rather than to immerse ourselves into some archaic dying model, we are challenged to rise above these things of old to embrace the central motivation for ministry: Joy. Author and professor of youth and young adult ministry, Andrew Root has seen many signs of the "somewhat directionless" youth ministry. The title of the book is essentially a challenge for all to re-examine the implications of such a shift in the ministry. The purpose of such a ministry is clear: To reach out to the young for Jesus. Yet, the methods and strategies need to be adapted in order to meet the needs of changing times. By understanding the reasons behind the cultural changes, it is hoped that not only will we refresh our outreach to this generation, we will also learn about what it means to live a good life. The central concern of this book is two-fold: First, it is to refresh our understanding of the purpose of youth ministry. Second, it is to tie together parents' vision of a good life and how such a vision influences and impacts their children. Root's central thesis is that any such ministry must be led by joy and to progress toward true joy. This whole book is thus an "ode to joy."

The first step is simply to try to fill in the blanks in: "Youth Ministry is for _________." If it is for fun, then all the plans and activities are there in provide for fun. If it is for learning, then we will plan for curriculum and Bible syllabus. One youth minister told the author that Youth Ministry is for not wasting their lives. Others say that it is for God. Eventually, Root puts it as a ministry to help youths live a good life and to flourish. This cannot be separated from parents' desires and hopes for their children. Sometimes, parents' desires need to be guided as well. Some wants their kids to simply stay out of trouble while others hope that youth ministry can inject some good sense into their kids. By analyzing the evolution of youth ministries, Root finds out that in the past couple of decades, there is a pattern of parents concerned about kids growing too fast toward adulthood. They felt that the children ought to be adequately prepared before unleashing them to the world. Slow them down so that sufficient good could be imparted into them before they become adults. Thus, Youth ministries become the go-to place for parents to put their kids in, to "slow" them down. Yet, there is a shift right now, that kids are growing way too slow. Will it help to slow youths down when they are already slow? Root asks three parents. The first say that youth ministry is to help one figure out his or her identity and sense of belonging. The second say that youth ministry is for "knowing and belonging." The third say that they want their kids to find their purpose in life. In all of these interviews, they all had a common goal: They want their kids to be happy and to know their identity.

Root takes us through a 9-months journey of discovery as he interviews parents, speaks with youth ministers, pastors, and young people, and comes to a surprising conclusion as to what youths need: Friendship.

My Thoughts
There is a sense that youth ministry is changing rapidly. Despite these changes, there is still a sizeable portion of churches and ministers to do youth ministries according to old ways. One will know the motivations simply by asking the question: What is youth ministry for? Theologically, many will say to know God. Socially, it means to hang out with friends in a safe environment. Morally, it is to learn how to make good decisions as they grow into adulthood. Mentally, it is about learning what it means to be good people under adult supervision. Root cuts through all these mass of motivations to identify the importance of friendship. True joy comes about when one has strong and honest friendships with one another. This is called "joy in friendship." This makes sense as friends help one another to discover their identity; to know their calling; and to do things together. Youth ministry is essentially about friends and relationships in the journey to joy.

I suppose just saying that there is a need for friendship does not mark the end of youth ministries as suggested in the book title. Instead, it is a good time to ensure that while still executing the existing youth ministries as they are, gradually sharpen our focus on what it takes to cultivate deeper friendships. Once this is identified, it makes for better planning, resource getting, and enrichment of other associated activities.

I was thinking: Wow. It takes such a long road just to identify the new paradigm of friendship making. I suppose when the answer appears so simple, readers would need to be convinced. Root does this by inviting us along in his journey of discovery. He asks the same kinds of questions that we would naturally ask. He interacts brilliantly with those with vested interest in youths, and sheds light on the future of youth ministries. I believe that youth ministry is here to stay. There will always be young people and their need for belonging. Perhaps, we should try to integrate them more into the mainstream church environment rather than to segregate them according to their age groups. After all, if Church is for all, then all should be willing to interact widely and to cultivate friendships across all generations. To do so might bring some initial discomfort. Not to do so would impoverish everyone of us. There is much to learn by all. May we take the subject of friendship and broaden it beyond simply youth ministry, but all ministries. After all, we need friends.

Dr Andrew Root is the Olson Baalson Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in Minnesota. He is a co-recipient of a Templeton grant that invites conversations into "Science for Youth Ministry." Check it out here.

Rating: 4.5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided courtesy of Baker Academic and NetGalley without requiring a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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