Freeing Youth Ministry from the Youth Room . . .

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2/9/2015 – by Beth Anderson, DM, Synod Ministry Coordinator

 “mentoringYouth ministry doesn’t exist; it is not a biblical or theological concept. Rather, youth ministry is simply ministry, ministry human person to human person in search of God.” – Andrew Root

What would it look like if youth ministry didn’t just happen in the youth room . . . or the sanctuary, or the church basement?  What if the church “Youth Worker” wasn’t just the pastor, or the youth director, or the parents of current teenagers in the congregation?

What if youth ministry went beyond games and a safe space, and involved a network of caring adults not only teaching and supervising, but also accompanying young people in their daily life as they wrestle with decisions, challenges, joys and celebration?  What if youth ministry also happened over cups of coffee in coffee shops?  At ball games and band concerts?  In homes?  In workplaces?  With adults really listening to the young people sharing their lives, responding with encouragement, support and wisdom, mentoring them, and acknowledging both their contributions and the complexity they face in their relationships each day?  What if young people who were active in the congregation were invited and expected to participate fully as adults in the ministries of the congregation? And what if all this effort wasn’t invested just to keep young people in our churches, but rather motivated by genuine love and concern for young adults in our community?

Next month Dr. Andrew Root, who serves as Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary, will be in our synod presenting on the topic “Re-imagining Relational Youth Ministry as Place-Sharing.”  Root proposes an approach to youth ministry that breaks youth ministry out of the mold of programs and shifts the youth ministry focus toward relationships that take seriously the experiences of young adults.  Root has been known to say things such as “Youth ministry doesn’t exist; it is not a biblical or theological concept. Rather, youth ministry is simply ministry, ministry human person to human person in search of God.”[1]

Is Root proposing the end to youth ministry?  Absolutely not!  But he is encouraging the church to rethink how we approach youth ministry to thinking about youth ministry as “place-sharing” where adults open themselves to accompanying young people in their lives.  It focuses on valuing people as people regardless of age.  Does this mean an end to youth group?  Maybe, but most likely not.  Young people still need places to come together, have fun, engage questions of faith and life, and have safe conversation.  But youth ministry, like all ministry, cannot happen only in the youth room.  In order for people to experience God’s love and care in their lives, they need to see God made flesh beyond the walls of the congregation.  They need to hear that their lives matter.  They need to be cared for and urged to care for others.  They need to see and experience God’s love in the words and actions of adults and peers who will accompany them in their daily walk, wherever that takes them; and they need to be invited to share their gifts in significant ways as well.

A move to youth ministry as “place-sharing” will take some shifting of thought.  It means the time our youth volunteers and staff spend at community events and meeting with young people off the turf of the congregation is just as important as the time they spend in the walls of the church . . . maybe even more so.  It means that responding to late night phone calls and texts counts as ministry time.  Place-sharing is something all members of the congregation can do, whether or not they carry the title of “youth minister”.  And it’s something that churches of any size and budget, large or small, can engage and invest in.  It may be just the shift that God is calling our church toward, to valuing and engaging young people in real ministry rooted in relationship with God and with God’s people of all generations.

Want to hear more about “Place-Sharing”? Join Andrew Root and other folks from around our synod on Saturday March 7th at Zion Lutheran Church in Minot.  Click to check out the event details and register for this day of conversation.  Or spends some time reading some of Andrew’s reflections on contemporary youth ministry at http://andrewroot.org/category/articles/.

[1] http://andrewroot.org/youth-ministry-doesnt-exist/

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