Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

I recently finished reading Andrew Root's Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, and my initial impression is one of gratitude and awe for his theological articulation of what youth ministry could and should be. Root's main premise is that youth ministry has viewed relationships through a lens of influence; relationships have been a tool to influence youth towards a goal (being good Christians, accepting Christ, etc.). They have been seen as a means to an end. Root contends that relationships are inherently valuable in and of themselves. Instead of viewing relational ministry as a method for influencing students towards Christ, we view it through the lens of the incarnation and become what Root calls "place-sharers." We come alongside and relationally stand next to a student, becoming both their advocate and their empathizer, allowing Jesus to reveal Himself to both of us in the midst of relationship.

Root goes through the history of modern American youth ministry in the first two chapters, which I found to be extremely fascinating. It is amazing to see how cultural trends and shifts have impacted the way we do ministry and theology. Root then uses the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a foundation for incarnational ministry, drawing on the person of Jesus Christ as our model. Root goes into great lengths to explain the person of Jesus as incarnate, crucified, and resurrected. It gets pretty complex and academic at times, but I found that to be refreshing.

Here are some of the important concepts from the book that will stick with me:

-Relationships have inherent value: It is easy to slip into a strategy of influence with a student when they ignore or reject me. But Jesus shows us that we are simply called to be with people, to stand next to them and love them in relationship. Relationships are not valuable because they are a tool; they are valuable because of who God is and who He created us to be as relational beings. Simply being in relationship with someone is transformational.

-The transcendence of people: Root uses the term "transcendent" often when describing both God and people. It is a radical paradigm shift to begin to see people as wholly other than myself, as unique and valuable, living with their own historical and societal influences. The relationship between "I" and "you" is a relationship between two transcendent people--we are both completely distinct and unique, yet also completely able to shape one another as we grow closer. The use of two example narratives--one from the film Good Will Hunting--is extremely helpful in understanding the value of place-sharing.

-The distinction between "connection" and "relationship": Root makes a distinction here, saying that relationship is a much deeper realization of the transcendence of the other, while a connection is a friendly familiarity. Relationships require so much more of the youth pastor and youth worker, so they are limited to only a few. But we can still have relational connections with every student--knowing their name, their background, their interests--without having a relationship of place-sharing.

-Integrating youth ministry in the church: In the final chapter, Root goes into great lengths advocating a youth ministry that is integrated into the congregational community. He explains that having an incarnational ministry means "that it is moved from a satellite ministry back into the life of the congregation." This requires both the youth and the rest of the congregation to see one another with eyes of unity and love. The role of the youth pastor/worker is to become a bridge person, crossing the lines of demographics and stereotypes to connect people with one another in relationships.

Overall, a great theological book on relational ministry in the church that I would highly recommend. It has articulated some of my own values in much clearer and more informed ways.

Read more reviews of Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry here and here. Read a description of the book here.


  1. I thought this book speaks to the needed paradigm shift in ministry to/with youth. In what ways do you think you will change your ministry? Do you think it will change youth ministry as a whole?

  2. I thought this book speaks to the needed paradigm shift in ministry to/with youth. In what ways do you think you will change your ministry? Do you think it will change youth ministry as a whole?

  3. I think it won't change the methodology of my ministry as much as it will change the motives and philosophy behind it. We'll still encourage discipleship and relationships between adults and students, only seeing those relationships as inherently valuable in and of themselves, instead of using them as some sort of tool.