Hope this Helps: Why Theology Isn’t Enough for Youth Ministry

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HTH (Hope this Helps) is an ongoing series that we run on Tuesdays, in which student ministers share various resources – videos, articles, books, curriculum, etc. – that have served their ministries.

I’m not sure how I’ve missed this article for so long, but over a year ago YouthWorker Journal published an article by Andy Root that we should all pay attention to: “Why Theology Isn’t Enough for Youth Ministry: Bonhoeffer, Dead Dogs and a 10-Year-old’s Tears.” Root is a Professor of Youth and Family Ministries at Luther Theological Seminary, and author of multiple books including, The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry.

In this article, he relays a conversation with a youth pastor who enthusiastically proclaimed, “I was thankful for the book because I’ve been saying for years that we just need to get kids to read Paul Tillich.” Root turns to the experience of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to explain the difference between theology and the theological. Perhaps kids need theological youth workers more than they need theology itself?

“Bonhoeffer never doubted himself in defense of his dissertation, but in the shadow of the 10-year-old’s cosmic question, raised by the lived sorrow for his dead dog, the overly confident Bonhoeffer sat in fear and trembling.

It was next to the 10-year-old that Bonhoeffer was pulled beyond theology into the theological, beyond the academic into the ministerial. It was here, in youth ministry, that he bumped up against the possibility of the encounter with Jesus Christ through the concrete humanity of being this 10-year-old boy’s place-sharer.

Bonhoeffer had to give an answer, and a theological one at that; the boy would settle for nothing less.”

Obviously, theology is important. Andy Root would agree (hence, why he’s written so much about the importance of theology in ministry to students). And yet he is increasingly concerned (and I personally share his concern) that some people overcompensate for the perceived shallowness of traditional youth ministry.

Again, I cannot commend this article enough. If you disagree, or if you want to engage in more conversation about it (there’s a lot to say!), let’s start a discussion in the comment section below… I’ll keep an eye on it in case anyone takes me up on the invitation.

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