Discovering Youth Ministrys implicit Theology

“So belief is not some kind of arcane metaphysics, it is performed – much as one would perform a play”(Percy, 2010)

Many of the books and articles I’m reading at the moment refer to Missiology and Ecclesiology, not surprising given that this is the title of module I’m currently writing an essay on (in between some distracting posts here) , the reason I say this is that there may be huge amounts of writing out there already that refers to how implicit, or performed actions in youth ministry reveal its operant theology – just that this is a blind spot for me at the moment which I am yet to explore.

However, as I have began to explore the writing of Healy (2001), Percy (2005,2010), and Vanhoozer (2005,2010), in relation to lived, an ordinary, implied Theology – for the church – i wonder whether the same could be said for the practice of Youth Ministry and its own implicit theology.

Just taking a small step back – a traditional view of Theology, and Ecclesiology is that these are both in some ways revered – ie if we know the ‘pure’ theology of say Paul, or the Ecclesiology of Barth, liberation theology, or even a Trinitarian ecclesiology – then we might seek to apply this to the practice of church, or mission, or indeed Youth Ministry. The Theology or Ecclesiology becomes the ideal blueprint (as Healy, (2001) would determine), and practice plays second fiddle to it, never quite being able to match the ideal.

Contrastingly, Healy, Percy and Vanhoozer, all in slightly different ways argue for a theology is viewed implicitly as it is practised, for example:

“By Paying attention to the sensed and experienced dimensions of day to day ecclesial life, one begins to gain some insight into how style might matter just as much as substance, and behaviours as much as beliefs” (Percy 2010)

“The church is local in that wherever the community gathers, it does so to demonstrate in its embodied life a particular way of being-in-the-world” (Vanhoozer 2014)

For Healy, Ecclesiology should be “practical and prophetic” (2001)- and thus birthed in reality of performance.  Whilst all of these refer the the acts of the ‘church’ – this can, obviously, also refer to the ministerial practices of the church, such as as people minister with young people in all the variety of labels, such as youth ministry, detached work, messy church and so on.

The question is then – what is revealed about the behaviours of those who realise & perform youth ministry about its theology?  or as pertinently What kind of God is revealed in how it is performed?

To take on Healys view that the grounded and real nature of the church is something to be recognised in the outworking of how it is ecclesiologically thought of – what about the lived and real practice of Youth Ministry as a source of discovering theology, rather than thinking- what theology should be applied to youth ministry – instead, what attentiveness and observations might be made about the lived, and real performance of youth work & ministry so to determine its also local, lived theology?

For example – what is revealed about God in the way a youth group might shape its activities? or the way the leaders interact at different times with the young people?

What is revealed about the theology of a detached team who are open to receive the questions about faith from young people – but close down their questions with simple answers? Or differently in the tone of the voice of the conversation, the questions asked and the interactions?

It may be even more subtle than this – as what might it say about  the implicit theology of youth work whereby the first thing a youth leaders does is say hello individually to every young person as they enter?  or the kind of space where a young person is comfortable enough to make their own cup of tea? or other activities, the weekend away, the worship event and you can fill in the others..

What is implied in the theology of the practice if it encourages young people into social justice projects?  forms of prayer, or liturgy.

Where in the practical of the often most practical of ministries might the theology of youth work & ministry be most implicit – without us even knowing it, but in the actions of the way these things are enacted, performed – and not just in their content.

Call it performance pedagogy, or praxis, or participation in enacting church – strangely all p’s-  and as youth workers/ministry – we have been attuned to its vocational and ethical /integrity responsibility for some time. Yet might the live performance reveal something of a theological integrity, one that young person might make connections with, and might reveal as much about our theology as the narrations and declarations of God that we might do within.

Shaping Youth work & Ministry in whatever guise might involve taking seriously attention made to what theology is implied and embodied in its performance.




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