Developing Practical and Prophetic Youth Ministry in the culture of the church

Youth Ministry needs a revolution! 

Youth Ministry needs an evolution! 

This is becoming a regular discussion, featuring often in blogs, articles and even books.  On one hand it is worth thinking about the culture of youth ministry and how this ‘sits’ within the culture of the church. So, depending on what the church tells itself what it is, so its youth ministry in that culture will follow. It is therefore, to use a theological word, an ecclesiological matter, it depends on what the churchs nature and purpose is.

Nicholas Healy in his book; Church, the world and the Christian Life (2000) has a little pop at the way in which the nature of the church has been defined through the ages, you know the sort of thing, start with the Bible as the ideal church model, and realise that the current form/function/role of church is distinctly lacking. Alternatively the task of being church in the real now sense might be made even more of a challenge when it is compared to the nature of God himself. So – where God is Holy, the church should be holy, where it is about ‘the body’ the church should also be, or community (as in Trinity) or like the new testament church. What Healy argues is that the now church in the present with these ideals in mind is torn up by trying to be something it will never be in perfection, and then becomes paralysed as a result.

What he calls for is to look at the nature of the church through Theodrammatic lenses – which sounds complicated. But what he means is that before Church was seen in terms of its nature – what it is meant to be in relation to who God is in ideal perfection – Healy argues for a church that determines itself in its role, in its function, in its purpose in the world first and foremost. The world as Healy argues that is part of an ongoing Drama, the Drama of God, and the church is playing in this world in response to God in action. He tasks the church with being both practical and prophetic in its actions in the ongoing drama. Vanhoozer goes slightly further by saying that as an action the church is to be the ‘Theatre of the Gospel’ (2014).

If it could be argued that the task of the church in its actions is to be practical and prophetic in the world – then what might an ‘ecclesiology’ that looks like this have influence on the kind of youth ministry that exists in a local church – how might youth ministry be also practical and prophetic with young people – how might it enable young people (to use Vanhoozer in Faith Speaking and Understanding) to be performers of the Gospel- not just dare i say it- hearers of the gospel?

Thinking of the Practical – This might be the easy aspect. But thinking about it – what about the youth ministry that you do is practically of help for the young people as they are as humans in the world, as they are as christians in disciples in the world?  – what tools do we give that are helpful for their task?  What training do we give them, how might they ‘rehearse’ their roles as disciples?

Today is Mental health awareness day- is this something a youth ministry offers practical help in? (for example)

Thinking about the Prophetic – Maybe not so easy. Same question – what about the youth ministry that you do that is enabling an act of  the prophetic? – and i don’t just mean prophetic gifts, i mean socially, maybe politically and materially prophetic?  If the world is busy – can youth ministry do calm or quiet? if the young people are stressed – where might youth ministry bring peace. How might youth ministry enable (as i wrote in my piece on Paul Ricouer) a connection with the signs and symbols of the cosmos – instead of the signs and symbols of the android. Might it be prophetic – even in a local church in the way it educates young people, in developing their gifts and treating them differently as people – different to how the adults might be treated (as in better) . Maybe youth ministry is prophetic in the church in its practice. But also in thinking about the issue above, how might youth ministry be prophetic in regard to Mental health awareness? does it not just understand and do the practical, but also challenge aspects of society that might be causing factors? Or even aspects with a faith community that lead to mental health issues, like stress, depression or unhealth high expectations.

There is a common debate around at the moment, about what the future is for youth ministry and does it need a shift, just find the articles and blogs written on the youthwork magazine website, and maybe these are only as good as revolutions because the same kind of conversations happen about the church. And the culture of the church shapes the culture of youth ministry.

Maybe thinking about the task of youth ministry as being both practical and prophetic as it helps young people act as disciples in the ongoing drama of the world might help them connect into their ongoing actions as a whole being part of Gods drama. That they each have ongoing parts to play that youth ministry is to guide them into and space to appropriate performances. Young people might need to feel a purpose, and there is no bigger purpose in being an actor in Gods ongoing play.

Surely whilst we want young people to respond to the call of Christ, we also want them to act practically and prophetically in the world to amongst their friends and family too – but youth ministry also has a practical and prophetic responsibility.


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