Exploring youth ministry: challenges and opportunities

By Alison Donohue ’12 M.Div.*

What are the theological foundations, the cultural contexts, and the best practices of exemplary youth ministries?

Crowd at Berkeley CenterThose are the foundational questions being addressed at Berkeley Divinity School’s  “Youth Ministry: Now” spring leadership series, which held the first of its four sessions in January. The series is sponsored by Berkeley’s Wesley-Royce Leadership Initiative, in partnership with the Yale Center for Faith and Culture’s Adolescent Faith and Flourishing Program, and the Congregational Church of New Canaan in New Canaan, CT.

During a packed Jan. 17 session at Berkeley Center, pastors, educators and youth ministers from Connecticut and New York gathered for lunch and lively presentations by Andrew Root, associate professor at Luther Seminary and prolific writer and speaker on ministry with youth. Later that afternoon, Root also spoke to students gathered at the Sterling Divinity Quadrangle for Berkeley’s Leadership Colloquium.

Root’s dynamic presentation, complete with poignant clips from reality TV shows and the 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine, offered a new framework for youth ministry where “the relationship is the ministry.” “We don’t need kids because they are ‘the church of tomorrow,’” said Root, who holds a Ph.D. from Princeton Theological Seminary. “We need them because we need their theological voice now.”

At the invitation of BDS Dean Joseph Britton, Skip Masback ’94 M.Div., senior minister of the Congregational Church of New Canaan, was instrumental in organizing the youth colloquium, which runs from January through April. Masback also initiated the Adolescent Faith and Flourishing Program at the Center for Faith and Culture. Said Masback, “Youth ministry is a critical calling to be with young people now in fellowship and solidarity.” That sentiment seemed to predominate at the colloquium.

Adrew Root"To me it’s a foregone conclusion that youth ministry would be a critical curricular component of any institution seeking to prepare leaders for church and world,” said Josh Hill ’09 M.Div., director of youth and children’s ministries at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in New Canaan.  “This series is definitely a step in the right direction, and I applaud Berkeley Divinity School for its visionary collaboration on this most vital project.”

“Youth ministry so often feels like an isolated calling,” another participant said.  “To gather with so many other committed professionals for such an energizing and thought-provoking luncheon is a real gift. Sometimes it just helps to know others have made the same mistakes as you.”

Root candidly revealed to the audience his own mistakes as a youth minister when he, like many new youth ministers, saw his primary job as creating relationships as a means to an end: expanding the youth group, filling up the mission trip, and “influencing kids’ decisions.”

That, Root suggested, is the wrong way to view youth ministry: “Relationship isn’t a tool of ministry; it is the ministry itself.”

The next event begins at noon at Berkeley Center (363 Saint Ronan Street, New Haven) with a box lunch on Feb. 14, followed at 12:30 by a presentation by Roland Martinson, the academic dean and Carrie Olson Baalson Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary. Martinson will speak on “Youth’s Question’s, Faith’s Stories, Christ’s Claims.” He will offer a new way of addressing the situation of young people who stop attending church at 18, never to return.

Following in March and April are presentations by Rodger Nishioka, the Benton Family Associate Professor of Christian Education at Columbia Theological Seminary (March 20) and Miroslav Volf, founding director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and the Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at YDS (April 3).

Attendance at all sessions is free, but prior registration for a box lunch is requested, through jeanne.moule@yale.edu.

“Like” us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/youthministrynow.  A video of Andrew Root’s presentation is available at http://divinity.yale.edu/bds01.

* Alison Donohue ’12 M.Div. is a research associate for “Youth Ministry: Now.”

Date Posted: Monday, February 6, 2012 - 1:32pm