Making the Theological Turn in Youth Ministry Using Bonhoeffer’s Eight Theses on Youth Work
In my six years as a youth minister to date, there have been moments—moments that have lasted days, weeks, and maybe even years, if I’m being honest—that have made me feel as though much of my work is utterly arbitrary and misguided. Those moments have generally emerged during meetings and conversations with people concerned who see young people as “the future of the church”, and involve themselves with the more immediate concerns of the church, like building use policies. I have often found myself reluctantly creating programs and planning events that, at best, satisfy the expectations of recreating the past for influential members of the congregation. At worst, these initiatives have been distracting from that which actually matters in the faith development of children.
In short, I, along with many others called into ministry, have long been yearning for what Andrew Root and Kenda Creasy Dean have called “the theological turn in youth ministry”. This theological turn is essentially the process of shifting away from “seeing youth ministry as a technical pursuit that seeks the functional ends of solving a problem, like getting young people religiously committed, entertained, or morally and spiritually safe” to seeing it “as a concrete locale to reflect upon and participate in the action of God.” In his book, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together, Root names World War II-era German pastor, author, theologian, and children’s/youth minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a primary forefather of this theological turn.
Drawing from Bonhoeffer’s fundamental theology that Jesus shows up in and exists as community, using his Eight Theses on Youth Work as a basic structure, and considering Root’s discussion on these theses from his book, I’m interested in walking through what the implications of committing to the theological turn are for those of us engaged in ministry through the church. I wonder how we might help reframe the entire ethos within our congregations using these still-fresh theses that were actually written in the early 1930s.
Over the course of the next week or so, I will share here on the blog these 8 theses on youth work, some reflections, and will warmly invite you to share your thoughts on the topic. What does it mean to take the theological turn, and take it seriously? How is that different than merely talking theology at young people? How do we dive into intentionally meaningful ministry with young people (and where does this take place)?
Here are links to each post, broken down by thesis/sets of theses:
Thesis 1: Youthful energy is not the Holy Spirit, and it won’t save your church!
Theses 2 & 3: What is church-community, and what is the place for youth in it?
Theses 4 & 5: Young people don’t need specialists, they need place-sharers!
Theses 6 & 7: Young people are just as named & claimed in Baptism by God as you and me!
Thesis 8: Don’t be fooled: para-church organizations don’t replace the church!