We’re over halfway through his discussion about taking the theological turn in youth ministry using Bonhoeffer’s “Eight Theses on Youth Work,” and reflecting on Andy Root’s book, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: A Theological Vision for Discipleship and Life Together! We’ve covered lots of ground so far: the first thesis gave us a new framework for our motivation in this kind of work. The second and third theses were related to what church-community is and where young people fit into it. The 4th and 5th theses addressed the consequences of creating special and “appropriate” spaces and times for youth to exist. This post will address Bonhoeffer’s 6th and 7th theses, which address the identity of each individual young person as a marked member of the Body of Christ. Ready? Let’s do this.
6) Church youth work is possible only on the basis of addressing young people concerning their baptism and with the exclusive goal of having them hear God’s Word. It remains the act of the church-community toward its members. Every transgression of this boundary constitutes a betrayal of Christ’s church-community.
7) It may well be that the youth do have the right to protest against their elders. If that be the case, however, the authenticity of such protest will be demonstrated by youth’s willingness to maintain solidarity with the guilt of the church-community and to bear that burden in love, abiding in penitence before God’s Word.
There is a young woman named Christina who was in the youth group at a church I worked at in Wasilla, Alaska. She and her family had just moved from Pennsylvania to Alaska when her dad gotten a job up there. They were new to the community and new to the Lutheran church. After having some conversation with her parents about not needing to be “re-baptized” in the Lutheran church, and figuring out some basic theologies, this family dove right into the church-community. And they were absolutely embraced. Christina quickly became a curious and consistent presence in youth group, her brother Wyatt was a spunky addition to the Sunday School, and the entire church-community embraced them as new family members. In fact, I remember a number of elders in the church who took particular interest in Christina and her family.
Now, five years later, Christina is representing the Alaska Synod at national church wide meetings and assemblies—not merely as a young woman or youth, but as an integral member of the Body of Christ. As her former youth director, I am so proud of her– not because of anything I’ve done, but because of her curiosity, courage, and faithfulness in her understanding of God’s work, and where God might be asking for her participation and passion. And I’m proud of the congregation that embraced her as a full and equal member of the church-community.
This is the kind of thing that happens when we take the theological turn seriously. The same exact Spirit who works in the lives of adults has worked and is working in Christina’s life. She isn’t just seen as “Christian Youth,” but as a disciple. She is looked at and regarded as an important, representative voice for Christians in the [really]North[far]west.
Next Up: Thesis 8! The final one– whoa– stay tuned! In the meanwhile, share your thoughts about what taking the theological turn might look like for you using the 6th and 7th theses! Have you ever experienced a church treating its young people as something other than fully and concretely human?