Youth Ministry

Andrew Root – Dietrich Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker

whitley-college-public-lecturesIt really is an incredible time to be thinking about and learning from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that pastor and teacher who from a life cut short over 70 years ago left us a profound vision of what it might mean to speak responsibly of ‘God’ and of ‘the world’ in the same breath, and to be Christian community in one of the most violent and unstable and disenchanted times in recent human history. Rather than seek to escape such realities, Bonhoeffer believed that to follow Jesus is to be thrown ever more deeply into them, into the darkness. He taught us that the first place to look for Christ is in hell, and that it is ‘only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith’. It is only by ‘living unreservedly in life’s duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities’ that, he said, we ‘throw ourselves completely into the arms of God’. And this means, for Bonhoeffer, that ministers of the gospel are ‘not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice’ but rather are called to ‘drive a spoke into the wheel itself’.

It is not wholly surprising that Bonhoeffer is one of the most beloved and most misunderstood Christian thinkers of the twentieth century. His thought is the subject of a growing body of research as a new generation of Bonhoeffer scholars discover parts of his thought that speak most pressingly to contemporary concerns. Among those scholars is Andy Root whose main contribution to that research has been to draw our attention to the ministry that Bonhoeffer undertook with and among young people, especially between 1925 and 1939.

A few week’s ago, Whitley College was delighted to host Andy for the first of its public lectures for 2017. His lecture, titled ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker: Exploring the Interaction between Ministry and Theology’, explored some aspects of Bonhoeffer’s work among young people, and enquired how Bonhoeffer’s insights might inspirit our own ministries in whatever contexts we are engaged.

A video of that lecture is now available here:



A Theology of Relational Ministry, with Andrew Root

I’m very pleased indeed to announce that Andy Root will be coming to Melbourne early next year to teach a one-week course on the theology of relational ministry. The course will be of interest to all involved in Christian ministry and leadership, from children’s ministry workers and youth pastors, to congregational ministers (ordained or lay), and to those working in aged care and various chaplaincy roles. More details will follow in due course, but here are the basics:

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Carlton Johnstone’s Embedded Faith – a review

Carlton Johnstone, Embedded Faith: the faith journeys of young adults within church communities (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2013). ISBN: 9871625641236; 213pp.

 A guest review by Geoff New

I have been aware of Carlton Johnstone’s work for some time. The thought of reading his book was akin to the thought of going to the dentist; I probably need to but I’m scared of the pain that will no doubt result. The anticipated pain of reading this book was centred on the anxiety I held about the young adults in my congregation. Why? I’m jealous for the young adults in my congregation because I have pastored them since they were in primary school. The prospect of reading this work was like hearing what your children have been up to from other ‘concerned parents’. Denial was a tantalising option. Nevertheless, I decided I needed a check-up so I read the book. Spoiler alert: insofar as the emotional effect upon me as a pastor, it was exactly as a dental assistant once said to me, ‘Today dentistry is a painless exercise’. Surprisingly!

Allow me to begin with a generalisation. For a busy minister who will be choosy about what they read and for how long, Embedded Faith is not an easy read. It is very academic in style and its main discipline is sociological rather than theological. If you are intending to buy this book, it’s important to know that. Also, this is not a how-to book; it is a what’s-happening-and-why book. As a reader, you will find a helpful map of what lies ahead in the Introduction (pp. xvi–xvii). Orientate yourself with this and then begin reading with your own people in mind.

Allow me to continue with what might appear as a painfully obvious point. Different chapters and sections will resonate and challenge leaders depending on the nature of their context and the length of time they have been in such a place. For me, I was intrigued with the chapters entitled ‘Worship and Modes of Engagement’, and ‘Preaching and Interpretative Communities’. What struck me about the findings articulated in these chapters was that with good authentic relationships with young adults, anxious leaders do not have a lot to be anxious about. Urban myths about what younger generations are after are debunked by the stories, experiences, and aspirations shared in these pages. Yes, there is work to be done but there is less of a them-and-us dynamic going on than is often claimed. This book, to a significant degree, is actually a tribute to the spirituality and conscientiousness of young adults that God has graced the church with.

The book reaches a conclusion where Carlton coins the phrase ‘two-timing’ to describe the spiritual practice of young adults attending two churches. At risk of over-simplifying this conclusion, a main feature is that it takes more than one church for the participants described in this book to enjoy spiritual nourishment. Outrageous? Well, in reading that section my mind went to Revelation 1–3 when the ascended and glorified Christ appeared to the apostle John on the island of Patmos. He then addressed the seven churches of Asia Minor at that time. His opening comment to each of the churches featured one or more aspect of the original description of Christ in Revelation 1.12–16; but no church had the entire vision presented. In other words, it took all seven churches to present the full vision of Christ. Maybe that’s where this research is heading? By the book’s end I was wishing for more application and reflection in terms of ‘what-now?’ It is there, but it is all too brief and general.

In my view, this work calls forth a commitment to a particular kind of open-hearted relationship with young adults. As mentioned earlier, it is not an easy read due to its academic style and referencing; but it is an empowering voice for young adults and encouraging for over-anxious pastors who feel like they are in the dentist chair.



Ed. In the spirit of both full disclosure and sheer delight, Carlton is one of my students. This means, among other things, that I am particularly happy to give his book a wee plug here at PCaL. – JG.


Andrew Root on (youth) ministry

Andrew Root is the Assistant Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is also the author of Relationships Unfiltered: Help for Youth Workers, Volunteers, and Parents on Creating Authentic Relationships, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation, Children of Divorce, The: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being, and The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church.

In this 31 minute video, Andrew explains the difference between influence and place-sharing in youth ministry. What he says pertains to all ministry, not just that related to young people. You can also listen to the talk here.

Want more? You can find more of Andrew here and here. Also

Two worthwhile pieces on ministry

1. Kate Murphy reflects on whether youth ministry is killing the church:

‘when our children and youth ministries ghettoize young people, we run the risk of losing them after high school graduation … I think I’ve done youth ministry with integrity. But I may have been unintentionally disconnecting kids from the larger body of Christ. The young people at my current congregation—a church that many families would never join because “it doesn’t have anything for youth”—are far more likely to remain connected to the faith and become active church members as adults, because that’s what they already are and always have been’.

2. Joseph Small (who is no stranger to this blog) on why ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’ ought be dropped from all Presbyterian usage:

‘Clergy and laity are two words that should never escape the lips of Presbyterians … Ministry within the church needs to be the responsibility of all the leaders — deacons, elders and pastors … Deacons, Small noted, have too often been relegated to serving coffee on Sunday and sending flowers to shut-ins … Elders “have become the board of directors of a small community service organization.” And … “What happened to ministers? They became clergy,” and clergy have ’emerged as the power in the church.” The divided role of ordained leadership in the church needs to change … and the walls between ordained offices torn down. Deacons are called to “leading the whole church in the ministry of compassion and justice … Elders should ‘share equally in the administration of the ministry of word and sacrament,” … [and] the “primary role” of ministers should be that of “teacher of the faith.”

Small said he favors use of the terms “teaching elders” and “ruling elders.” But … “ruling does not mean governing.” The correct meaning … “is rule like a measuring stick.” Ruling elders measure the congregation’s “fidelity to the gospel” and the “spiritual health of the congregation.” Small called ordained leaders in the church to be “genuine colleagues in ministry.”

Without collegial ministry, he said, the position of pastor becomes one of a lonely leader. He described the history of ministers in the United States as one of accumulated roles, where responsibilities always have been added but never withdrawn. Beginning on the frontier, Small said, pastors were called to be revivalists to “inspire and uplift.” When small towns grew on the prairie, the ministers were still expected to “know more about the faith,” but in addition to being inspirational preachers, ministers were expected to be community builders. As small towns grew into cities, ministers, he said, were expected to also be therapists, who helped those in the congregation “cope” with new stress.

As cities grew, ministers became “managers of an increasingly complex social organization called the church,” and today a pastor is expected to be a entrepreneur and innovator. “It’s just one more layer added on …’.