I think I’ve found a youth ministry soul mate in Andrew Root. He is profound. His writing is extensively theoretical and his tone highly academic. Clearly, my youth ministry geekdom has come to its full realization in my deep affection for his book, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry.
Root sets out clearly in the opening pages that he seeks to stretch the reader in the development of their relationships with youth and also to professionalize the study of youth ministry. These aren’t easy tasks when they stand alone, yet he seems to have accomplished them both quite well. His in-depth theological, historical, and sociological gander at youth ministry, specifically relational youth ministry, brings a heightened level of academic quality to the youth ministry shelf. Certainly, his text is not for every youth worker everywhere. Yet, for the youth worker who takes their profession as a serious area of study, this book brings challenges and insights that will keep the mind buzzing at wholly inappropriate times (the middle of the night, staff meetings, pastor’s sermons…).
Don’t be fooled. Academic quality does not mean dry, boring, and inapplicable. Au contraire. In the case of Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, academic quality means an intriguing historical overview of the concept of relationships in youth ministry, a briefing on the sociological state of American Evangelicalism as studied and reported by Christian Smith (known in youth ministry circles for his book Soul Searching, but who has also authored several other sociological studies on American Evangelicalism) and a theological/relational proposal based on the teachings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He pushes the youth ministry “industry” not simply to view youth ministry resources as a series of how-to manuals, but as a method to contemplate motivations and outcomes in youth ministry.
His method of relational youth ministry seeks to answer three questions:
Who is Jesus Christ?
Where is Jesus Christ?
What then shall we do?
Through his examination of youth ministry methods under these questions, he brings the reader to his model of place-sharing, or “standing so close to the other that his or her reality becomes my own, his or her suffering becomes mine” (page 127). When was the last time you stood so close to a youth that their suffering was your suffering?
Root isn’t just talking about the major crises that are bound to hit our ministries. He’s talking about the day-to-day suffering that plagues us all with deep slow wounds: neglectful parenting, embittered friendships, poor self-concepts. Our youth are fighting silent battles and deserve a partner in the battle. A partner that has compassion, that feels deeply their joy and their sorrow, that is willing to be transformed by the relationship. When were you open to your own transformation in your relationships with youth?
Andrew Root presents a convincing plea to youth workers to end their use of relationships as a tool for conversion. Relationships are far too great a gift to minimize as a tool. They are not a means of conversion, but an end in and of themselves. You might find that you fundamentally disagree with him, or you might find yourself stretched and evaluating your style of relational ministry at new heights.