Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry…Part 2

In part two of his book, Andrew Root begins to explore in depth and detail the implications and applications of relational youth ministry based upon the theology of Christ’s incarnation.

In order to do so, Root researches the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his teachings on “place-sharing” as the embodiment of the incarnation in community.

He chooses Bonhoeffer in part because of his belief that life and theology cannot be separated. Dietrich’s theology was highly influenced (rightly so) by and through his unique experiences and his own relational practice of ministry.

Root, through Bonhoeffer answer the question of Who is Jesus Christ? by explaining him in the following terms:

The Incarnate-” The incarnation reveals that liberation can occur only through the human Jesus who lived in full obedience to the Father, and is so doing reveals what it is to be truly human…In becoming human and desiring nothing other for humanity, we see the extent of God’s being-for-us.”

This means that the incarnation is not about influence but about solidarity in common humanity, and so relationship ministry should be the same.

The Crucified– Jesus’ example demonstrates that to be near broken and sinful humanity of another is to expose your own humanity to the suffering of hurt, insult, and violence. “To be incarnate is to be crucified.”

Relational Youth ministry is about suffering with adolescents. It’s about sharing in their place with empathy, sympathy, and commonality.

If you do not suffer in youth ministry, then you are not doing youth ministry. It will hurt and break your heart at times.

Root writes, “We must reach out to their (teens) humanity even if it means the suffering of our own humanity, for this is the way of the cross…We have offered them trips to Disneyland, sill games and cool youth rooms, not companionship in their darkest nights, their scariest of hells.”

The Resurrected– Jesus has overcome sin and death and can set us free

Relational ministry as participation in God’s presence…the social/communal reality of the incarnation

We were created to be social beings, and so we can only truly discover who we are alongside other people.

Therefore, to be in relationship with another is to encounter Jesus Christ who is beside and for us. Jesus is “concretely present within the social life of the community when someone is invited into its life he or she is not only sharing in the community but also sharing in the person of Christ.”

This all means that community is essential for youth ministry.

But not just small group time within the youth culture, but teens must be involved in the life of the congregation…to be integrated with the broader and more diverse church community.

“The theological commitment to relationships in relational ministry should be solely because in our connection one to another as I and you Christ is concretely present.”

Root wisely fights for boundaries within these relationships, arguing that the youth worker’s openness to the student must be balanced with “closedness”.

We must be able to say that we are not available and need time to be away. “Being able to say no to young people communicates that ministry is person to person and not producer to consumer.”

Like Andrew, early in my ministry I was much more concerned about the adolescents being spiritual than human, being holy than being honest. I was more concerned with what they knew than how they lived in society, home, and the world.

The ministry of place sharing and how it works

Too often youth ministry has more to do with getting students saved or committed rather than the continued mission of God.

“Relations are lost when adolescents are imprisoned in dehumanizing activities and attitudes, because without freedom there can be no true relationships. But the fact that there is only freedom through the person of Jesus means that freedom to be a human being though the new humanity of Christ, which means being for others in responsibility (appropriate ethical action).”

Relational ministry, from a theological perspective, is not about influence but transcendence, about concretely experiencing the otherness of God within my concrete relational bond to the adolescent.”

It is not a strategy for influencing teens toward some end (even if the end is something good such as spiritual formation).

Relationships are the real, tangible place where we can become place-sharers for young people

This type of youth ministry is practiced understanding the complexity of both person and culture

We must therefore be astute to the culture our students are in and be aware to the many factors influencing each particular students (family background, intellect, work, etc…)


The last two sections focus on the some practical illustrations, examples and application for relational transformation and place-sharing in youth ministry.

Our culture (cultural totality as Root calls us) and the Otherness of God (Transcendence) are brought together in Christ (Reality).

God is wholly Other, but we experience the otherness of God in the nearness of our human neighbor

(his map on pg 177 was a bit confusing)

But basically it is when person meets person (cultural engagement) that the presence of Christ is experienced. (I think)

The stories of Kelly and Mandi, Will and Sean are great (pg 178-191) and serve to illustrate how transformation occurs as a sign of God’s in-breaking through relationships.

The goal of youth ministry is not to bring about transformation (for Root correctly states that only God can do that).

Rather, the goal is to be faithful to the humanity of the adolescent and to be fully present as place-sharers in the lives of our students.

Stay tuned for my wrap up and final review of Root’s book.


2 thoughts on “Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry…Part 2

  1. I really enjoyed the section on The Crucified, hopefully I can read this book sometime soon. I believe that this is the line where Youth Workers don’t always cross and or they try to rush themselves and the student right into the resurrection process. Maybe its due to fear, or not enough time, or simply the idea of suffering and being broken is not always at the top of the list of things to do.

    The old model of youth ministry does not offer this type of real authentic relational community . But instead “unintentionally” forces students to go and find what they may think is an authentic community where they can share their sufferings. But unfortunately if its of the world, it will only add more dark nights and scariest of hells to their life.

    You can’t teach about the Resurrection without understanding the Crucifixion. Your thoughts?

    Thanks Arnie!
    I think you are right on my friend. In my ministry, it was when I hit rock bottom that I truly became authentic with my students. It is hard to understand or empathize with their suffering and struggles if we have never gone through tough times. Often we do go with difficult moments, but brush them off rather then share with out students in hopes that they too will share with us.

  2. Pingback: Relationships Unfiltered « Emerging youth’s Weblog

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