Tony Jones, author of Postmodern Youth Ministry, wrote an excellent and thought-provoking article for the latest edition of Immerse Journal.
I have known Tony for a number of years and very much appreciate his friendship as well as theological insights, passion, and innovation in ministry.
His focus was on practical theology in youth ministry. I was asked to write a reflective companion piece for Immerse Journal sharing the implementation of these ideas in my context.
Here is a sample of the article:
When I first arrived at my church, I was fresh from a college education steeped in systematic theology. I was schooled in theories of understanding attributes and characteristics of God. So naturally, some of my first teachings with high school and middle school students were based on intellectual assertions of Christian doctrines. I taught lessons such as the doctrine of humanity, the revelation of God, the nature of sin, conceptions of salvation, the role of the church and so forth.
I had a clear structure and system for my teachings. Everything fit neatly into this theological package, of sorts. Of course, I tried my best to use clever illustrations to make my point so students would not fall asleep.
After a few years of trekking down this path, I began to make important observations.
First, I began to struggle with certain “proofs” and ways of attempting to articulate and define the mysterious and indefinable. I wondered if God could, in fact, be simplified to a bulleted list. It seemed to me that God was becoming who I wanted him to be and how I wanted him to work. These attempts are often seen by students as trying to figure out God or box God in. This can minimize the majesty and wonder of our Creator. Rather than come to the conclusion that we can fully understand what God is and how God operates, our practical theological hope has been to discover how God is at work in our lives.
Second, it was increasingly difficult to discern or qualify spiritual transformation in the lives of my students. Sure, I could gauge thought processes and intellectual affirmations, but were these beliefs really making a concrete difference in their lives? Were these ideas helping them become better people who desired to use their lives to bless and serve others?
I learned that what was really happening was that my students began believing that defending these particular “proofs” about God was their purpose; thus, they spent more time apologizing for God than promoting his love.
Third, my students’ life experiences were seldom matching up with the faith-in-a-box presentation. Kids struggled with their parents’ divorces while we read Bible passages about God hating divorce. Students questioned the morality of war or the divinely commanded genocide in the Bible and were left with no real answers. We taught that all people were created in the image of God, yet we had no idea how to be in dialogue with students born with a complex and confusing sexualities.
After a few years of actually doing youth ministry, I discovered firsthand the truth of Tony’s statement, “Life and ministry are rarely, if ever, systematic, thorough, comprehensive. Life and ministry are not clinical. Instead, they’re messy and challenging, and they demand ad hoc, on-the-fly decision making.”
To read the rest of the article, click on this link Immerse Journal-featured article