We've just had Dr Andrew Root from Luther Seminary in Minnesota here for 4 days, and been incredibly enriched by his visit. Three days of teaching ministry workers and leaders followed by a morning for about 300 people at our Synod/Presbytery meeting. We had an ugly day trying to get him from Canberra to here on a plane thanks to the volcano... He finally arrived at College 50 mins before start time.
First up, Andy was great to be with and work with. I say this not as an evaluation (!) but in appreciation of him as a person. People warmed to him, his stories and honesty, and humility. You don't always get those things in a visiting speaker. (sorry Andy, just building you up again in order to tear you down.. ha..)
Wednesday - Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry
This was based on his book of the same title (based on his PhD dissertation) and its leader/parent-friendly version "Relationships Unfiltered". A rethinking of why we enter into relationships with young people, and whether it more on our terms than theirs. An invtiation to ask who and where is Jesus in our ministry, and along with that questions about what we see as incarnation in ministry with young people. Then an invitation to see ministry as 'place-sharing' with young people. Andy draws on Dietrich Bonhoeffer to look at the incarnation in terms of Christ present with us, among us and for us. Jesus is not simply a message to be preached. Nor is incarnation merely about becoming like or likeable to young people. Rather it is about Christ's suffering presence in the midst of our relationpships.
He used a bunch of great film clips from Little Miss Sunshine, some US reality TV show "God or the Girl" (really), About a Boy, The Office (I was out of the room), and Walk the Line.
I'm mentioning this because I think this piece of work (we got the compressed versiob at synod this morning) is quite foundational in what he sets up. There's a critique of youth ministry as being self-serving (and I'd say even church-serving) - we work with you so that you will become like us... This is one area in which what I've taught is remarkably similar.
Several good questions and comments to me from people in conversations today (we'd had longer conversations in the days sessions)
- what comes after 'place-sharing' that is willing to be a suffering presence. what does hope or transformation look like in that space, or how does it take place?
- is influence all bad? is it an either/or?
It is in fact in the latter part of Andy's book that he looks at how relationships might be both nurturing and transformational for young people in terms of reflecting back to them (mirroring), confronting (barriers), and identifying the social/ideological factors that are destructive in their lives.
We did some reflecting on whether Australian high schools are like the American schools and colleges that we see on TV and in films. While Aussie young people are undoubtedly shaped by what they see in the media, most people concluded that Australians are more laid back. But having said that, our culture is more based on putting down than building up. Perhaps the reason that we dont have the same 'hero' culture is that we dont like tall poppies. Bullying in schools is a good example of this. American cultures, and I would also add New Zealand culture, express appreciation more readily. I'm sure that young people in Australian schools express the desire to be 'cool' and accepted as well, just in a less demonstrative ways.
My other observation is that Australian 'secular' youth work was influenced by British youth work rather than the US, most notably the Birmingham schhol of subcultural studies. Hence youth workers were often engaging in sub-cultural identification with marginalised or disadvantaged groups whose situation/identity was often seen to involve forms of resistance to society's hegemonies. This is in stark contrast to the US Christian Campus Life 'convert the coolest kid in the school' approach. I think that the UK philosophy genuinely influenced church youth work, including schools ministry, as well.
The main challenge of this session, both on Wednesday and Saturday, was to ask where and how we engage in quailty, authentic relationships with young people on their terms rather than ours, and where we see and experience Christ in that relationship.
BTW Andrew's books details are here. MediaCom and the MRN will be getting more stock in. We did film Andy. The three full day sessions involve hours of footage... The Sat morning Session is 2 hours so we'll make that available first. Details to come shortly (after my Mac gets a new hard drive...)