Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Models for Youth Ministry: Learning from the Life of Christ

In December the good folks at Logos gave me $20 for my birthday. Around this time I was considering doing youth ministry, and since my default defence mechanism is to data gather I thought I should get a book on youth ministry, but of cause one that was less than $20. This one was just under the price tag so I clicked on it. I know it's probably not the best rationale for buying a book, but it was free money.

I didn't really know what to expect from this book. I found it part theology, part pastoral care with a splash of youth ministry. Really this book could be about ministry in general, and I am fine with that. The more I think about it, youth ministry is just as real and propper as "normal" ministry. The foundation for youth ministry should be the same foundation as the Church and its activity. There are no different foundational rules for one ministry over another, all are one in Christ.

Griffiths seems to be pushing back against some sort of "incarnational" ministry idea where we are to "be Christ" with the person we are ministering to. He disagrees with the idea that because the Word became flesh, so we are to "flesh the Word" in our own context. Griffiths rightly points out that this approach confuses the role of Christ and the person of the Holy Spirit and that if a youth worker thinks they are to "be Christ" to those they are overseeing, it is "a sure-fire recipe for guilt, despondency, low self-esteem and burnout".

Another push back Griffth has with ministry is the idea that we have to earn the "right to be heard". Looking at Jesus and His many brief encounters with people we see that Jesus didn't earn the right to be heard, but instead made the most of the limited time He had with people. This idea is the overarching model Griffiths puts forward in which he hangs on two different Greek words for "time".

Chronos (χρόνος) is a measurable or definite period of time. Doing ministry this way we spend definite periods of time hanging out with young people, earning the right to speak, building trust and "doing life" with them to eventually share the Gospel. This process may mean we become addicted to programs and filling our timetable with events. In the end, we may feel guilty that we wasted opportunities and didn't really make a deep impact before we move on in a year or two.

The other method of time is kairos (καιρός). Griffith uses this to describe the "quality of time that fills a moment or period of chronos-time". (I really don't know why he didn't just use a dichotomy of quantitative time vs quality of time - guess if you learn Greek you have to keep it up or you lose it). His goal is for youth works to try and make the most of their time with young people with a better Christology than just "be Christ" to others and to "earn the right to be heard".

The book then looks at four key kairos events of Christ: the Cross, Resurrection, Ascension and the End Time and uses them to help model how we are to pastorally care for people.

Looking at the Cross we see that "sorrow, sympathy, salvation and surrender are the hallmarks of a ministry built upon a crucified Christology". We are to continually reach out to the other in need without expecting anything in return. In doing this, we should surrender or turn to God for our strength, hope and identity, as this alone will remove our anxiety or guilt on our efforts and achievements in ministry.

Dwelling on the Resurrection, we see in the Gospel narratives sorrow and despair before the disciples fully got that Jesus rose from the dead. Then from there, we see joy and confidence in the Resurrection message. This gives us hope in our message and the way we do ministry. We sometimes forget that the same power that caused Jesus to rise from the dead is indwelling in believers. When dealing with pastoral issues we may feel frustrated in that we really can't help and solve their problems, but in light of the Resurrection, we see that love (and not help) is stronger than death and that when we help in someone's pain we can give them the true help (the message of the Resurrection) that they need.

I hadn't given much thought to the Ascension and its implication for pastoral care and I was surprised how strongly Griffiths was on this topic. He contended that "the Church is founded on the Ascension". It is the turning point in the New Testament where the Jesus-event is replaced with the Spirit-filled church. We see that Jesus has taken His humanity to God and found accepted so we can see in the context of pastoral care, that our humanity can be accepted. Griffith was careful not to say that we can call that everyone a child of God, as that title is for Christians, but we can say that everyone is to be treated with dignity and respect because humanity itself has been accepted and assumed in the Godhead. The book disagrees with Luther's ubiquity position about Christ being everywhere and touches on Calvin's view of the Lords Supper in that when we participate Jesus doesn't come down to us, but instead through the Holy Spirit we are lifted up to him. This then means that "the Ascension happens in us rather than (or as well as) to us. This relocates the Church as a community of meaning" for it is "only in the Church do people come into a relationship with God".

With the End Times event, Griffiths saw Jesus' first coming as been about His grace whereas the second coming will be about His judgment. He also clearly states that our job in youth ministry is "to prepare those to whom we minister for the section coming of Jesus in judgment upon the whole of creation".  Leaning on Paul Tillich, Griffth said that our culture has an anxiety problem in three main areas, 1) ‘ontic anxiety’ – a preoccupation with death; 2) anxiety about personal guilt and 3) an anxiety about spiritual emptiness and loss of meaning. It is only with a good eschatology that we can help people in their anxiety. As we live in the tension of the “now” and the “not yet” we have good opportunities to bring hope, peace and wholeness into this anxious culture.

Overall the book was good food for thought. It wasn't overly long but was dense with points. With the Greek time model, I get it, it is good to maximise the time we have and sometimes programs do get in the way of real conversation or ministry, but I do think that in order to have quality time, you still need to have quantitive time. Griffiths does point out that all kairos events do take place in chronos time at some point, but yes it is good to try and aim to have these kairos events more often than not, to speak hope, love, joy, and grace into young people is a worthwhile endeavour. We need room in our structures for unstructured conversation and events.

Based on the title I thought this book would have been more about how youth ministry looks on day to day basis or setting up leadership structures or something like that. Instead, it was more about a framework in approaching ministry in general. It has lots of theological words in it, so felt a bit like reading a theology paper. However, I did appreciate the detailed theological or Christological thinking that went in behind the practical pastoral responses we can give to young people.


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