This is Wednesday night youth group. We don’t do Bibles here. We’re here to have fun.”
That’s what a high school senior told me during my first week as a youth minister nearly two decades ago. At that church, I was only threatened with termination once, after several parents came to the senior pastor with the same criticism: Their children weren’t having as much fun as they did during the previous youth minister’s tenure. Clearly, in their minds, youth ministry was for fun.
The memory of that uncomfortable conversation resurfaced in my mind as I read Andrew Root’s new book The End of Youth Ministry?: Why Parents Don’t Really Care about Youth Groups and What Youth Workers Should Do about It. In the opening pages, one youth minister laments that every complaint and every expectation about her ministry “kept coming back to fun. . . . As if fun were freedom instead of a chain around my whole body.”
As someone who spent years fettered by the soul-draining weight of that chain, I was encouraged by the alternative that Root recommends: “Youth ministry is for joy.”
Root, professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary, sets the stage for this claim by analyzing the history of American adolescence. His focus is “not on how to do youth ministry but rather on why to do it at all.” It’s here that Root is at his best. Working from the moral philosophy of Charles Taylor, best known for books like Sources of the Self and A Secular Age, Root illustrates complex social changes in easily understandable ways. In the process, he mounts a cogent argument for the obsolescence of the type of youth ministry that dominated the 1980s and ...1
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