They Can’t Get That Anywhere

I have a nagging critique that dogs a lot of my ministry work, especially work with youth: not Christian enough.

That our relationships with youth must issue in distinctively Christian expressions, like prayer or devotional lessons–and that interactions with youth that lack those expressions are fine but not really “ministry”–is a weight that I think a lot of us are bearing for no good reason. It’s the “They could get ‘relationships’ anywhere” dig.

The problem with that thinking is that trusting and reciprocal relationships with adults who aren’t their parents and aren’t paid to spend time with them can’t, for most youth, be had anywhere. We have multiplied the number of adults in relationship with teenagers to include coaches, teachers, tutors, scout leaders, college advisers, and so on. Yet all of those adults, in addition to being paid for their time with youth, have an agenda for them. It’s a good agenda, sure. But it’s an agenda.

Youth ministry should offer teenagers relationships with adults and a community of peers that wants nothing more of them than their very human Child-of-God selves. Share the gospel with them, yes. Study Scripture. Pray, please. But let’s stop banging our head against our Bibles if our gatherings with some youth don’t contain those distinctively Christian expressions.

We are the distinctively Christian expression. Us and our theological vision that squints to see teenagers as God sees them: inherently valuable and worth a universe of attention and time.

Nobody is saying this more clearly today than Andy Root.