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Bonhoeffer’s fourth thesis echoes his second more pointedly: “Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community.” For Bonhoeffer, the youth of the church are a part of the church, with no special status. Their involvement is key and important and beautiful. Andrew Root, author of demonstrates that in giving youth special privilege, “we only fortify the generation gap, pushing young people off into youth ministry programs and away from the center of the congregation…Making young people ‘special’ divides them from their parents and other adults, for only those with special knowledge can teach them the faith, or even relate to them at all.” What Now? What is the opposite of our youth ministry instinct?What should I have done all those years of youth ministry separate and apart from the rest of the church? Root declares that the answer would lead to an extreme paradigm shift.but rather, What is the church-community and what is the place of youth within it?
Perhaps Bonhoeffer’s theses would get lost in the youth ministry of the 21st century. Or maybe Bonhoeffer’s understanding of youth ministry is just the thing we need.
Maybe it is time to follow the opposite of your instincts. from Candler School of Theology, a passion for reading all things by Richard Rohr, and a love for Stranger Things.
Andrew currently serves as the Associate Pastor of Northbrook United Methodist Church in Roswell, GA.
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out long ago, youth ministry isn't about setting aside a special place for young people in the church but about moving them into the center of the church community, says a youth ministry scholar and author.
Because of “special privilege,” we segregate young people in their own special youth rooms and youth ministries.
Youth are so “special” to the church that they become a major line item in the annual budget.Near the end of his ministry, Bonhoeffer composed his “Eight Theses on Youth Work” (in 2014, Faith & Leadership published a summary of these 8 points).The second of his points is this: “The question is not, What is youth and what rights does it have?It is to serve the church-community by hearing, learning, and practicing the word.God’s spirit in the church has nothing to do with youthful criticism of the church, the radical nature of God’s claim on human beings nothing to do with youthful radicalism, and the commandment for sanctification nothing to do with youthful impulse to better the world. Ironically, the more anxious we have been about young people leaving the faith, the more we have tried to create a privileged space for them; and the more we have created such a privileged space, the more we have created avenues for them to depart from Christian commitment.And as is so often the case with Bonhoeffer, he speaks to us in surprising and unexpected ways.To keep young people in the faith, for example, many today argue that youth should have a privileged place in our churches.After all, I was constantly told by my elders, “The youth are the future of the church! We gave the youth their own small groups, their own worship experience, and their own sermons.We have to do everything we can to instill within them Christlike values…” (so they might remain in the church when they are older). Our instincts told us that in order to keep the youth in church, we ought to treat them like they are special, hire their own staff, feed them curriculum designed specifically for their age groups, and send them to serve in places with only their peers.But all this specialness only pushes them further from the center of the church community.Making young people “special” divides them from their parents and other adults, for only those with special knowledge can teach them the faith, or even relate to them at all.