The annual ChurchWorks conference is meeting this week at First Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., hosting Christian educators from throughout CBF.
This week, the group is participating in fellowship, worship, conversation and exploration of the topic “Theology Matters,” both thinking about matters of theology and why theology matters within congregational ministry.
With the help of Dr. Andrew Root, the group is focusing on the themes of “Ministry, the Church and the Melting of Identity,” “What is the Theological Turn in Ministry?” and “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s 8 Theses on Youth Workers That Might Kill Your Ministry” in light of his theological emphasis on youth work and the person of Bonheoffer.
Andrew Root, PhD (Princeton Theological Seminary) is the Olson Baalson Associate Professor of Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Seminary. He is most recently the author of Christopraxis: A Practical Theology of the Cross (Fortress, 2014) and Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker (Baker, 2014). He has also written The Relational Pastor (IVP, 2013) as well as a four book series with Zondervan called A Theological Journey Through Youth Ministry (titles include Taking Theology to Youth Ministry, Taking the Cross to Youth Ministry, Unpacking Scripture in Youth Ministry, and Unlocking Mission and Eschatology in Youth Ministry).
In 2012, his book The Theological Turn in Youth Ministry (with Kenda Creasy Dean, IVP, 2011) was Christianity Today Book of Merit. He has written a number of other books on ministry and theology such as The Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being (Baker Academic, 2010), The Promise of Despair (Abingdon, 2010), Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation (IVP, 2007) and Relationships Unfiltered (Zondervan/YS, 2009).
This week, Root has shared his knowledge and expertise around the large issue of cultural shifts that influence the way that we do ministry within our congregations. Starting at the beginning of human history, he looks at the shifts in ideology and human consciousness, shaped by new forms of energy/technology and by new ways that we answer the question ‘who am I?,’ and how these inform the way that we do ministry and relate to those in our congregations.
Through the “melting of identity” Root asserted that people are answering the question ‘who am I?’ in a different way than previous generations. When posed this question two generations ago, one would answer based on their work and their commitment, while today one would answer on the basis of consumption and intimacy. With this shift in ideology, churches are filled with people who view their lives through both of these lenses and who have reached different stages of “conventional life” that shape the way they connect with the church. Generations are asking these questions of identity and foundation to each other.
With this changing shape of identity, Root calls on participants not to just conform to the ideas of consumption, technology and intimacy, but rather to wrestle with God and get out of this habitual cycle of giving people church and supplying religious platitudes. The goal of ministry is to move beyond reaching the new generations and get them to come to church—Root calls ministers to a “theological turn” in doing ministry.
With this, Root says that we are to turn away from ministry as technology—seeing ministry as both the problem and the solution. “What has actually happened in Protestantism is that our program has become our technology,” Root said. “The different models of how we do ministry have become our technology…Youth ministry was actually the new technology for the last decades—the problem was that kids weren’t coming to church and then youth ministry was the solution to getting them to come.” To take a theological turn in ministry is to move beyond the search for the next relevant model, and it is not to make congregations read theology or consume theological minutiae, rather Root poses the difference between theology and the theological.
“The theological starts with the lived and concrete experience of the people around us,” Root says. Through an anecdotal look at the ministry of Deitrich Bonheoffer and his own ministry, Root confronts the deep fears, questions and concerns that people concretely feel and experience.
In ministry, leaders are confronted with people’s humanity and their deepest theological questions and concerns—in this space to be a minister is to first and foremost to be a minister of the gospel, be near to people’s humanity, and offer space for them to confront these big questions and speak to their personal experiences.
Connecting this to the gospel of Mark, chapter 9, Root speaks to the father who is plagued by his son’s fall into darkness who meets Jesus after a long journey, and asked ‘how long?’ Root asserts that this question to the father from Jesus is not a diagnostic one, but the invitation for the father to tell his own narrative and speak to the pain he has felt. Root calls ministers to create space where they can ask this question, spaces where people can speak to their personal narrative and connect with the gospel in their very real situations.
Doing the theological is to put ourselves in a place where we are doing real authentic work in people’s lives.
Through an exploration of the changing face of church, changing identity of the congregation and changing identity of the pastor or minister, Root has challenged Christian educators to think theologically about their ministries and about the cultural shifts that influence those with whom they do ministry.
Alongside Root’s exploration of relational ministry, participants in the ChurchWorks conference have the opportunity to meet in small groups to think through these concepts and to find practical ways to engage these concepts within their personal ministry contexts.