college travels

Thursday, January 11, 2007

some thoughts from Cambridge

So what was the iasym conference like?
It was really cold (even though the locals kept delighting in how mild it was!). It was great fun - living with 100 other people really interested in thinking seriously about youth ministry was a hoot. I got to meet a lot of very interesting people (took Kenda Creasy-Dean to the pub, had lunch with Pete Ward, breakfast with Malan Nel).

Beside all that, the conference in Cambridge sparked a number of interesting thoughts.

The need for a gospel governed practical theology

The was a question that was explicitly raised in response to one of the research papers being presented, but also a question that could well have been raised in response to many others. Does Youth Ministry begin with the sociological observation of youth spirituality, or does it begin with the call of God in Christ? It’s not a question that we often think about in Sydney, but the discussion that was going on at the conference was quite split on the answer. So many of the research papers had done quantitative or qualitative research on young people and ‘discovered’ things like young people like to pray, and that youth groups having their own space to operate will be better at enhancing Christian consciousness over those that don’t. Having made such observations youth ministry then takes its direction from this research – and we aim at fostering the prayer life of young people, or at creating spaces for young people to use.

What is missing in most of the discussion and thinking about youth ministry is that we get our impetus and direction for this ministry from the word of God. It’s the fact that Jesus is King that drives us to speak his words to young people. It’s the word of God that explains and critiques the observations we make of the spiritual lives of young people.

Thinking about the value of sociological research reminded me of Peter Jensen’s discussion of general and special revelation – “Experience intimates, the gospel enlightens; the gospel interprets, experience confirms” (The Revelation of God, 2002, p.108). Our experience points us in certain directions by which we can look at the gospel with different eyes. Reflection on the actual experiences of young people and youth ministries can point us in certain directions by which we can look at the gospel with different eyes. But we need to gospel to make sense of our experience of the world.

There is a definite need for a gospel driven practical theology – an understanding of theology and ministry practice that takes the particularities of our ministry experiences seriously (using all that sociology, psychology etc can reveal to us) that remains directed and driven by the gospel.

Don’t get intimidated by people with PhDs

A corollary to the first point – there are plenty of people who have PhDs in fields relating to youth ministry (mostly under the heading of ‘practical theology’) who could benefit to going back to the uncomplicated task of reading the Scriptures to understand the nature of God and the task of ministry. Rule of thumb - don't get intimidated by someone with an impressive sounding title or CV; and don't get sucked in to pursuing these things at the expense of the kingdom.

American Youth Ministry has failed… and doesn’t know where to go next

There is a strong sense in the academic world of youth ministry in America that the entertainment driven American style of youth ministry has failed. A significant research project last year revealed that though American youth ministry has succeeded in things like number of kids involved, numbers of leaders, training of leaders, provision of resources, what they have singularly failed to do is produce adult disciples.

Could there be a connection between the first point and the last? Of course that is my hunch – now we need to share our theological arguments with the American academy, and it might also be helpful to have some sociological research to confirm what the gospel enlightens.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Happy New Year to you! For me the New Year clicked over somewhere over Afghanistan I think, while I was flying from Sydney to London – leaving in 2006 and arriving in 2007.

I’m in the UK for the International Association of Youth Ministry conference in Cambridge from Wednesday through to Saturday. The conference draws quite a diverse range of people together. The common theme is working with young people from a Christian perspective – though what constitutes ‘Christian perspective’ is quite varied (and sometimes difficult to understand fully – one paper talks about ministry as a ‘life-transforming process’ which has as it’s goal ‘fullness-of-life-for-all in a ­Regnocentric perspective, proclaimed and manifested by Jesus Christ’!).

Having got over jet lag yesterday, today is given to reading through the conference papers. So I’ve managed to find a desk in the reading room at the British Museum

<-- here’s a picture of my spot – there are signs saying ‘no photography’ but no one seems to take any notice of them!.

Will head up to Cambridge tomorrow. More to come – stay tuned…