I believe the primary task (or practice) of youth ministry today is the hermeneutical task, or interpretation. This is the first practice of the anti-model presented in an earlier post. Youth ministers often find ourselves in the role of interpreter – interpreting youth culture for adults, interpreting adult culture for youth, interpreting church tradition for youth, interpreting middle schoolers for high schoolers, etc. But there is more to this work of interpretation.
Interpretation, as one of the primary practices of youth ministry, means that our work centers on the task of helping young people re-interpret their reality in light of God’s Good News. We interpret their reality in light of God’s Word and we interpret God’s Word in light of their reality.
There is quite the hullabaloo right now in our youth ministry universe around whether or not youth ministry should be considered “theological”. Jerry Watts has a good string going right now over at Reform This. I would argue that theology is the sin qua non of youth ministry because even our first move into a relationship with a young person is a result of God’s spirit moving. That is a theological claim! Ministry is ultimately and primarily about what God is doing and what God is calling us to do (We’ll get to this later when I post about discernment and proclamation as the two other practices.). Douglas John Hall defines theology as “ . . . that ongoing activity of the whole church that aims at clarifying what ‘gospel’ must mean here and now.” We must interpret “gospel” for our “here and now”.
Therefore, theology, proclamation and ministry all require interpretation. But interpretation is neither static nor linear. We must interpret what the Good News is right here and right now for our youth in their context. But the interpretation does not begin there because we must also interpret the right here and right now context in light of the Good News. But interpretation doesn’t start there either, because the way we understand our context will change our interpretation of the Good News . . .
Herbert Blumer’s theory of Symbolic Interactionism is also helpful here. It states that there in never simply a stimulus and response (behaviorism – think salivating dogs), but there is always an event of interpretation between those two. So the stimulus (revelation in whichever form you choose) does not automatically elicit the desired response (faith). There is an event in-between these two, and it is in that event where we dwell – where we engage in interpretation. The act of interpretation is not separate from the action or event — it is integral.
So we, as youth ministers, are always engaged in a dynamic transaction between text and context in which one never presupposes the other. Don’t get hung up on whether youth ministry is theological or not (or whether you are theological enough). It is definitely interpretive and when you are interpreting – you are doing theology – and that is good news!
This sounds great on paper – or on your screen – but how does it play out? How have you seen the Good News change the way a student understands his or her reality? How have you seen an experience change the way a student understands the Good News?
How have you practiced interpretation?
This post is the second post (of 9) in this “anti-model” series.
- Part 01: youth ministry anti-model
- Part 02: youth ministry is interpretation
- Part 03: youth ministry is discernment
- Part 04: youth ministry is proclamation
- Part 05: interpretation, discernment and proclamation are theological
- Part 06: interpretation, discernment and proclamation are relational
- Part 07: interpretation, discernment and proclamation are holistic
- Part 08: interpretation, discernment and proclamation are vocational
- Part 09: interpretation, discernment and proclamation are experiential