Mission without relationship is colonialism. Ministry without relationship is patronizing.
I’ve been guilty of both many times. I was new to ministry and had developed a complex chart depicting the leadership structure that my ministry would take including youth committee members, small group leaders, peer ministers, drivers, etc. I shared this with my father, a pastor. His responded by saying, “That sure is a nice drawing. Where are the people?” I had a snazzy organizational chart for my ministry but no people to plug into it because I had not established any relationships. Mission without relationship.
Also, there were two times when I tried to assert myself as an authority figure or mentor into the life of a young person who I thought was “needy” only to be shot down by the teens both times because I had not done the hard work of actually getting to know them. Ministry without relationship.
In previous posts I’ve claimed that everything we do in our ministry with youth can be thought of as interpretation, discernment or proclamation. My claim here is that our work of interpretation, discernment and proclamation should always be done relationally.
Interpretation without relationship is gossip. Discernment without relationship is despotism. Proclamation without relationship is marketing.
In this 4-minute video for Luther Seminary’s 7th Annual Missional Church Consultation, Dr. Terrence Fretheim challenges us to take the word relationship seriously – especially in how we understand God.
This relational God who draws us into relationship becomes the foundation of all our relationships. And God’s relationality becomes the foundation of all our ministry practices.
Practicing interpretation relationally requires us to know God’s story and a young person’s story so well that we can begin to weave the two together with the young person so that she begins to hear her own story within God’s story. This is not something that can be done through impassioned large groups talks or thoughtful lesson plans. It can only be done in the intimacy of a one-to-one relationship where a young person with a story finds a caring adult who listens and hears that young person into God’s story. If we are interpreting the lives of our youth outside of our relationship with our youth and outside of our relationship with God, then we are simply partaking in gossip. There is no freedom or good news in this.
Practicing discernment relationally requires us to engage real and timely questions as a community seeking to respond to God’s call in a particular place at a particular time. Our “planning” is transformed into “responding”. We become truly interested in helping one another understand what it is that God is calling us to do and who God is calling us to be in specific situations and roles. If we are discerning God’s call outside of our relationship with those to whom we are called and outside of our relationship with God, then we are simply tyrants. There is no freedom or good news in this.
Practicing proclamation relationally requires that we not only proclaim good news in peoples’ lives, but that we also (and possibly first) listen and hear the bad news in their lives. Rather then telling people what we think they should hear, we first listen and then speak God’s truth and grace into those places of their lives where they truly need it. If we are proclaiming God’s word outside of a relationship with those to whom we are called, then we are simply trying to market God. There is no freedom or good news in this.
Relational youth ministry is not just about getting to know kids. It is about weaving together a network of intergenerational relationships in which we humbly go about the work of interpreting our lives together, discerning God’s call for us together and proclaiming good news for one another. This is beautiful work we get to do!
This post is the sixth 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