Borgman, D. (1988). "Biblical and theological basis of youth ministry." S. Hamilton, MA: Center for Youth Studies.
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There are, in the NIV version of the Bible, 53 verses in which the words "youth," "youths," or "youthful" appear. Beyond this rather pedantic fact, we know that Joseph was a teenager (17 years of age) when his story begins as a dreamer-and as a misunderstood sibling sold into slavery. Isaac may have been 11-14 years of age when he climbed upon the altar according to his father''s firm command. Joshua was a youth when Moses chose him as his aide. We read that David was a mere boy when he defeated Goliath and attracted the attention of the king. Daniel and his friends were probably teenagers when they were led across the Fertile Crescent into captivity. We can imagine them as young men, quite possibly in their late teens, as they stood strong for Yahweh before the great ruler of awesome Babylon.
Ruth was still a young woman when she became a widow and followed Naomi to Bethlehem. Esther may well have been a teen when she won a "beauty contest" and found herself in a pagan harem. Mary herself was a mere youth when the angel appeared to her with unprecedented news of her beatitude.
A critical character in the story of Naaman (in 2 Kings 5) is an unnamed slave girl. She had been taken captive by the Syrians and lost everything but her faith in God. To be useful to the mistress of a great house and be called "a young girl" makes us think of her about the age of 13.
Some of the disciples were still youth, and Mark probably a teenager, when they began to follow Jesus. St. Paul''s advice to Timothy is a divine injunction that a person should not be despised for youthfulness. Jesus'' warnings against the neglect or misleading of children further emphasizes the seriousness of our consideration.
Africa is a youthful continent. Much of its population is under 16 years of age. In 1970, Africa had seven cities with more than a million inhabitants. By 2000, more than 60 African cities will have over a million people-and five will have more than five million inhabitants! Those cities-where church and youth ministry are often weakest-will be filled with young people. Africa entered the 1990s with more than 500 million people; of these, considerably more than 300 million were youth under 24 years of age!
Pastors, Sunday School teachers, and parents all do well to reflect upon the place of children and youth in Holy Scriptures-as well as in society. But for youth ministers, especially it is important to go further to consider a theology of this critical ministry. Of course, most of what we consider about youth ministry is actually applicable to all evangelization and pastoral ministry.
Reflections about all ministry and spiritual realities proceed best from contemplation of the Triune God. Youth ministry especially should be grounded in the love of the Father, the gracious intervention and relationships of the Son, and the healing and enabling of the Holy Spirit. Consider how these theological principles apply to actual ministry.
PRISCILLA AND MUSA
Priscilla and Musa have planned a youth program about family relations. It includes a short drama prepared and presented by the young people. All are pleasantly surprised at its frankness and dramatic quality. Musa follows the play with a short Bible study on family, and Priscilla skillfully applies these principles to her own experience and that of others growing up in a modern world of change.
During the refreshments that follow, it is evident that many of the youth want to talk to Priscilla and Musa. Priscilla finds a quiet corner where she can listen to Awori. Awori says, "My father doesn''t love me at all. I want him to tell me that he loves me just once, but he can''t just say such a thing." After patiently listening, Priscilla is able to point out two things to Awori. First of all, Awori''s story shows both of them how her father proves his love in different ways. It just is not personally or culturally possible for him to say those important words: "I love you."
Priscilla shares with Awori a love expressed so personally and perfectly from the Father of love. Some verses she knows from the Psalms tell Awori of a Heavenly Father''s love that makes up for the imperfections in our earthly parents'' ability to care and express love. Is Priscilla''s explanation as important as her listening and hugging Awori as they finish? We will never know. But the arms around Awori feel to her like a heavenly hug.
Meanwhile, on another side of the room, Joseph is telling Musa about a father too busy in business to take time for him. Besides this, the father favors Joseph''s older brother in many ways. There are a few things Musa can say to Joseph. But mostly what happens is Musa''s caring, listening, and saying he understands. Awori and Joseph experience a heavenly Father''s love that afternoon in the presence of two dedicated youth ministers. Youth ministry starts with that kind of love. The modeling and teaching of a heavenly Father''s love is fundamental to youth ministry.
Ask the finest of youth ministers their favorite Bible story. Most often they will refer to a story of Jesus-probably in relationship with the woman at the well, Zachaeus, or Peter. Those of us who have spent a lifetime around young people never tire of, and find our basic inspiration from, the relationships, the personal conversations, and the teachings of Jesus in the Gospel of John and Luke particularly.
One great youth leader (Jim Rayburn, the founder of Young Life) saw youth evangelization as the presentation of a universally appealing Jesus by leaders who had modeled his style of relating to those outside the faith.
Ochieng and Kariuki come from families who don''t care much for church. Their parents are too busy making money and enjoying their friends. Ochieng has gone to school with Joseph for several years. He likes Joseph for his smile, friendliness, and sense of humor. There is also something he can trust in Joseph. But he wants nothing to do with his religion and church-going.
Ochieng can''t figure out why Musa comes to their football games. He finds out that Musa is a student at the university and Joseph''s youth leader. But that doesn''t seem to explain the time Musa takes to spend with the boys. Sometimes he sees Musa and Joseph talking seriously and wishes for such a friend.
One day, when Ochieng is having a difficult time figuring out a certain young lady, he becomes bold enough to have his own conversation with Musa. He likes the way Musa listens to him without criticizing or putting him down. As part of the conversation Musa mentions the young ladies and men who attend the youth group and invites Ochieng to attend. He and his friend, Kariuki, come to meet the girls. Frankly, their intentions are not the best. It takes them a while to get used to the singing. They try not to listen to prayers and talks. One evening they do hear Musa talking about a beautiful woman who went out in shame to a well for water. She went at noon to avoid the looks and jeers of unkind neighbors. To her surprise she was not alone. She confronted not only a man-but one of a race and religion from which her people had suffered! He spoke to her, asked her a personal favor, drank from her water, and wanted to get to know her! This man found that she was a woman of poor reputation. Though they were totally alone, He was not like other men who had taken so much from her. Instead, He offered her acceptance and forgiveness. She came in shame and left with newly found pride and confidence.
Ochieng has to feel good about the relationship between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. It is totally different from the way he thinks about girls. And he had notices how Musa treats Priscilla and other young ladies.
What impresses Ochieng and Kariuki about Musa and Priscilla also attracts the attention of Wairimu and several girls who have begun coming to the youth group. The leaders of this group are living reminders of the friendship and love God intends for his creatures. They have always believed in a God, and many of them would have said that God is love. Some had even sung about this love as children in Sunday School. But these growing adolescents now have to find the reality of true love and friendship.
That''s why God did it that way! "God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son"-in life as well as death. This is what theologians call the Incarnation. That''s why we talk about youth work as an incarnational ministry.
In his prologues to the Gospel and first Epistle, the apostle John becomes noticeably excited about the truth of the Incarnation. The eternal Son or Logos, principle of all life and creation, became a living word to us! "The Word was made flesh and lived among us...We heard Him, saw Him with our own eyes, touched and handled Him with our hands"-we have watched him touch a leper and be touched by a woman with a deadly flow of blood, fondled by a woman of the streets, and spat upon by enemies. We know He is real.
St. John says, in effect, if one listens to the conversations with Nicodemus, the woman at the well, and Mary and Peter, and if one honestly considers the seven signs he records among many-then, one will come to "believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing have life through His name" (John 20:30-31).
After his marvelous display of this perfect human being, the Son of God, John records Jesus'' great challenge (to youth ministry): "As the Father sent me, so send I you." Priscilla and Musa had heard the challenge of this "AS"-and the success of their youth program emerged from a ministry founded on the love of God and demonstration of the grace of Jesus Christ. They dedicated themselves to a ministry of presence, to relationships with young people, and to caring as Jesus did-His listening, His touch, and His loving lack of criticism. They learned that "availability is more important than ability" and demonstrated that "God gave us two ears and only one mouth." To such lives and messages young people respond.
It is essential to approach youth ministry as "incarnational ministry." Leaders enter the culture and life of young people as God-sent role models. They relate to youth in the spirit and style of Christ. They can, with Jesus, "waste time" with sinners. They see the beauty and affirm the possibilities of each special young person. Youth leaders need to understand this theological base of the time they spend with and listening to young lives. This is how we understand the incarnation-the "becoming flesh and entering the world", and the "as-the-Father-has-sent-me..."
One night after Musa talks about Jesus dying for us on the Cross, Priscilla notices that Nyakacho is unusually quiet and withdrawn. Sensitively, she approaches and asks how it is with her. Suddenly, the girl begins to weep. In a secluded place Nyakacho pours out a story of a stepfather''s abuse. Though the genuineness of the story can hardly be doubted, Priscilla is surprised. She has met the parents, and Nyakacho herself is a pretty and sophisticated young lady. Nothing about her had suggested such childhood trauma. Beyond the shame of abuse is heaped the fear of magic with which she has been threatened. On top of all these scars and pain are years of hiding and pretending that all is well. Nyakacho has responded to the story of Jesus and asked Him into her heart. She is sure of eternal life but is troubled about hurts and fears that won''t go away. Such private pain lies deep in the heart of many young people in our modern world. There are private closets of the soul that need desperately to be opened and cleansed.
"There is a balm in Gilead," the prophet sang, and Jesus promised a healing and comforting Spirit that would come in His name from the Father of light and love. Nyakacho''s healing is not sudden. A special older friend and leader prays for her and with her. She struggles to open up the doors of this inner closet and let the demons out. Gradually, the Holy Spirit comes in all his healing power.
To tell of the personal joy and freedom which spreads from Nyakacho to heal wounds in family and friends is not our purpose here; rather we are urging youth leaders to pursue all their ministry in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit-to see their wonderful and practical ministry based on the theology of the Blessed Trinity. Then one can talk of incarnational and relational ministry to youth.
It is just a beginning. One day after shopping for a few things needed for a special program, Musa and Priscilla are confronted by some parking boys. They know "how to handle" these street kids and are soon on their way. But there is little chatter between them. In the quietness both are thinking about the scene they have just left.
"How many of the young people in this city and in our country are at the economic level of most who come to our youth group?" Musa finally asks.
"I too was thinking about the majority not reached by most youth programs or publications," Priscilla replies. "What is really being done for the Mwanainchi?" Together they talk of each Mwanainchi, special creations of God with potential to be realized and obstacles to be overcome. What does youth ministry hold for all of these-the great majority?
Their conversation turns to the ministry of Jesus and what the Old Testament says about the poor. Those remembered by our Lord cannot be forgotten by the Church and youth ministry. They must also receive attention-in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- What impresses you most about the place of young people in the Bible?
- How important is the Trinity to your theology, your life, and your ministry?
- What impresses you most about seeing the incarnation as a basis of relational ministry with young people?
- What do you most want to discuss about the ministry of Musa and Priscilla?
- Can a Biblical perspective or good theology, can a solid youth ministry, separate the personal and spiritual from the social and practical?
Dean Borgman cCYS