Relational Youth Ministry: Presence or Influence?

Much of what passes for "Relational Youth Ministry" today isn't relational. It engages students not for who they are, but as another tool to grow the ministry. I insist that this type of relationship is disingenuous at best, and manipulative at worst.

Andrew Root, professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary, candidly admits that this was his aim when he began working with students. He writes, "I was trying to influence them. I was trying to get them to accept, know, trust, believe, or participate in something, believing it was best for them, believing it would fix them. But my desire to influence them was keeping me from really being with them - in a truly relational way" (Relationships Unfiltered, 17).

Of course, such engagement isn't malicious, it just isn't relational.
Relational denotes a relationship, and a relationship connotes presence devoid of agenda or further goal.

If you approach a person with an agenda or further goal (stated or unstated), then you become a sales representative seeking to turn that person into a buyer. If they don't "buy" what you're "selling," then you're free to move on to the next potential buyer.

But genuine relationships aren't like that. They are a firm commitment to be present to one another. Sometimes that presence involves celebration. Sometimes that presence involves crying. Either way, you are an advocate for that person, entering into the situation and the emotion in order to celebrate or cry with them and for them.

This type of ministry is rooted in the doctrine of the incarnation, which insists that God has been revealed in the human person of Jesus - who was crucified and raised again to life. The incarnation is about solidarity, and it asserts that God is present in the here and now, among us, for us, and with us - whether rich or poor, sick or healthy, black or white.

For those reasons, I insist that youth pastors must move the goal from "influence" to "presence."
If you aim at influence, you will lose the opportunity for presence.
But if you aim at presence, you will gain the opportunity for influence.




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