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Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation

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Relational youth ministry, also known as incarnational ministry, can feel like a vicious cycle of guilt: I should be spending time with kids, but I just don't want to. The burden becomes heavy to bear because it is never over; adolescents always seem to need more relational bonds, and once one group graduates there is a new group of adolescents who need relational contact. It may be that the reason these relationships have become burdensome is that they have become something youth workers do, rather than something that youth workers enter into. In Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry, Andrew Root explores the origins of a dominant ministry model for evangelicals, showing how American culture has influenced our understanding of the incarnation. Drawing from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose work with German youth in troubled times shaped his own understanding of how Jesus intersects our relationships, Root recasts relational ministry as an opportunity not to influence the influencers but to stand with and for those in need. True relational youth ministry shaped by the incarnation is a commitment to enter into the suffering of all, to offer all those in high school or junior high the solidarity of the church.

221 pages, Paperback

First published October 8, 2007

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About the author

Andrew Root

42 books81 followers
Andrew Root joined Luther Seminary in 2005 as assistant professor of youth and family ministry. Previously he was an adjunct professor at Wesley Theological Seminary, Washington D.C., and Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, N.J.

Root received his bachelor of arts degree from Bethel College, St. Paul, Minn., in 1997. He earned his master of divinity (2000) and his master of theology (2001) degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, Calif. He completed his doctoral degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 2005.

Root's ministry experience includes being a gang prevention counselor in Los Angeles, youth outreach directed in a congregation, staff member of Young Life, and a confirmation teacher. He has also been a research fellow for Princeton Theological Seminary's Faith Practices Project.

Root has published articles in the Journal of Youth and Theology, The International Journal of Practical Theology, and Word and World.

He is a member of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry and the International Bonhoeffer Society.

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Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews
Profile Image for Amy.
139 reviews4 followers
June 28, 2010
Use this book as a conversational tool. It's fabulous for that because it is provocative--some aspects I agreed with and other parts could lead an impressionable ministry leader astray. I read this not a guide for how to do ministry but a way to reflect and wrestle with my justifications for doing ministry in the way that I currently do it.
148 reviews7 followers
October 20, 2021
Good, thought-provoking book. Middle portion with the somewhat vague theology was not as helpful, would have preferred more biblical exegesis and exposition supporting the theology. But conclusion and introductory chapters were especially useful and could be read alone.
Profile Image for Chad Ryan.
Author 1 book15 followers
March 5, 2022
Root's aims are twofold: first, to examine current relational (youth) ministry philosophy & practice (which he argues is more culturally-informed); second, to construct a more theologically-informed way forward. In my opinion, for the latter aim he leans much too heavily on just about anything but Scripture; as a result, his Christ-at-the-center framework for relational ministry ultimately feels alien to the Christ of Scripture. In particular, he leans heavily on Bonhoeffer's "theology of sociality," which I'm just not sure I buy (at least as it's presented here), and this is a major piece of Root's framework. He succeeds more in his former aim of critique. Most helpful is his historical analysis of not only twentieth century American youth ministry, but also the emergence of the concept of adolescence and youth culture more broadly. You realize just how new all of this youth-ministry-stuff is, and that just changes how you look at it.

Overall, I think more exploratory theological projects on youth ministry, such as offered in this book, are needed. It is a truism, and right intuition, that "ministry is relationships." But if we're committed to having theologically-informed youth ministries (to the end of them being maximally faithful), then we ought to get behind the truism to see "the inner reality of relationships" as clearly as we can. How can we locate the presence & activity of God in relationships? What makes relationships transformative, or what prevents them from being transformative? These are important questions that the truism can't answer, and that Root takes aim at answering. Even if I didn't agree with all of Root's framework, I admire the attempt at a comprehensive framework, which challenged me to see the deficiencies and incompleteness of my own working framework.
Profile Image for Noah.
290 reviews2 followers
May 23, 2017
I'm confused about the intended audience of this book. The focus of the book is definitely quite evangelical, but Root also distances himself from evangelical practices, so it's unclear who he's really talking to. The first two chapters provide a historical overview of the development of youth ministry, which was interesting, especially because of the way it follows normative (white middle class) US culture. The focus here is also evangelical, but it's unclear whether that's really reflective of the rise of youth ministry or simply the author's focus. After the history, the book shifts to a more contemporary look, which involved interviews with youth leaders and youth. This section was interesting but brief, and seemed to serve primarily to establish the "problem" of how relational youth ministry is being done. The book then took a significant shift in tone, first detailing Bonhoeffer's approach to incarnational/relational ministry (which I appreciated) and then getting quite convoluted with theoretical-technical language. A significant part of the second half of the book was devoted to exploring two examples, one hypothetical and the other from a movie. This section got quite repetitive and clunky; the hypothetical example was useful, the movie example didn't seem to have a good purpose for being there and was honestly just weird.
Profile Image for Jared Townley.
87 reviews
October 25, 2019
Using Bonhoeffer, Root puts forward a relational ministry that is focused not on using a relationship as a means to the end, but the end in itself. He says that the goal of youth ministry is to enter into what he calls “place-sharing” relationships with youth. He describes how it is in these relationships that both parties encounter Christ. His argument is well thought out and very appealing to someone who is not interested in large programs focused solely on numbers. Yet, to shift from current thinking to this style of youth ministry demands an entire shift of a congregation that seems almost impossible. Perhaps a shift like this would be easier to accomplish in a smaller congregation than a larger one. Skip the first section on the history of youth ministry if you just want his suggestions and skip it all until the last chapter if you really don’t want to fully understand.
58 reviews
January 17, 2018
This was the best book on ministry I've ever read, even after getting my degree in Christian ministry. It has transformed my personal philosophy of ministry and put words to things that were only present as a seed in my heart. If you're sick of institutionalized, consumer youth ministry that peddles a divine commodity, this book is for you.
Profile Image for Kelsey Figone.
75 reviews
January 4, 2022
Details that I loved: the concept of "place-sharing" with youth, maintaining boundaries with youth through being both open and closed, identifying suffering as a key component for adult leaders (instead of seeking "adolescent adoration"), engaging the broader congregation and adults more generally in connection/relationship with youth, and the history/emergence of relational youth ministry.
Profile Image for Jimmy Bero.
61 reviews
December 2, 2022
It’s absolutely bonkers that a 15 year old book written about youth ministry could be as resonant to our current cultural moment as this book is. Andy Root is the prophet we failed to listen to then and the wise voice we must pay attention to now. His entire works are worth your time, but this is required reading for anyone who cares about the spiritual lives of young people.
Profile Image for Annie Beckstrand.
48 reviews2 followers
November 6, 2019
A transformational book for me. Written more as a research paper than a book, but filled with stories and metaphors for you to cling onto. Root gracefully and firmly challenges our ideas of youth ministry claiming that they are more based on cultural needs than theological reflection. Pulling from the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Root establishes youth ministry must be more than fun, exciting groups. It must be based and following (not just using Jesus as a “model” but as the Sustainer) the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Christ.

Root works through the history of youth ministry, the theology of Bonhoeffer, and ends with practical tips on beginning to rethink ministry. If you have struggled in modern day ministry and aching for more, this book could give you the words that you didn’t even know you were feeling yet.
Profile Image for JJ Vancil.
81 reviews5 followers
August 9, 2011
This book "revisits" and challenges the status quo of relationship-driven youth ministry by digging into Dietrich Bonhoeffer's theology of relationships as understood in the human-God, Jesus Christ. While this book is deep, rich, insightful & theologically sound, the reader gets lost in a slew of overly complex writing and intellectual mumbo-jumbo. Most of the concepts could be worded in ways that made sense, yet it appeared the author wanted everyone to know just how smart he was.
30 reviews1 follower
May 16, 2015
It was definitely an interesting book. I liked the overall thesis, but it did read more like a phd dissertation or academic paper than like a book written for the general public. The first two chapters with the history lesson about the last hundred years was also a bit dry. However, I do think that I learned a lot in the book about the open-closed principle and about how to love people without judging or manipulating them.
Profile Image for Rebekah.
62 reviews
June 11, 2012
There are some aspects of this book which I would reject, but overall very useful for youth ministers. There are concepts in the book that can relate to any specialized area of ministry which I greatly appreciated. It is a book that is relevant for youth ministry today.
Profile Image for Jonathan Mays.
12 reviews
March 28, 2009
Love the premise of this book. It's how I've been thinking about youth ministry for a long time now.
Profile Image for Gennie.
13 reviews10 followers
November 20, 2014
This book described the background and belief structure of evangelical Christian youth ministry.
It's incredibly well written and academically well researched.
Displaying 1 - 16 of 16 reviews

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