If you are in youth ministry and feel that the theological landscape is barren, then I can say with some certainty that you haven’t discovered Andrew (Andy) Root. I first encountered Root around 2010 while working under a good friend in Kansas City. My friend informed me that Barefoot Ministry was hosting this great mind in youth ministry the next day and that I should go. My friend went as far as to hand me Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry (RRYM) and told me to read it pronto. As a seminary student, I hardly felt I had the time to add to my reading list, but that night I opened the book and honestly couldn’t put it down. His story of how youth ministry was formed in America and how we might share place with students resonated deeply with me. At around 3 am that night, I finished the book and fell asleep eager to see Root in conference the next day.
Root noted in RRYM his fascination with Bonhoeffer; I had read Discipleship, Life Together, and Creation and the Fall and was encouraged by Root’s endorsement and engagement with Bonhoeffer to read more.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I was doing youth ministry in a full time setting, I “revisited” RRYM, read Root and Dean’s text The Theological Turn In Youth Ministry, and became convinced that any book he wrote would have a place on my bookshelves.
I don’t Twitter much, but about a year and a half ago I came across a tweet Root made about being a certain amount of words into a book about Bonhoeffer being the “forefather of the theological turn in youth ministry”. I took note of this and was excited to see the finished product.
That brings us to a couple weeks ago. While perusing Twitter ( I still hold to my claim I don’t tweet much, but this may be denial), I saw a link to a review of Root’s book, Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker. Now rather than click on the review, I decided instead to open my Kindle and buy the book. I was bummed to learn that the book wouldn’t be out until early October, but perhaps there would be a way I could get my hands on a review copy. After a short Twitter conversation with Root, I became a “reviewer”.
The book was great. I’ve made my preference to Root’s works clear, but let me assure you I review this book not as a fan of Root nor as a fan of Bonhoeffer but rather as a youth pastor in the midst of ministry. I recently graduated/ walked having (nearly) completed my Masters from Nazarene Theological Seminary and was asked by a few well intentioned people if having my degree meant that I would get “move up in the world”, become a real pastor, and other such sentiments. These comments while well intentioned, showed an underlying assumption- real ministry, real theology, happens from the place of a senior pastor. Now I don’t fault those that ask those questions or hold those assumptions for I feel that we as the church have created that understanding by the way we do church, the fringe role we often give teens in the place of our community ( I speak generally here, my church of employment is largely an exception to this tendency).
Root in this text gives validity to Youth Ministry, not in defense of the youth pastor but in defense of the adolescent who he asserts ought have a central role in the community of the church. The book exists in two parts. The first part engages Bonhoeffer the youth worker, and part 2 explores two of Bonhoeffer’s works, Discipleship (Cost of Discipleship) and Life Together (Part 2 it should be noted is a bit shorter than Part 1).
For those of you that have read Bonhoeffer you know what a profound thinker he was. What you might not know and what Root shows in his text is that much of his profound thought came out of the context of ministry to children and to youth. Root seamlessly moves through part one telling Bonhoeffer’s story through the lens of youth ministry. This lens or perspective of Bonhoeffer is not forced onto Bonhoeffer by Root, but rather it is a lens that fits quite comfortably on this man that spent so much of his ministry career sharing space with children.
I went to school with a number of people that upon leaving the doors of the university seemed to fall back on what they knew before the church history and systematic theology classes they took. The degree they earned seemed to serve them as an aide to get a job but not an aide to do the job they have. This phenomena is touched on (though not directly in Root’s work) as I think my peers struggled to turn the theology of the classroom to theological living application in the context of ministry. Engaging Root and Bonhoeffer helps one make that transition. That in itself makes this book a must read.
“the hardest theological pronouncements of Barth were worthless if they could not be explained thoroughly to the children in Grunewald.” -Root , Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker
I don’t intend to quote the text often (instead I encourage the reader of this review to read the book themselves) but I quote this section because I feel it speaks to the approach of both Bonhoeffer and Root. One of the reasons I am so excited about this work is that it manages to walk the tricky thin line of being academic and approachable. That is great news for the Youth worker who takes his or her ministry seriously yet feels burdened or ill equipped to be theological in youth ministry.
If you don’t know Root’s works or Bonhoeffer’s works, I encourage you to read this book as a great introduction to both and more importantly as an introduction to what Root and Kenda Dean call the “Theological Turn in Youth Ministry”. I don’t want fellow youth pastors who are experts in Bonhoeffer or Andrew Root, but rather I want youth pastors as fellow space sharers with their teens encountering God together in the brokenness of life and searching for the concrete hope of God’s kingdom in Christ.
I am excited to talk to any of you who choose to read it.