Spiritual Disciplines in Youth Ministry (part 1 of 3)

Episode I: We Need A Better Mirror

My son is the proud owner of many books. We often walk past him in his room to discover that he has been sitting in the middle of the floor “reading” books…sometimes for what seems like hours. This all began when he was about 1 year old, and even at that young age he seemed to be exhibiting signs of the nerd gene…which I am most proud to have passed on.

The earliest books we bought contained pages with “mirrors” where our young child could begin to discern his own image. I use the word mirror here quite loosely. The semi-reflective, semi-flat, semi-mirror-like substance found in these books leaves much to be desired. In fact, the transparent surface of our microwave provides a considerably more recognizable reflection.

The apostle Paul admitted that his ability to see the “big picture” of God’s kingdom was limited. In fact it was like trying to view one’s reflection in a poor mirror (perhaps he too had purchased one of the wonderful books.) In any case, we learn from Paul – and from our children – that part of growing is the process of learning to see more clearly and the realization that we may never have complete vision.

For this reason, the task of the Church is, in part, to engage in healthy criticism regarding areas and issues where our limited vision may have kept us from fully advancing the Kingdom.

“The ideal of wholeness/beauty infuses Christian theology from Jesus to contemporary theologians. Theologians have reminded us of often forgotten dimensions that contribute to this beautiful wholeness. Karl Barth and others reminded us that the beauty that we seek cannot be fulfilled in our human projects, but in the ‘wholly otherness’ of God;…Latin American liberation theologians…that the wholeness…must include the poor;…Political theologians…that the wholeness…cannot forget the ways our political structures deter beauty;…Feminist theologians…that this beauty must also include the gifts of women; Sally McFague and others have called our attention to how Christian theology should include care for the earth;…African-American theologians point to the beauty revealed through the wounds and blessings of black people…The very scope of Christian theology reveals a rainbow of diverse gifts that God wishes to weave into beautiful wholeness. (David White. “Empowering the Vocation of Youth as Youth: A Theological Vision for Youth Ministry.” In The Journal of Youth Ministry. Spring 2004)

Perhaps to this statement, one could add that wholeness of God is experienced in the classic as well as the contemporary; the ancient as well as the modern…or postmodern. It appears that youth ministry is beginning to entertain the notion that adolescents may be open to, and perhaps would benefit from, the incorporation of the classical spiritual disciplines** which have been a part of Christian life for much of the past 2000 years. Somehow this notion was shuffled into the realm of “forgotten dimensions” during the formation and structuring of church youth ministry.

It may be more accurate to say that spiritual disciplines were limited to prayer, singing, reading the Bible, learning and occasional service activities (and never referred to as disciplines!) Whatever the process, whether intentionally amnesic, blissfully ignorant, or accidentally overlooked, the connection to Christians throughout history, except those written about in the Bible, was severed. The standard has instead been the ability to take the latest trends in popular culture (which eventually became the now prominent juggernaut known as “youth culture”) and find ways to model our youth program in like fashion. While there will always be those who adamantly fight for this way of functioning, perhaps there is a growing number of people who crave more substance…something a little more intentional. So perhaps we should be asking for better mirrors, ones that allow us to gaze more carefully at the person/people we are becoming.

**Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline provides a great definition for and overview of spiritual discplines – you can follow the link to read reviews and order the book.

Tony Jones has written a book, Soul Shaper that discusses how these disciplines might affect the life of a youth minister and youth ministry.


Posted on June 20, 2005, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Couple of thoughts here Bret:

    1. Would your “mirrors” also include those of the more right-wing conservative variety? I think that in our open-mindedness it is important to listen to those voices that we disagree with as well as those who enlighten us.

    2. You emphasis on beauty and wholeness in this essay (and our failure to stress such things in our discipleship of youth AND adults) brings up a major concern regarding systematic theology. You see, as a systematic theology addict, many problems in piety strike me as systemic problems rooted in bad theology about God the Holy Trinity. For instance, for 500 years systematics of all theological stripes has been obsessed with concepts such as God’s knowledge, power, sovereignty, election, and such. God’s love is often listed as merely one attribute among many (instead of the pre-eminent attribute of God). Furthermore, God’s beauty, splendor, aesthetics, and wholeness is almost NEVER mentioned in any dogmatic theology. Why? Think about all the Bible says (especially in the Psalms) about God’s beauty, splendor, and aesthetic sense. Yet, our western legal-scientific mindset has no “hook” to hang these things on, so they are almost completely absent in the consideration of the “doctrine of God”.

    Could it be that our truncated, ultra-congnitive, non-aesthetic view of God has wound up giving us an ugly theology and an ugly spirituality? Our theology in the west (whether catholic or protestant) is useful and powerful… but ugly. Kind of like a dump truck or a jack hammer. What would happen to our spiritual formation if our theology once again got a glimpse of God’s glory?

  2. Well said Nate. Your comments about an “ugly theology” ring true. It is interesting that in a society consumed with its own entertainment and pleasure so many things have no artistic or aesthetic value. The form vs function debate, like so many others, creates a false dichotomy. The two should compliment rather than compete with each other.

    You are absolutely right, our systematic theology is often lacking in regards to aesthetics. Have you read Frank Burch Brown’s “Religious Aesthetics”? It brings up this issue as well. Good thinking Nate.

  3. In regards to your 1st question, yes, I believe that this is imperative. However, please allow me a bit of time to formulate a more developed answer.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: