The Production Line
Theological education and vocation as it pertains to youth ministry needs to be re-imagined. Youth ministry at present is analogous to a production line. Ideas, programs, and methodologies are manufactured according to a manual of theological operations used by a few evangelical and mainline theological factories. These products are then distributed to consumers (i.e. youth leaders/pastors/lay people) who hope these products can help their youth ministries look good, feel good, and attract people. Similar to the appeal of new Air Jordan’s during the Christmas season, youth leaders are sometimes enchanted by the hottest trends because they aid them in attracting young people to unattractive ministries.
However, once the new Air Jesus youth ministry product is used and the thrill is over, these manufactured items are placed in the back of the ministry closet until the next hot item is on the market. This consumer driven model places tremendous pressure on theological factories to produce and market the next hot youth ministry product. Sadly, reliance on pre-packaged models of youth ministry only reproduces youth who meet the quality control standards of denominations and church leadership.
This is an exciting time in the state of youth ministry because youth are interested in pizza parties and pneumatology.
Unfortunately, when theological factories (including publishers) give consumers what is trendy (typically quick fix products), what is produced is neither unique, creative, nor theological. Subsequently, theological education and vocation as it pertains to youth ministry simply reflects market trends or reproduces the past. Unlike, athletic shoe companies who now offer individual consumers the opportunity to design their own products, youth ministry design is often dictated by the leadership in churches. As a consequence, youth may not participate in the construction of something new. Moreover, they are not given access to the resources of the company in ways like Nike gives youth the ability to create their own shoes. What would happen if young people had the opportunity to partner with theologians in order to design new initiatives in youth ministry as well as transform theological education?
Seminaries provide resources that assist in the intellectual and theological development of adults in preparation to ministry to young people. Is it possible that youth and adults can learn side by side in theological factories (i.e. seminaries and divinity schools) as an important strategy to reverse the downward spiral in churches and seminaries experiencing decline? Are the seeds of the resurrection of youth ministry found in the development of emerging education classes? What would happen if youth were given the theological and theoretical tools to develop practices to resurrect dead churches?
The development of new learning spaces in theological schools affords opportunities for teenagers, scholars, and students to dialogue on matters of church history, ethics, systematic theology, and practical theology from different perspectives. As a consequence, theologians learn from youth and youth learn from theologians. This is an exciting time in the state of youth ministry because youth are interested in pizza parties and pneumatology. Seminaries have the opportunity to serve as incubators of creativity and to serve good pizza. As a consequence, it could to spark a reformation in the church and revolutionize the academy.
Kermit Cornell Moss, Sr. is a Ph.D. student in the area of Practical Theology (Christian Education and Formation) at Princeton Theological Seminary and has research interests in the intersection of theology, identity, spirituality, pneumatology, urban youth, and hip-hop/pop culture. In addition, Kermit currently serves as senior pastor of Manhattan Bible Church which is located in the Inwood neighborhood in Northern Manhattan (NYC).