Today is the first day I've had in a while were I've had some time to think and read about Youth Ministry theology and practice. Which I find to be a very refreshing and enjoying part of my job!

So I read another chapter in the book Starting Right edited by Dean, Clark & Rahn. I read Tony Campolo's chapter Reflections on Youth Ministry in a Global Context: Taking Seriously the Least of These. I have to say that it was very thought provoking, and made me think my focus on the poor and disadvantaged could do with a rethink! Anyway here are some interesting quotes and some thoughts on what he wrote.

  • "Doing something for the homeless is just about a must for any suburban youth group". - That seems like a good idea to me!
  • Next Campolo talks about Francis of Assisi's view of the poor as sacramental. That is, "the poor were not Christ, but he (Assisi) believed that Christ came through the poor to those who would look into their eyes with spiritual discernment." When I read this, I have one of those moments were I wish I'd done more theological training! This position is justified by Mat 25:40 "whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for mine". My current thinking is that what this verse is saying is that people who trust in Jesus and who receive the Holy Spirit, will naturally have a concern for the well-being of all people. However, that doesn't really explain what Jesus means when he says that doing something for one of these people is the same as doing it for him... Putting the theology aside, I see that the point is still the same. Christians should care about the poor and therefore Youth Ministry should help people in high school to develop a concern for the poor and marginalised.
  • "To be faithful to all that Scripture teaches, the youth worker must lead young people to recognise that the gospel is not simply a story of individualistic salvation. This gospel is not about offering personal benefits to believers in the here and now, and pie-in-the-sky when they die. Sooner or later, the youth worker must point out that the gospel declares that the Kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 4:17). This kingdom requires justice for the poor." - I like this. I think myself and many other Christians are in danger of making the Gospel some sort of individualistic self help program. When actually we are individuals who are merely part of something much larger that God is doing worldwide, reconciling the world to himself (2 Cor 5).
  • As far as I'm aware, Campolo is a sociology professor. I am a Arts graduate with a major in Sociology, so in some way I think that means I am able to understand his language a bit. I get a little nervous when Campolo says "the Kingdom of God is a societal system wherein things are ordered according to God's will." He goes on to explain what this Kingdom will be like, no poverty, no bad housing and "fair income derived from properly rewarded labor." Whilst I agree with his point. That the Kingdom of God will be a place of perfect justice for all, his description sounds awfully similar to Marx's description of a socialist society, especially Campolo's idea about "fair income" which sounds like a refence to the exploitation Marx says the working class experience at the hands of the Capitalists who own the means of production. God's Kingdom will be revolutionary, and it will be 100% fair and just. But will it be a Marxist socialist society? I'm not convinced...
  • Campolo says that as Christians, we have a responsibility to stand against the principalities and powers (Eph 6:12) of this world that conspire to exploit the poor. Institutions such as governments, education systems, unions, or anything that might put self interest above the needs of poor people. I think I agree. However, I acknowledge that to do this, any Christian will need lots of help from God to make sure their self interest doesn't start ruling instead of God's interest in poor people!
  • "If youth workers encourage teenagers to pursue vocations in serving the poor, they should their best to help these young people understand the ways in which servant leadership will be required of them. To imitate Jesus, according to Philippians 2, they must learn to "empty themselves" of their class and cultural biases and values". Fair enough I think. Although I can't think of one single time I've encouraged someone to pursue a job serving the poor. I think I need to and all Youth Ministry in general needs to work hard at not being seduced by the lure of successful career and education that the school culture, parental pressure places upon many youth!
  • Campolo lists the 4 ways to help poor people according to the Jewish Talmud. The best way is to provide real employment for the poor. The second best way is to create jobs for them so that they can work. The third best way is to give to the poor and remain anonymous. And the worst way is in a hand-out (leads to resentment of the givers by the receivers). That makes me wonder about child sponsorship... which is pretty much set up to glorify me the giver of a handout to the poor child in some impoverished country! (This is not a new thought about the probably questionable merits of sponsor children, but reinforced my distaste for the whole process of sponsoring a child!)
So there you go, my reflections and learning from my reading today. I'm looking forward to the next chapter... The Tasks of Practical Theology: Reflecting on Present Practice