As a youth pastor, I feel called and led by young people to engage in this kind of mutual and relational ministry. That is, to remain open to relationships that co-create us so that we might better cultivate communities of trust and hope that sustain us.
However, it is not enough to inspire hope and not do justice also. With this in mind, I am committed to building relationships with young people that do not perpetuate the kind of inequality that many adults and institutions depend on for maintaining power and control (see last post‘s reference to adultism).
One could argue that youth ministry is about establishing relationships that empower young folk, however, one could also argue that it is about recognizing the power that young people already have. I have tried to live by the latter which is why I have committed myself to creating and participating in spaces and communities where the power of young people will be encouraged and celebrated, rather than suppressed, controlled, or taken away.
It is my hope that in relating to all people in this way, I am engaged in a kind of ministry that is mutually transformative.
This is where the rubber really hits the road, when we engage in a kind of transformational ministry that requires more risk. As such, I believe that youth ministry must take seriously the systems and structures that affect young people and call attention to them in a way that invites serious critique and encourages creative resistance.
As youth pastors and workers we must do this both with the young people we are in relationship with, as well as, the structures and institutions that most affect their lives (i.e. ageism, ableism, racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.).
For me, this is where performing parables has played a key role in my work with young people. It was for this very reason that I re-contextualized the parable of the sower—in hopes of calling out the ways in which we perpetuate homophobia and bigotry while also reminding young people that they possess the power to do something about it – why kind of sower are you?
So much of my work and ministry revolves around story – listening, hearing, and telling stories together. A lot of this story telling is performance based, what I call, parabling.
In performing and re-performing the parables, I believe, we not only have an opportunity to flip the script and speak truth to power, but to also teach power to people.
In her book, Teaching to Transgress, bell hooks talks about the excitement of transgression, particularly within the classroom. hooks writes, “when education is the practice of freedom, students are not only the ones who are asked to share, to confess…I do not expect students to take any risks that I would not take, to share in any ways that I would not share,”(p.21).
In other words, as youth pastors and workers we must embody the risk that we are pushing others to take. As adults we are often protected by some of the systems that oppress young people. For example, as a white cisgendered female, I am protected by multiple systems that have been used to oppress many of the young queer people of color I am in relationship with.
With these things in mind, I believe i/we must show the them that there are adults out there who are willing to take huge risks for and with them by finding ways to give up the power and privilege we have, often over and above them. In this way, I believe teaching can become empowering and hope can become more real.
But it all begins with risk.