Spring 2002 · Vol. 31 No. 1 · pp. 2–3 

From the Editor: Ministry to Youth

Douglas B. Miller

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me,” but did he ever hang out with teenagers? While we cannot be exactly certain of age, the Gospel of Mark mentions a young man with Jesus when he was arrested and at the empty tomb (Mark 14:51; 16:5). Jesus had hard words for the rich young man who questioned him about eternal life (Matt. 19:16-22), and he raised the widow of Nain’s son (Luke 7:11-17). Presumably some dialogue with those of the teen crowd happened during his earthly ministry. Perhaps the most wild and apparently untamable was a “young man” named Saul (Acts 7:58) whom Jesus called as an apostle.

There is no question that the Bible displays a strong interest in youth. The law instructs that rebellious youth are to be put to death if their parents cannot control them (Deut. 21:18-21). Advice in Proverbs often appears to target the challenges of adolescence: gang violence, sexual temptation, disrespect for authority figures, alcohol abuse, the quest for a marriage partner, the desire to be attractive to one’s peers. Timothy is urged to disregard those who would despise his young age and to be an example (1 Tim. 4:12). The great potential of youth to be used by the Spirit is proclaimed in Joel 2:28 (quoted in Acts 2:17): daughters shall prophesy and young men shall see visions.

The thematic authors of this Direction issue have committed themselves to respect and cherish the youth who are the focus of their ministry. When I invited Anabaptist youth ministry practitioners to write for this theme, the responses I received suggested two things. First, there was a felt urgency among youth ministry leaders in the Anabaptist-Mennonite stream to talk to one another, to compare notes on how we have been doing this kind of work in the past years. Second, I sensed an excitement to speak about the distinctives which our tradition presents to this kind of ministry, aspects which set us apart in some ways from other Christian groups. In fact, the felt urgency and excitement were to the extent that we did not have room to publish all the articles in this issue. The fall issue will include, among others, work by Ritch Hostetler, Michele Hershberger, and Randy Keeler.

Two themes stand out as I consider what writers have contributed here: the need for a countercultural community, and the need for experiential divine encounter. Rodney P. Reed describes the territory, both regarding young adulthood itself and the corresponding role the church needs to play. Regina Shands Stoltzfus writes of her work with city youth and the complexity of short-term mission projects. Abram Bergen urges that encountering God through prayer be placed at the heart of ministry to youth in order to address their thirst for God’s presence. {3}

Gareth Brandt looks specifically at the need for an Anabaptist voice in contemporary youth ministry, with focus on Christology. Continuing this concern, Wendell Loewen and Ritch Hostetler have collaborated on a two-part essay offering a kingdom of God theology for ministry to youth. The first installment, by Loewen, appears in this issue; that by Hostetler will follow in the fall. Derrick Mueller offers a summary of his research on specific characteristics, or virtues, which are necessary if those called to ministry are to be effective.

Randall Schroeder puts into words the frustrations of his own adolescent experience in the church. The response of James Penner, which arises out of conversations with Schroeder over the past months, acknowledges the unhealthy realities of many churches and calls the church to necessary change. Carol Duerksen, interviewed by Laurie Oswald, recounts the challenges and joys of a writing ministry to youth. Her comments arise from her years as writer for and editor of a Christian youth magazine as well as her more direct involvements with youth.

“Sir Rodney” Jost, in Ministry Compass, describes his (somewhat) unlikely duration as youth pastor, and passes along life lessons and wisdom to those who would also take up his “quest.” A list of Recommended Books (and articles) on youth ministry, spirituality, and Christian counterculture provides help for those who wish to explore further.

Finally, John B. Toews contributes the second in a trio of pieces on MB history in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, this time a focus upon the period just prior to the first World War. The issue concludes with Book Reviews and an account of published work among us.

As indicated, readers may anticipate more insight and reflection on ministry to youth in the fall issue, with additional attention to the question of baptism and church membership.

Douglas B. Miller, General Editor