Youth Ministry: Rollercoasters and Practicing Theology

Recently, I took our church’s teens on our annual amusement park trip—a cornersdescribe the imagetone event in all of my youth ministries. I have to admit it though, I do not like amusement parks. Now, I do like aspects of the park, but the reason most people are there is what I do not like. Nothing about roller coasters excites me. I do not like rides that offer a slow incline only to drop participants almost straight down with the encouragement to lift hands in the air while screaming. I do not enjoy corkscrew turns, riding upside down, or rides that take a person to the highest heights just to drop them from those heights in a matter of seconds. How was this ever dubbed as amusement?

For years, my students have asked, Doug, why don’t you like rides? The easiest and quickest response to that is, I don’t like how they make me feel and I don’t like what they do to me—I just don’t find them fun.

Depending on their astuteness, some teens have learned the lesson I so subtly offer in my explanation about why I dislike rides — it is acceptable for me not to like amusement parks because that is who I am. My actions express something about me to those who are part of my life. Expressing my belief system to those in my circle of influence is no different.

What does your life say about your beliefs? How do your likes and dislikes form you as a person?

When we accept God’s call to minister in a broken world, we accept the call to live a life of show and tell. All theology is practical or else it would become a simple exercise of the mind. Our actions and our words tell others about our inward thoughts and beliefs. Preaching and teaching that is disconnected from living does not demonstrate the totality of freedom that is the gospel message. Think about the best Christian person you know. How would you describe this person? An exercise such as this reminds believers that there is a distinction between merely emulating other human beings and allowing the influences of the others to help form and shape us as Christians.

We carry on that same tradition among our students. Adolescents are looking for adult role models. They may not act like it and they certainly won’t admit it, but they need it and want it. Youth leaders have the opportunity to show the foundational rocks of their theological rocks—those beliefs that provide the grounding for one’s spiritual structure—on a weekly basis for their students. Youth workers lead students into thinking about their lives theologically as they personally practice and model the Christian life in the presence of their students. Just as adults ponder the complexities and mysteries of this world, so do adolescents. A theology of youth ministry articulates specific theological rocks that form a foundation in the midst of the adolescent journey that proves meaningful and timeless. As youth workers intentionally translate their theology into practice, they teach adolescents to practice it as well. What are your “theological rocks?” What has formed and shaped you into the theologian you are today and how can you pass that on to your teens?

Rollercoasters_and_Practicing_Theology_NES_Blog_Doug_Milne_9.2.14Doug Milne is a Northeastern Seminary graduate and ordained minister in the Church of the Nazarene where he serves as lead pastor at Grace Church of the Nazarene in North Chili, N.Y.  Doug is also an adjunct professor of religion at Roberts Wesleyan College and keynote speaker at Northeastern Seminary’s Youth Ministry Seminar Series at Kingdom Bound 2014 at Darien Lake, N.Y. 

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