Bonhoeffer’s First Theses on Youth Work – an Excerpt from Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker

The following is an excerpt from Bonhoeffer as Youth Worker, by Andrew Root.

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Cover Art“Since the days of the youth movement, church youth work has often lacked that element of Christian sobriety that alone might enable it to recognize that the spirit of youth is not the Holy Spirit and that the future of the church is not youth itself but rather the Lord Jesus Christ alone. It is the task of youth not to reshape the church, but rather to listen to the Word of God; it is the task of the church not to capture the youth, but to teach and proclaim the Word of God.”

Bonhoeffer starts his theses with an explosion; he seeks to shake youth ministry free from the cultural accommodation to the youth movement. As we have seen, the German youth movement made the spirit of young people important, but this importance, Bonhoeffer believed, had been over-elevated (as he prophetically said in his radio address, “The Younger Generation’s Altered View of the Concept of Führer”). This led many to believe that the future of the church was dependent on getting spirited young people engaged in it. Bonhoeffer asserts that it appears that the spirit of youth has overtaken the Holy Spirit, that the church’s future is not dependent on being indwelled by the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) but by attracting the spirit of the young.

Bonhoeffer starts his theses on youth work by calling this idolatry. The future of the church is not dependent on youth, but only on Jesus Christ himself. The church must avoid the culture of youth—especially in our day, when we feel the decline of religious institutions. Bonhoeffer believes we can only minister to youth if we see our ministries as not for getting the spirit of young people into the church but for encountering the Holy Spirit with young people in the church-community.

Bonhoeffer says twice in the last sentence of the first thesis that it is the Word of God, not young people themselves, that is the primary focus of youth ministry. Bonhoeffer is saying that it is the theological, it is encountering the living Christ through the Spirit in our concrete lives, not youth or youthfulness, that sets the terms for youth ministry. Youth ministry is first and foremost a theological task, Bonhoeffer asserts. It is not a sociological, cultural, or church-growth strategy; it is, rather, a ministry that seeks the encounter of the divine with the human.

©2014 by Andrew Root. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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