What would it mean to envision youth ministry as healing and restoration—to see youth ministry as grounded in a theology of restoration between oneself and God, others, and even the cosmos? The youth worker in this understanding would accept the role of holistic healer, participating as an agent in God’s movement of restoration in a broken world. Further, the youth worker would see herself as called to equip others (youth, parents, congregation, etc.) to discern and live into her own vocation as an agent of God’s movement of restoration and healing.
To accept our role as agents of God’s healing is to acknowledge that there is real brokenness in the lives of young people that requires healing. (Note: Too often in the church today, we “pastor” adults, but “program” for youth, assuming that teens are resilient and will simply “bounce back” from life’s troubles.) The brokenness of youth can keep them from seeing their own call and vocation within the mission of the church. The call of the youth pastor as agent of healing is to help youth name their brokenness: that which is the result of their own mistakes and that which is the result of injury brought upon them by another (e.g. bullying, abuse, war, violence). Areas of healing could include physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and sexual healing. The model for this ministry is Jesus himself and his own ministry of physical touch and spiritual restoration.
The youth worker cannot effectively serve in this role as agent of God’s healing and restoration without first acknowledging his or her own brokenness and experiences of healing and restoration. It may be important to challenge youth workers to consider their own motivation for entering youth ministry. Are they motivated by a need to “heal” others? Are they motivated by an experience of brokenness they have yet to acknowledge? Bundled within this discussion is the important issue of boundaries and safe church practices. Do they impede or enable our ability to serve in a minisry of healing and restoration?
Implications for training and education:
- Need to place a focus on nurturing the soul of the youth worker
- Training in listening skills
- Theological study around happiness, doubt, lament, honesty
- Training in knowing limits—i.e. when to refer to professionals
- Legal issues regarding boundaries, counseling, privacy, etc.
- Study of Jesus as healer and as a model for restorative ministry
- Study of the theology of healing and restoration
- Examination of a ministry of touch in a culture of heightened boundary expectations between children and adults
- Study of confession as a spiritual practice
- Training in various healing roles: priestly, pastoral, professional, peer
- Awareness of various areas of injury and brokenness (e.g. bullying, cutting, depression, eating disorders, abuse, consequences of divorce, sexual abuse)
- The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen
- Access to a competent referral system
- Texts on working with at-risk youth
- Psalms (study of lament)
- Prophetic Imagination by Walter Brueggemann
- Children, Youth and Spirituality in a Troubling World ed. by Mary Elizabeth Moore and Almeda M. Wright
- Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured World by Serene Jones
- Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman
- What seems to be missing is “infrastructure” to pastor more than a handful of kids
- This is huge—can we possibly be prepared and equipped to deal with all of these issues?
- How do you train a shaman?
- Awesome and so important to the lives of our youth, youth ministry, and community
- Are “superstar” youth pastors willing to own their own brokenness?
- How does restoration differ from reconciliation? Why one and not the other?
- How do we foster resilience in youth pastors?
- How do we get kids in touch with their brokenness in a deliberate way?
- What is the balance between prophetic and pastoral as we navigate this?
- Redefine “sin” as simply destroying or harming something God created
Train and Educate:
- Theology of the burden-bearing life
- Theology of whole persons
- Urban Gardens
- Parish gardening for local food pantry and community (Alabaster UMC)
- Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE)
- Spiritual Directors already in churches
- Spiritual Direction—group and individual
- Pastoral care resources—losers, loners, rebels
- Hurt by Chap Clark
- Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis series by Rich VanPelt and Jim Hancock
- Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry by Andy Root
- Need for spiritual directors and counselors for emotionally healthy youth pastors