Let's play an SAT-style buzzword comparison game...
Missional : Emerging Church
_______ : Youth Ministry
a) Chubby Bunny
c) Strong Coffee
d) Relational Ministry
The answer, of course, is (d).
Everyone is talking about relational ministry these days, and with good reason. With the growth of a communications platform that has increased the volume of our interaction with people and decreased the quality of these connections, young people are craving meaningful face-to-face relationships. The questions I continue to ask revolve around why? (purpose) and how? (praxis).
The poster boy of cerebral youth ministers and pomo-theologian, Dr. Andrew Root, has milked three excellent books out of the premise that relational ministry is about encountering Christ in "the other" with no pretense or agenda. He rejects the traditional notions of relational ministry as a means to an end -- attendance at youth group, for example -- and calls ministers to a level of authenticity that is both beautiful and terrifying. I, for one, am totally on board with Root's thesis and still find myself re-reading Revisiting Relational Ministry often.
So, assuming a Root-ian understanding of why?, I delve into the more difficult question of how?
There are two things that make me paranoid as a youth minister: boundaries and favoritism. These can be manifested in similar ways, but they are ultimately unique by the damage they can do to both student and adult. If an adult minister favors certain kids, it can hurt the feelings of those that feel left out of the "cool church kid crowd" (no, it's not an oxymoron). However, if the minister exhibits bad boundaries in the topics they discuss, in the locations they meet, in the amount of time they get together, or in their physical interaction, it can damage both the psychological development of the student and the livelihood of the minister.
I am cognisant of boundaries and favoritism in how I approach relational ministry...but, at times, I wonder how I'm doing at walking the thin line of healthy, effective relational ministry. So I'd like to invite a little koinonia conversation about how church folks can do relational ministry the "right" way. Feel free to share your ideas, stories, and questions.