Thinking about Thinking
Written by Graham Stanton, Principal, Youthworks College
We do a lot of thinking at Youthworks College.
Over the summer break I had the privilege of participating in the biennial international conference of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry in Pretoria, South Africa. This gathering of youth ministry academics from across the world thought together in response to papers with titles such as ‘Social Cohesion and Social Development. An African Challenge to Youth Ministry: Towards a transformation-centred approach to youth ministry’, ‘Feminist Identity and the Female Religious Youth Worker: A Cross National Analysis’ and ‘Free as a Bird in the Path of a Plane: Youthful liberty amid global forces’. There was a lot of thinking going on.
Continuing in the same vein, from February through to June, I’ve been given the opportunity of a sabbatical for me to complete a thesis for a Master of Theology degree. My topic is a discussion of the theological framework for the academic discussion of youth ministry. The aim is to understand how we go about relating theological understanding with ministry practice. (The exact title of the thesis is “A theological evaluation of practical theology, particularly as presented within contemporary theological discourse in youth ministry, and a proposal for its application to youth ministry in a reformed context” – with 30,000 words to write I’ve tried to use as many as possible in the title!). I’ve got a lot of thinking to do.
Henry Ford is credited with saying; “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” It has also been said, “What luck for rulers, that men do not think.” Given that it was Adolf Hitler who said this, the importance of thinking becomes all too clear.
Sometimes though, the sort of abstract, technical thinking that gets done in academic circles (conferences and degrees) can be not much more than that – abstract and technical. That is, it can be hard to see what practical benefit all that effort actually produces. It may well be a clever thing to achieve, but perhaps a bit like Spanish dancing horses, just because it’s clever doesn’t necessarily mean it’s useful!
It has been important for me to keep asking myself, ‘what is the practical benefit of this work?’ ‘How does this work of academic reflection help more young people hear more clearly of Jesus, and have the opportunity to turn to him and find life?’
I’m not expecting a simple answer – as in, ‘here’s an immediate application from this abstract academic discussion.’ Academic discussions can suggest new themes for ongoing reflection that may lead to practical outcomes, but only after some time. Some discussions do nothing more than reveal a dead-end down which we must not travel—but knowing where not to go can save energy and heartbreak that may otherwise occur.
On the other hand, those practitioners who are less likely to get excited by academic discussion need to keep asking themselves, ‘what are the theological foundations and implications of these activities we’re pursuing?’ ‘Why are we doing this, and are they the right things to do?’
Put simply, thinking and doing are both essential activities in ministry (as in all of life). We’re not at liberty to choose one over the other. Our challenge is to do both and to effectively integrate the two.
Spurgeon said, “Be well instructed in theology, and do not regard the sneers of those who rail at it because they are ignorant of it. Many preachers are not theologians, and hence the mistakes which they make. It cannot do any hurt to the most lively evangelist to be also a sound theologian, and it may often be the means of saving him from gross blunders. Nowadays we hear men tear a single sentence of Scripture from its connection, and cry “Eureka! Eureka!” as if they had found a new truth; and yet they have not discovered a diamond but a piece of broken glass.”
Please pray for our work at Youthworks College from both students and teachers, that we would think carefully, and so bring diamonds to children and young people who are falsely captivated by broken glass.
Places are still available in the Diploma of Theology program for this year. So if you, or someone you know, needs to be equipped and energised for children's and youth ministry now is the time to call! Please pray for good numbers in the new student intake and that the year would get underway well.