Archives For Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Church and Youth Ministry

Greg Strand – September 11, 2014 2 Comments

Though it is important to be aware of the various segments and age-stages and life-cycles of God’s people, when that group becomes a special interest group to which we focus to win, I fear something might be lost. Though there is something to age, experience and wisdom (not all happen based on chronology alone!), there is something wrong when that focus or special interest group trumps the community God creates through the gospel, and the life to which the gospel calls us.

Here are some interesting thoughts to ponder regarding Dietrich Bohnoeffer’s reflections on ministry to youth in the context of the church. The author claims that making youth the focus actually hurts the youth and the church. And the reason for hurting the church is because this special-interest focus misunderstands the church. And yet, this is what we hear and observe over and over again.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer delineated his thoughts on youth ministry in “Eight Theses on Youth Work in the Church” (Volume 12, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works):

  1. The future of the church is not youth itself but rather the Lord Jesus Christ alone.
  2. The question is not, What is youth and what rights does it have? but rather, What is the church-community and what is the place of youth within it?
  3. Being in the church-community means being in Christ; being in Christ means being in the church-community.
  4. Youth enjoys no special privilege in the church-community.
  5. The Bible judges youth quite soberly: Genesis 8:21;Isaiah 3:5; Jeremiah 1:6;Ecclesiastes 11:10; 1 Peter 5:5; 2 Timothy 2:2 and other passages.
  6. Church youth work is possible only on the basis of addressing young people concerning their baptism and with the exclusive goal of having them hear God’s word.
  7. The authenticity of young people’s protest against their elders is demonstrated by their willingness to maintain solidarity with the guilt of the church-community and to bear that burden in love, abiding in penitence before God’s word.
  8. There is no real “church association”; there is only the church.

Though this focuses on youth, lest we think this is only a youth problem, it happens at the other end of life with those who want music a certain way or demand certain ministries or programs because it is their preference and they built the church with blood, sweat and tears. And it is not just the bookends of life that are affected, it also happens in between with those who want their church experience to consist of other young, professionals living and working in the city (consider the look of many of the young church planters).

This does not mean one does not focus for a time or a season on a certain age, youth in this instance. It is important to be aware. But it must be remembered that it is done in the context of the church.  It is a reality, and a good ministry practice, that we address people in various ages and stages knowing they are going through experiences unique to that season of life. But when any group becomes the focus as an end, making the part (certain age or stage) the whole (the church) or the whole (the church) subservient to the part (certain age or stage), life and ministry become misaligned, the gospel and its entailments become secondary or used, and the church suffers. Ministry to parts must always be done within the context and with an eye to the whole.

For another context, consider the family. This is similar to parents who are aware of the ages and stages of each child who parent them appropriately for that age and stage, but always within the larger family. Even though the growing teenager wants some independence, parents grant a growing responsibility, but it is not apart from the context of life together in the family but within. He/She is not allowed to avoid or ignore his/her brother or sister.

And for another context that often makes the parts the focus and end, consider parachurch ministries. They are good and important and serve an invaluable role in the lives of many Christians, but they are part ministries that must also bear in mind that they exist to serve the church. It is the church the Lord Jesus promised to build, not the parachurch.

Certainly time and place, culture, affect this. However, it also raises good questions for us. With what do we agree and/or disagree with Bonhoeffer’s theses? Do we relegate his thoughts to a by-gone day? What do we learn about what he writes historically? What can we learn for the present? Do we have a parts and whole problem in the church?

Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being martyred for their faith. The numbers and the atrocities are astronomical. One incident with few deaths would be too many. But the incidences of this “slaughter” recur with the deaths of many Christians. And many of these murders are committed by Muslims.

Kirsten Powers, “A Global Slaughter of Christians, but America’s Churches Stay Silent,” writes of these atrocities and impugns the church in the America for its deafening silence.

Christians in the Middle East and Africa are being slaughtered, tortured, raped, kidnapped, beheaded, and forced to flee the birthplace of Christianity. One would think this horror might be consuming the pulpits and pews of American churches. Not so. The silence has been nearly deafening.

Powers refers to the book Saturday People, Sunday People, the title which is an Islamist slogan, “First Saturday People, then the Sunday People.” To the Muslim this means that “first we kill the Jews, then we kill the Christians.”

The recent attacks on this Sunday People, Christians, have occurred in Egypt, Pakistan, Kenya, and Syria. These brutal attacks on Christians because they are Christians ought to be condemned, particularly by Western Christians. Christians in the West are able to collaborate and cooperate on moral and ethical issues of concern. “Yet,” writes Powers, “religious persecution appears not to have grabbed their attention, despite the worldwide media coverage of the atrocities against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.”

Molly Hemingway also addressed this vital and important issue: “Can We Finally Start Talking About the Global Persecution of Christians?.” She notes, quoting from Persecuted: The Global Assault on Christians,

Christians are the single most widely persecuted religious group in the world today. This is confirmed in studies by sources as diverse as the Vatican, Open Doors, the Pew Research Center, CommentaryNewsweek and the Economist. According to one estimate, by the Catholic Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community, 75 percent of acts of religious intolerance are directed against Christians.

Hemingway points to the silence of the media to address these heinous acts of evil committed against Christians, and then if/when they do publish anything about them, their explanations of the evil acts are often cloaked in politically correct language so as not speak anything negative against Islam. In fact, not only is there a fear of saying anything negative about Islam, the general tendency is to say something positive that may be partially true or not true at all.

Not only is this the general approach of the media, it is also of politicians. Regarding the commonly stated solution to this Muslim violence against Christians as an aberration because Islam is a religion of peace, Hemingway notes,

One problem with this approach, and I’m not even talking about the 1300 years of history that speaks to the use of violence in pursuit of the spread of Islam, is that the politicians claiming Islam is nothing more than a peaceful religion usually aren’t exegetical experts.

In order for a conversation to occur regarding the “persecution of Christians and others at the hands of Muslims,” Hemingway lays some groundwork for journalists, politicians and the Christian Church. I conclude with her words to the church.

However much we may wish Muslim violence against Christians would resolve itself or go away, being in denial serves no purpose. To combat the persecution of Christians and other religious minorities, we must first acknowledge its existence. And we need to be clear about exactly who is perpetrating violence against Christians and what is motivating them.

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed, lived, wrote and died, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

God has the last word on this matter as recorded in the Word.

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

“If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together” (1 Cor. 12:26).

“Remember . . . those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body” (Heb. 13:3).

God at the Center of Our Lives

Greg Strand – July 15, 2013 Leave a comment

I appreciated the quote Marguerite Shuster, “The Mystery of Original Sin,” Global Gospel Project, Christianity Today 57/3 (April 2013), included by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. She writes of creation the fall and why God placed the tree at the center of the Garden of Eden. It is the place where God belongs in our lives!

God is not a boundary around the edges of our lives, a limit to our abilities that we are always striving to surpass. Nor, we might add, is he the keeper of a boundary imposed by legalists who think we can be changed through an ever more encompassing set of rules. He belongs in the center. Were God merely an outer boundary, we would be left with an inner boundlessness, an emptiness at the heart of things—left, that is, without any true organizing center for our lives. It is only when our relationship of glad obedience to God governs everything that we will be truly free. Then we will find no need for a boundary at all. The more we find ourselves needing to shore up boundaries, or feeling driven to escape them, the surer we may be that something is wrong at the center.