Book review: “Bonhoeffer as Youthworker” by Andrew Root

Root_BonhoefferYouthWorkerThis new work by Andrew Root would be a worthwhile read even if only as a refresher course in the remarkable life and ministry of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. To dismiss it as only that would be to miss the heart of the book completely and to overlook a decades-old call for age-level ministry to relearn its place within the family of faith—or more specifically, for the church as a whole to embrace place-sharing with its children.

I can’t decide if it’s inspiring or depressing how well Bonhoeffer was expressing the stark differences between creating church community and creating church society around our children. Inspiring because of the beautiful language of faith family, the gapless carrying of our children as persons of faith. Disciples, even. Depressing because for all the years that Christians have looked to Bonhoeffer for inspiration, few seem to have taken these themes to heart. Root reads Bonhoeffer’s work prophetically, calling us toward an ideal that is just getting real traction within Christian thinking.

Root’s prior body of work as an author obviously resonates with Bonhoeffer, but he’s not mashing Dietrich into an ill-fitting box. The best proof of this is that Andrew doesn’t try to reveal Bonhoeffer as a forefather of youth ministry, but rather as a forefather of youth ministers. There’s no searching for youth ministry themes in adult teaching or straining expression of theology to fit a youth ministry mold. Dietrich was a youthworker and—in keeping with the experience of all truly called youthworkers—found he could never really separate himself from the practice of it.

Bonhoeffer’s approach to youth ministry remains groundbreaking. There is no generation gap in a church that carries its children as a mother would. There is no misunderstanding of infant baptism in a church that seeks to share place with its children beyond that sacrament. In the vision of Bonhoeffer, the role of youthworker is not eliminated but shifted from that of a specialist (charged with “fixing” the perceived needs of youth who exist as “other” within the society of church) to one who encourages the whole church to do the work of embracing the humanity of children and youth as the center of their theological task as a community.

Bonhoeffer as Youthworker” stands as a terrific resource not just for youthworkers but for all in ministry or church life concerned with the future of the place of family within the body of the church.

Kevin Alton

Kevin Alton is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter, Senior Writer & Editor for the Youthworker Movement, and co-founder of the Wesleyan youth resource Youthworker Circuit. He lives in the Georgia woods just outside of Chattanooga, TN, with his wife Britta and their two boys, Grey & Penner.

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About Kevin Alton

Kevin Alton is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter, Senior Writer & Editor for the Youthworker Movement, and co-founder of the Wesleyan youth resource Youthworker Circuit. He lives in the Georgia woods just outside of Chattanooga, TN, with his wife Britta and their two boys, Grey & Penner.

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