happy in my skin (scroll down the page) by simon bell is on youth ministry with young people from minority ethnic groups.
simon bell writes three chapters and there are then contributions from practitioners in a range of contexts. i was delighted to see dean pusey putting pen to paper for one chapter as he has been someone who has challenged me and many others to think about these issues over the years.
it is a brilliant book and an important book. i feel like i've said this recently for several youth ministry books but this is just as good. it's encouraging that there are substantial texts on youth ministry being published at the moment. simon bell may be unknown to many of you. but i first met him at conferences of the iasym where i quickly realised what a sharp thinker he is. at that conference when someone has presented a paper and simon puts his hand up to ask a question there's a pregnant pause as the room waits for what is about to (gently) hit it. i try and persuade him to write his thoughts into a book every time i see him so it's exciting to see this book in print. with his roots in africa and an amazing grasp on theology, youth ministry and anthropology his writing his superb. bell argues that we need a missional and contextual approach to youth ministry but one that pushes further than we have done previously in relation to diversity of cultures. he is very supportive of the writings of people like pete ward that have helped youth ministers take issues of mission and culture seriously but he then goes on to unpack how we have missed a trick because the ways in which youth ministry has then engaged with youth culture has largely been in ways that are patterned on the dominant white cultures so end up excluding black and minority ethnic young people.
we need to build on one of youth minsitry's greatest strengths, namely dealing with issues of culture in our missiological theology and praxis. as a discipline we have a good trackr ecord of helping the church to be culturally relevant. our key weakness though is that we have not sufficiently used that strength to develop ministry that is inclusive of black and minority ethnci young people. in essence we have self limited the discipline by avoiding the difficult realities of cultural exclusion and racism in youth ministry. yet we have such an asset to offer the church in its mission if we could only learn to build on what we have contributed this far to the debate.
it's all very challenging stuff. simon argues that we need a much more poly-vocal church that is reflected in our theology and praxis. but to achieve that will require shifting the power balance in our theologies such that excluded or marginal voices are given greater weight. he also goes for the jugular when he takes on eccesiology - he suggests we have made the mistake of building on a culturally specific missiology (a good and necessary thing) with a culturally specific ecclesiology. whereas the biblical vision of the church is always inclusive, always diverse. he asks...
what are we discipling young people into - new forms of christian youth culture that exclude those who cannot identify with what is on offer? are we discipling these young people into what it means to live out the fullness of the gospel or are we appealing to and reinforcing new forms of consumerism? is this really what christ called us to and is it really in tune with a biblical theology of church - whatever expression it might have? my concern is that we have not really understood what it means to live radical christianity in a world fractured by prejudice and discrimination. in essence we are simply mimicking the dominant values of the world around us and justifying our pracis pragmatically. this, in essence is institutional racism finding expression in youth ministry
wow! i have re-read that quote i don't know how many times and don't know where to go. it's just hanging there looking at me with a huge question mark. the reason i think i feel the pain of it is twofold:
a) it's true and i know it at a deep level.
b) the emerging church/mission shaped church is built on the exact same approach of youth ministry and has the same problems. we've all been part of discussions around why emerging church is predominantly a white discussion - this suggests that we may well be party to exclusion without having even noticed.
sadly simon has moved to toronto (well sadly for me). his is a voice we need in the debate at the moment. i know he was frustrated about certain things in the mission shaped church report over precisely these issues. i now have a whole bunch of questions again. what then should we do? the book gives some stories of practice but really what should we do? this is the problem. the church as we've inherited it seems broken and fragmented. we have discovered an incarnational theology and mission that has imaginatively led us into dreaming new ways of doing mission and devloping christian communities. the church seems pretty hopeful about the possibilities here. but these new forms seem to embody the exclusion in practice but in a different way - even if we say everybody is welcome, there are other things at play. somebody help here. i keep getting this question and i think it is a very important one but we need concrete next steps.
i am proud of jenny (baker). she is the editor of this book and it's the last in a series of four youth ministry books she has overseeen for christian education. the project started years ago with getting together some focus groups of people working with young people to explore with them what resources they thought should be produced for youth ministry. the result was investing in four books. tune in chill out was the first and was ground breaking. the other two are off the beaten track and you fish shoes - all are on the christian education youth page. this last book has been a long and painful journey to get produced for a whole variety of reasons. i know jenny has agaonised over it wondering at times whether it would ever get published. but at last it is here. it needs to be on the reading lists of the centre for youth ministry and other courses, as well as getting round youth organisations. i am frustrated that i haven't seen a single review or promotion of the book yet - i hope christian education are about to leap into action with this gem.