First Third Conversations

Doing Theology in Youth Ministry Part I

A blog post by Dr. Roland Martinson

Image Credit: Amazing Grace by Len Matthews on Flickr

Age-level youth ministry has historically focused on tactics, i.e., methods and programs. Youth ministers often do “theology lite” if at all. Youth ministry conferences, workshops, and websites are long on inspiration and “how to’s” and short on theological and strategic exploration that eventuates in faithful and effective mission and ministry by, with, and for young people.

Where is God and what is God up to in youth ministry relationships and practices? Might one delve into this question by regularly reflecting on one’s understandings of God, the life of Jesus Christ, the Church, discipleship and mission, and the manner in which these understandings might inform everything ones congregation does with young people?

What if leaders in a congregation’s youth ministry consistently held four critical areas of faithfulness and effectiveness in dynamic interactive relationship with one another?

What if:

  1. They focused on God and God’s activity? Consequently, they and those who worked with them regularly studied the Bible, their church’s beliefs, and its traditions with an eye toward its foundations for life and ministry with those in the first third of life?
  2. These leaders were equally interested in young people and their families’ experiences and contexts? Consequently, what if they systematically listened to teenagers and their parents, studied adolescent development, and paid attention to youth culture with an eye toward discovering the real concerns and native languages of youth in their community?
  3. These leaders were concerned about the effectiveness of their practices, their relationships and, their overall approaches to ministry with young people? Consequently, what if they regularly evaluated and assessed themselves and what they were doing against questions of faithfulness, effectiveness and efficiency?
  4. All this reflection were ongoing, done out of a sense of accountability as participants in God’s mission? Consistently, they asked: “Why is this going on?” placing their ministries in the larger context of the congregation’s ministry and the work of God in the world.

For Part II, please check back tomorrow!



The Teaching Ministry of the Congregation, Richard Osmer, Westminister Knox Press, 2005.

The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry, Roland Martinson, Wes Black and John Roberto, EYM Publishing, 2010.


Author Bio:
“Rollie,” Roland Martinson, S.T.D is Professor Emeritus, Children, Youth and Family Ministry at Luther Theological Seminary, St. Paul, MN. Rollie’s ministry with those in the first third of life includes fifteen years of congregational ministries in Minnesota, California, and North Dakota and 35 years of teaching and consulting as a professor at Luther Seminary. Dr. Martinson has been a director, team member, and advisory council member of multiple major youth and young adult research projects.

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