Tag Archives: youth ministry

Empowering Students to Confront Violence

In the aftermath of the shooting of a peer, young people in Evanston, IL came to Sharon Weeks and asked,

“What are we supposed to do?
Who is going to speak for us?”

Evanston IL anti-violence march and rally

When Sharon Weeks signed up for the 2011 Congress on Urban Ministry as a part of SCUPE’s class for seminary students she didn’t know what she was getting herself into.  Come Thursday morning she would be one of the 300 Congress attendees at an anti-violence rally in front of the Illinois state building.

Sharon describes the rally as transformative:

“I was so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself… It was already something that I stood for and believe, in and to see so many other people feeling that same way… I was exhilarated!”

Anti-violence march and rally in Evanston ILA couple days later, when students from Evanston Township High School came to Sharon, she told them of her experience of public witnessing against violence at the Congress and they jumped on the idea.

Within minutes the students were busy creating signs and t-shirts, calling and texting friends, and planning for the march.  For Sharon it was clear that the students saw the march as “a way they could get the community to pitch in and understand that they don’t want to be target”

The march proved to be a great success in gathering the community around youth violence. In a few short days, students had mobilized a large cadre of support.  Along with strong participation from students and community members also in attendance were:  the Mayor of Evanston, the Evanston School District Superintendent, teachers, business owners, police officers, several aldermen, and the President and Dean of Students of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.

The group plans to continue the work of strategically confronting, addressing, and educating the community on youth violence by organizing forums, workshops, classes for parents, and by including students at area Middle Schools and Alternative Schools in the anti-violence efforts.

Evanston IL students and communty march for peaceSharon Weeks is the sponsor for two of the youth groups that sponsored the march: the Evanston Township High School chapter of the NAACP and the Youth Works Committee for the city of Evanston.

When young people came to her looking for their voice Sharon Weeks told them, “Speak for yourself and tell people how you’re feeling” – and then she gave them the tools to do just that.

For Sharon Weeks, being a part of empowering young people is part of being open in faith to God’s moving. When asked about her role, Sharon simply replies: “God, this is you.”


The Promise Of Despair

“If death had a Facebook profile its interests would not be only putting people in the

grave but killing their dreams, their loves, their peace, their dignity”

The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church

One of my favorite former professors has just released a brilliant little book called “The Promise of Despair: The Way of the Cross as the Way of the Church“.  Dr. Andrew Root is a practical theologian and professor of Youth & Family at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.  Though Root is primarily an academic he draws extensively from his experience in L.A. working with an as urban youthworker and as a gang prevention counselor, in his insightful writing.

Dr. Andrew Root

Allow me to begin by being upfront: this book is not an urban ministry book.  If fact, if there is one critique I would hold up about this book is that it seems woefully unaware of much that is beyond white, suburban, middleclass concern.  What this book does espouse however, is a way of being church together which takes seriously context – the context of people within the community and served by the community – in an entirely different facet that neither race, nor locale, nor class can claim exclusively.

Root’s book supposes that, for the typical American church, the context most easily/often ignored is that of despair.  How many  churches have you been involved with which seemed to have a holy presence in our lives until misfortune reared its head and then suddenly, as if someone had hung a quarantine sign around our neck, the church was wholly distant?  There is a natural temptation in life (and churches are not exempt from this) to actively avoid pain – to go to great lengths to outrun the despair that stalks us like a predatorial beast.

In church language, one might call this orientation towards a non-existent deathless reality a “theology of glory”.  What Andrew Root does so brilliantly with this book is remind us that Christianity is a faith based around a crucified God: a savior hanging from a tree after being publicly executed.  Root’s book stares directly into the cold, beady eyes of death and makes the bold proclamation that: death blinks first.  To be true to this core of Christianity it to be involved in a “theology of the cross”.  Luther’s classic phrase reminds us that just as Systems and Empires constantly destroy our hopes, in an attempt to relegate us to permanent despair, God is the one who meets us in our despair.  In the midst of our suffering, the resurrection takes its hold.

We live in a culture which is involved in the endless task of creating despair within each of us.  The finest example of this despair creation can be found in advertising (which I would argue has become the cultural engine and religion of late-capitalism).  Advertising works by creating a rift between what you have and what you want, between who you are and who you want to be.  The more you can be convinced that your face is too wrinkly,  your belly too bulgy, and your wardrobe too square the more likely you are to spend money on a facial, a weight-loss system, and Calvin Klein jeans.  The brilliance of the constant bombardment of images, telling us to “despair” of ourselves, is that it creates an environment in which you are doomed to never be satisfied with yourself the way you are – the way you were, dare we say, created.

The connection here then is that talking about “the despairing church” and “the urban church” are both ways for the church to become church more fully.  They are both paths to becoming church in a way that authentically and urgently responds to the reality of the community.  We encounter God in the midst of God’s people, not on some holy ground but in the unaltered, unadulterated context of their authentic reality.  And you can bet your bottom dollar that if you are truly encountering people where they are at you are encountering a heavy helping of despair.

Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry

Relationships Unfiltered

Other books by Andrew Root:

+ Root’s BlogTalkRadio site.


Evangelism and Community Development

Roger Johnson

I started out as a youth worker in Chicago’s Humboldt Park in 1973, so I’ve been in urban ministry for a long time. I’ve seen God do some great things during those years, but I’ve also seen too much tension between urban ministers who’ve worked for community development (social & racial justice, full employment, good housing, quality education) and urban ministers whose primary concern has been evangelism (preaching & proclaiming the gospel, teaching God’s word, reaching people with Jesus’ salvation and starting new churches).

I’m now 58 years of age (wow!), and it’s occurring to me that community development and evangelism actually inform and resource each other a lot more than they stand in competition for urban energy, time and dollars. They’re really partner ministries and with complementary skill sets. Let me explain.

Both community development and urban evangelism seem to work best at grassroots levels. Urban leaders serve most effectively as they talk and minister directly to their neighbors, friends, relatives, and people on the edges of community groups, churches, block clubs and service agencies. A good community developer is a busy person who knows lots of people and is constantly calling, visiting, and listening to their needs. A good urban evangelist is is also a busy person with lots of people contacts and is also actively listening to people’s needs. Even when you have important news for people’s lives, you still have to hear their questions and stories first!

Community developers and evangelists both work best when they care for and love the people they’re serving. Each worker may have a strong understanding of their own goals, strategies and tactics; but without some compassion for the people they work with, very little gets accomplished.

It also seems to me that both the community developer and the urban evangelist must have a sense of the large transcendent values if they are to succeed in their work — especially through discouragements that will inevitably occur. The community developer must know that the temporary victories and defeats in their work are laying the foundation for better lives (social, economic, spiritual) for families and individuals. By the same token, the urban evangelist must also have a larger confidence that God is taking the good news they proclaim and using it to build a strong footing in the hearts and minds of people.

Community developers and evangelists are active, people-focused, caring and transcendent urban servants. Both are high-impact and centered upon change in people’s lives. As the community developer and urban evangelist continue to work for change, they complement, teach and even transform each other.

– Roger Johnson

79th Street Festival