Submission to God's Spirit Opens a Future of Discovery Through Dialogue

Submission to God's Spirit Opens a Future of Discovery Through Dialogue

As I open space for dialogue, I apply the metaphor of “entering someone’s garden” expressed by Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder, in Prophetic Dialogue, Reflections on Christian Mission Today. [1] To enter someone’s “garden” is to take a posture as a “treasure hunter or stranger.”[2] This is a place where I become a student. I observe local theologies, learn through conversations about local teens' experiences, and begin to grasp the lifestyles of teen center attendees.

Step Three: Opening Space for Discovery and Dialogue with Teens

A genuine relationship of trust and acceptance is set in motion as I meet with teens in their “garden.” Sometimes the encounters are scheduled and other times random, and all are rewarding.

Discovery and dialogue are multi-layered and reciprocal. How we have been shaped by theological tradition affects how we see things. For more than a year I have been meeting with teens over a meal. Our weekly engagements were steady even during the Summer break from school. We met at local parks and the teen center. We grilled burgers, played frisbee, and walked along the creek. My only agenda was to listen and be attentive. This has been an invaluable practice as I seek rich relationships where people are prioritized. The Spirit has enabled me to imagine a new future in teen ministry.

Step Four: Opening the Future to See God at Work

As an embodied witness,[3] I open space to learn the youth culture — and this through the development of practices that more faithfully embody the gospel with my surrounding culture.[4] A common consensus surrounding religious language has been lost so I began to learn new ways to effectively communicate and minister to teens. It is apparent that I must open space to initiate dialogue about the teen longing for peace. They seek peace with self, in their relationship with others, and ultimately in their relationship with Jesus. The language of sin, death, redemption, church, peace, gospel, and hope do not mean the same things to the adolescents that I serve as they do for those in my church family. To contextualize the gospel and serve youth is to engage them without forcing an agenda. When the driving force of a ministry is solely outcome-driven, we are leading and not the Spirit.

Language is a barrier. The survey I shared in my previous blog revealed starkly that the terms —gospel or good news have limited understanding among the youth. To embrace an open future is to begin to learn how to provide space for the Spirit to lead in this missional context. For adolescents, terms like church, peace, gospel, and a personal God have no contextual backstory. My greatest challenge when proclaiming the gospel is learning how to communicate its beauty in a language teens understand, and this to people who have never heard the scriptural story. My desire to open a Spirit-led future has forced me to imagine new ways to articulate the gospel of peace. I am learning to explain these terms through the sharing of stories. Here, the teen center must be a place of translation, a place where a shared understanding of terms will minimize interpretative obstacles.

The practicality of theology is essential. Of Robert Schreiter’s four styles of theology,[5] the fourth style, theology as praxis, has positively influenced young people in my neighborhood. A theology that “seeks to make a difference” resonates with adolescents. The political climate in America concerns young people. Many identify with marginalized groups who feel attacked by the Christian church. To them, hate rather than love marks Christian rhetoric. Here, Jesus looks more like an enemy, than a friend of sinners. By implementing the Spirit-led practices of incarnate-sentness and togetherness, I have been able to develop ongoing relationships as a Christian witness in this space where teens feel invited to join me in a conversation about the kingdom of God.

The Holy Spirit is the one who must lead, guide, and prepare for the inbreaking of God’s kingdom and wherever the Spirit leads will be the fruit of his presence (Gal 5:16-18). When Jesus sent the Helper, his intent was for his followers to follow the Spirit’s lead rather than to run ahead with their own agendas. Absolute dependence is placed upon the Spirit because it is he who is at work ahead of me and it is he who I must join as I live the gospel of peace. Through my ethnographic research, the Spirit has shown me three areas where I need to alter my approach to ministry. They are, (1) there is a need for change in how I communicate with teens—how I speak and how I receive their responses; (2) my observations are valuable yet incomplete and require additional conversations framed with thoughtful questions; (3) and intercessory prayer for students is a priority. I will add each week specific names to my prayer list and to my church’s prayer chain.

[1] Stephen Bevans and Roger Schroeder, Prophetic Dialogue, Reflections on Christian Mission Today (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2011)33.

[2] Ibid., 33.

[3] Michael Gorman, 205.

[4] Robert Schreiter C.PP.S., “Justice and Peace Conference,” (Paper presented at the AEFJN General Assembly - JPIC- USIG Rome, 03.12.2009) (accessed 7/4/22).

[5] Robert Schreiter, 87-91. The four styles are: (1) theology as variation on the sacred text; (2) theology as wisdom; (3) theology as sure knowledge; and (4) theology as praxis.

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