Theological Reflection can be transformative for ministry, disrupting established patterns of practice and behaviour and moving individuals and communities toward more faithful expressions of discipleship. However, its radical potential lies dormant within many communities. Despite arguments for a theological turn in youth ministry (Root and Dean, 2011), youth work has historically been treated instrumentally by the wider church and expected to produce Sunday attendance as the fruits of its labour (Thompson, 2017). This legacy still creates tensions today, such that churches and ministers do not necessarily prioritise or expect Theological Reflection from their youth leaders and volunteers – especially where this may produce competing visions of mission and ministry.
Arguably, where leaders are not equipped or supported to practice Theological Reflection it is less likely they actively model this skill to the young people they serve. Young people need to see that faith can engage their real experience and illuminate a way forward, and tools for Theological Reflection are crucial to that confidence. We therefore take as our starting point that Theological Reflection is a significant and necessary practice for faith formation and should be modelled to young people.
There is clear commitment to Theological Reflection within Theological Education Institutes (TEIs), and voices that have called consistently for the church to take theology within youth ministry seriously. Despite this valuable work during training, it is not clear that Theological Reflection survives, yet alone thrives, beyond our institutions. Is it inevitable that the pressures of life and ministry crowd out the time and focus needed to make ‘the transforming connections between our real-life issues and the fundamentals of our Christian heritage’? (Green, 2009: iv).
This research project aims to answer some foundational questions for a broader agenda of stimulating Theological Reflection in the youth ministry community, by initially exploring how such reflection is experienced, framed and practised within the day-to-day work of youth ministry in Anglican churches, via a survey and interviews.
By understanding what enables or hinders the practice of Theological Reflection beyond degree experience we will generate directly useful learning for other TEIs.