Not kid stuff
Kenda Creasy Dean, theologian and teacher of youth ministry, says churches must take youth ministry seriously if they want to capture the imagination of young people.
September 1, 2009 | The summer Kenda Creasy Dean was 15, the women in her tiny rural church sent her to camp.
“That was the place where I realized it wasn’t just that I believed in Jesus, but that Jesus believed in me,” she recalls. “I went there to get a tan and came back with a sense of purpose that 35 years later I haven’t been able to shake.”
In the decades since, Dean has become one of the foremost theologians and teachers in youth ministry, spreading the message to mainline Protestantism that churches must be authentic and passionate to capture the imagination and faith of young people.
What kids understand, says Dean, associate professor of youth, church and culture at Princeton Theological Seminary and director of the Tennent School of Christian Education, is that true love is something worth dying for.
“Of course, as Christians, that’s our shtick,” she said. “We’ve got the uber-story on passion, but we never tell it that way. The onus on us is to be the passionate church we’re meant to be.”
Early in her career, she saw the need for additional spiritual depth in youth ministry and has been a leader in not only developing that theological foundation, but sharing it with others.
Dean’s books, “The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul-Tending for Youth Ministry” and “Practicing Passion: Youth and the Quest for a Passionate Church,” are often used as textbooks for aspiring youth pastors. And as founding director for Princeton’s Institute for Youth Ministry, she established a resource for theological education to youth pastors already in the field.
Most mainline youth pastors know of Dean, and if they haven’t read one of her books, they’ve heard her speak, said Andrew Root, a former doctoral student and now assistant professor of youth and family ministry at Luther Seminary. She also is a leading personality within evangelical academic circles, he said, where she’s well-respected, if not as well-read.
“Within the mainline world, I think her impact has been humongous,” Root said. “She’s been really speaking to them about things they need to hear, about understanding young people and being church in a way that addresses who they are.”
After following her summertime revelations to the Methodist Conference Council on Youth Ministry, Dean attended Wesley Theological Seminary and took a position as a youth pastor in Washington, D.C. It was there that she realized the theological resources available to youth ministers were slim. The focus was on activities and programs – not deeper spiritual teaching.
What was missing was God, she says -- and serious reflection that youth ministry is ministry. The people involved just happen to be young.