Prophetic and Subversive

Posted: June 3, 2012 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

When you think of youth ministry, what sort of words come to mind?

I have a list. “Incarnational”, “shepherding”, “privilege” are three pretty close to the top. But I have some that are less obvious as well. In fact, as I was trying to explain two of my words to our summer interns I wondered if these words would make anyone else’s list. I believe that healthy youth ministry is both “prophetic” and “subversive”.

Let me explain. But first, a caveat:
I happen to belong to a great church who has both a history and a present of following God with a whole heart as we seek to discern where He is calling. So the church in these comments refers not to her, but to the church all over North America.

Youth ministry must be prophetic in this sense. For much of the last 60 years, there has been no other part of the body that has stood at the potential crossroads of Kingdom and culture as clearly – or as often – as the church’s ministry to teens. No other part of the church has been as incarnational. No other part of the church has been as comfortable with change, with disequlibirum, with adventure and risk, with doing whatever it takes to reach a person for Jesus Christ.

While this is somewhat overstated, the opposite is also coming true in places. Instead of a crucible of incarnational, transformational, redemptive encounters with Christ, youth ministry has too often become a comfortable template, a set of programs to give a local church an illusion that they are making a difference. In places, programs like Celebrate Recovery and ministry to children are taking the place. In others, the church is wandering into comfortable oblivion.

Youth ministry must stay prophetic….hearing from God, calling the people of God to align with His redemptive purposes, to take the Good News of His salvation out of the pews and gyms and auditoriums and into the world for the transformation of the world. Specifically, I believe youth ministry must now fight against it’s own “success” and call the people of God to stop surrendering their role to a hired few, obey the commission given to them and to make disciples of the next generation….starting with the teens already within their own sphere of influence!

Wish we could talk about this one more….this is probably a three cup of coffee discussion. What are your thoughts? Aside from the broad and general strokes I am using on this canvas, is this the right picture?

Oh yeah. And we must be subversive. This one is tricky. Any seed of rebellion or arrogance will destroy it. And subversive might not be the perfect word. Side note here….Subversive is the word I have always used in my head. A quick check at tells me that I may not have the right word. But here are my thoughts. Tell me what word I need instead!

Institutional change is hard. And slow. By the time some changes come to pass through all the proper channels, a generation might have moved through the youth group! I believe that the youth ministry exists as the perfect pilot “test group” to boldly go….and the church will follow. Even as the church as an institution seeks inexorably to codify and replicate behaviors, youth ministry can give the church (the people) the chance for life and transformation through taking them where they barely know they need to go. The institution celebrates attendance, but people are discipled as they disciple others. Progams cease to be an end, but the means for disciplemaking – of adults and teens. I have sought to be “subversive” my entire ministry.

Here are my own personal rules for being “subversive”:
1. Align with the work of God in redemption history and in my local context.
2. Align with the vision of the Senior pastor
3. Align with solid research.
4. Align with classic stories already in the church’s past or present DNA that reflect where God is calling us to go.
5. Network and build partners as you go. Disciple them and/or let them disciple you.
6. Humbly and boldly innovate, overcommunicate, and publicly celebrate so that the institution has the opportunity to follow.
7. Listen to the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of trustworthy saints along the way.

Primary pitfalls that I am aware of (there may be more)
1. Failing to understand or appreciate the local culture and context.
2. Substituting personal agenda or ambition at any of these steps.
3. Failing to have a mutual trust relationship with the Senior Pastor.
4. Substituting my wisdom for that of the Holy Spirit and/or trustworthy saints.
5. Not investing in volunteers and partners along the way.

This is long and could undoubtedly be said simpler and better. Care to help me flesh this out by leaving your thoughts, questions, disagreements, improvements?

  1. jenzartzaar says:

    Hi Hal. I’m one of your church members. Love your blog.

    Concerning word definitions. Subversive fits in the sense that you are engaged in altering (even disrupting) the status quo. But it doesn’t quite fit with the idea of “aligning” with anything so much as undermining it (according to Meriam-Webster).

    Here’s another word that’s descriptive of youth ministry…audacious. Intrepidly daring, bold, marked by orginality and adventurousness. Willing to dive into the deep end to learn to swim.

    Keep up the good work.

  2. Emily says:

    I just found this blog post through, where it was recently reposted, so you may have already found a better word to replace subversive. However, the phrase/concept I suggest is “early adopters.” It’s a phrase used to talk about new and upcoming technologies and means those who lead the way, who are eager to try the newest, greatest thing. Early adopters show others by example what it looks like to do/use the newest thing. Sometimes the things they “adopt” don’t catch hold in the mainstream, but they give it a fair trial rather than rejecting it for being new and unknown.

    • halhamilton says:


      Good thoughts and I think that the concept/wording of early adoption captures thewhole issue of realignment well. I have tended to think of the phrase in terms of trendy or cultural shifts. But if God is the one doing a new thing….you may be on to something!

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