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Q & A With Youth Ministry UK Professor Dr. Pete Ward

At Fuller Seminary, during the summer of 2006, I was able to take one of my favorite seminary classes with Dr. Pete Ward called:  Church, Culture and Youth Ministry.  It was a summer intensive so we spent 10 days (6 hours per day) talking about three of my favorite things (youth ministry, church and culture).  In addition, Dr. Pete Ward was from the UK and for some odd reason, I am really fascinated by the UK culture in relation to youth ministry, so I was eager to learn from Pete in how youth work works in the United Kingdom.

Pete helped me:

  • understand how to do youth ministry evangelism in a “post-Christian” context
  • learn and respect the ins and outs of youth ministry history (1900s to 2000)
  • comprehend how youth workers can engage and respond to culture without being afraid of it
  • recognize why contextualization must be a top priority for any youth pastor
  • think, seriously, about relational youth ministry and making sure to meet kids where they are at
  • grow up as a youth worker
  • by demonstrating how to do theological based youth ministry with strong practical application all while being culturally relevant at the same time!

Dr. Pete Ward is the Senior Lecturer in youth ministry and theological education at King’s College, London.  Pete has wrote:

God at the Mall:  Youth Ministry That Meets Kids Where They’re At ( my personal favorite.  this book should be on every youth pastor’s bookshelf)

Liquid Church

God Behaving Badly:  Media, Religion and Celebrity Culture

So just last week, I was re-reading God at the Mall and I thought to myself…….”I need to do a brief interview with Pete on my blog.”  I emailed him asking him if we could do an interview on my youth ministry blog. He immediately got back to me letting me know he would.  I was so stoked because Pete is such a humble and relational youth ministry scholar.  Dr. Ward has obviously shaped a lot of my youth ministry thinking, so I thought it would be fun to give my readers some exposure to the guy who helped me along the way.  Enjoy!

Q & A With Dr. Pete Ward

JZ:  Many national polls indicate Christianity in Britain is on very fast decline, which means Britain is probably very un-churched.  So what does youth work look like in a very unchurched Britain context? 

PW:  First I think the picture is very patchy.  There are very lively churches with some great youth groups.  That said there is now considerable effort being put in to find ways to reach out to young people beyond the church.  Often through community based or relational projects.

JZ:  Some times there is a significant gap between the culture of young people and the culture of the Church.  How would you encourage a youth worker to narrow this gap?  

PW:  There are issues here with how Church works and how young people might appropriate faith.  The key I think is to stay close to young people and also to be concerned to express faith in an authentic way – so dont sell out.

JZ:  Reflecting on youth ministry’s history, what are some key issues?

PW:  I think a key issues is that historically youth ministry has been the research and development department of the Church.  We do new stuff. That is exciting but it is also a responsibility.

JZ:  American youth workers are really starting to latch onto the insane importance of contextualization.  How have you been so successful in translating in-depth sociological research and theological concepts for an everyday, real-life youth ministry?  

PW:  Research, especially empirical research (empirical research is a way of gaining knowledge by means of direct and indirect observation or experience) is really important.  It helps us to understand better what is going on with young people and the wider culture.  This kind of understanding, alongside just being there in the place you are working in is basic to how we express faith in a context.

JZ:  How can youth workers avoid the dangers of contextualization?

PW:  I think fundamentally reading the Bible.  Not through already decided perspectives, but in ways that allow the Bible to recontextualize us.  Barth talked about the Strange New World of the Bible – that is kind of what I am talking about.

JZ:  What are some helpful ways to be a great cultural observer?  How can youth pastors become more culturally aware of what is happenings with today’s youth?

PW:  Start by seeking out what you admire and what you think is good.

JZ:  In American youth ministry, there is a lot of attention to the fact that youth ministries are not doing “enough” evangelism. In your book Growing Up Evangelical:  Youth Work and The Making of A Subculture, you ask the question of:  ….is evangelism essentially adolescent?  What do you mean by this question?

PW:  I am saying that the expression of faith we know as evangelicalism came from working with young people.  It is shaped by student ministry in particular.  This is a strength but also a weakness.

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Jeremy Zach easily gets dissatisfied with status quo. He reeks with passion and boredom is not in his vocabulary. He becomes wide awake when connecting with student pastors, thinking and writing about student ministry, experimenting with online technology, and working out. He is married to Mikaela and has two calico cats, Stella and Laguna. He lives in Alpharetta, Georgia and is a XP3 Orange Specialist for Orange—a division of the REthink Group. Zach holds a Communication degree from the University of Minnesota- Twin Cities and Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary.