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NTS/Youthfront Host Conversation on Youth Ministry and Race Relations

Nazarene Theological Seminary, in cooperation with Youthfront, a nationally known youth ministry program based in Kansas City, hosted an important panel discussion on Tuesday November 12 around current issues related with youth ministry and race. The panel brought together youth pastors, ministers, theological educators, and students to discuss the state of racial relations and the role of youth ministry in light of national events like the Trayvon Martin case. Dr. Michael Brandon Winstead (‘05), Student Ministries Director at Killearn United Methodist Church (FL) and adjunct faculty at NTS, framed and moderated this important event. Panelists included the following: 

  • Reverend David Gilmore (Pastor at both St. Andrew UMC and Centennial UMC in Kansas City)
  • Reverend Kurt Rietema (Youthfront leader and President of The Franklin Center Renewal initiative in the Argentine District, Kansas City, Kansas)
  • Dr. Claire Smith (Saint Paul Faculty and Director of Youtheology Kansas City)
  • Professor Montague Williams (NTS Graduate, ‘09; and Professor at Eastern Nazarene College)
Brandon Winstead opened the discussion by sketching a broad understanding behind the seeming impasse between evangelical youth ministry and grassroots racial movements like early Hip Hop. Dr. Winstead noted that race remains a virtually non-existent category in most professional youth ministries in the evangelical tradition. Winstead observed when the issue of race is raised in many congregations, people do not have the categories for discussion. Brandon noted whites often have a tendency to reflect guilt and awkwardness, but possess little to no constructive way to begin the conversation, particularly around youth. Winstead did offer a constructive framework for the panel’s reflection and discussion, calling for an intersection between Incarnational Theology and Youth Ministry that: 
  • Depends on the strength of the Holy Spirit
  • Emerges out of spending time with youth and youth workers in communities of color
  • Uplifts the importance of racial forgiveness
  • Addresses racism in white communities
  • Utilizes non-white theological/spiritual sources and develops a radicalized lens of reading scripture and the Christian tradition
  • Remains Prophetic for the sake of youth and race
 Winstead’s opening reflection stimulated a conversation between members of the panel that lasted through two sessions for the rest of the morning. Panelists offered preliminary reflections on Winstead’s thoughts, then continued in the second session to offer a variety of ministry strategies, express cautions concerning short term mission efforts by whites engaging other ethnicities, and consider overall principles for in-depth engagement among youth of varying racial and ethnic backgrounds.  The exchange among panelists remained lively and deeply dialogical. Some of the observations included the following: 
  • Claire Smith: True racial reconciliation requires a deep listening to people from other ethnicities and settings to understand their gifts and complex relationship to local contexts.
  • Montague Williams: Recent uses of incarnational language in youth ministry have been helpful.  However, this language should include more than a focus on the youth pastor reflecting Christ by including an ecclesiological focus on congregations and the church as a whole as the Body of Christ.
  • Kurt Reitema: Ministers have to recognize that racial boundaries are often perpetuated through neighborhood associations and other sophisticated human networks that appear to deflect the question of race unless seriously investigated.
  • Claire Smith: Globally aware youth tend to engage issues of race more quickly than those focused on personal context.
  • David Gilmore: Mission must always be mission “with” a people and not mission “to” a people.
  • Brandon Winstead: We must be careful how we claim the early days of any Christian movement in the United States, particularly in how the movement actually reinforces racism of the past.
  • Kurt Reitema: Contact with other people of color must include teaching our youth prior to that contact or else our efforts may reinforce racist assumptions in youth.
  • Montague Williams: One of the major challenges includes the assumption that young people will fix (or have already fixed) issues around race and racism. In fact, young people need mentors to help them navigate these issues.
  • David Gilmore: Race relations is not only about keeping it “real,” it must also be about keeping it “reel.” Keeping it reel calls ministers to recognize the commodification of race through media forms like movies, video, and commercialized music.
Youth pastors as well as NTS students and professors were invited into the dialog. Mike King (‘10), President/CEO of Youthfront, and adjunct faculty at NTS, noted the morning stimulated a range of conversations that intersect with youth ministry and race. Dr. Dean G. Blevins (‘91), NTS professor and director of the Master of Arts in Christian Formation and Discipleship degree, thanked Dr. Winstead for conceiving the conversation and bringing together such a strong panel for the conversation. Blevins noted hosting this conversation reflects Nazarene Theological Seminary’s desire to remain on the front lines of youth ministry practice through partnerships, like those with Youthfront. 
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