The Ministry’ by Paul Borthwick sought to make the

The article ‘Cross-Cultural Outreach: A Missiological Perspective on Youth Ministry’ by Paul Borthwick sought to make the case that Youth Ministry is, in essence, cross-cultural work. This essay aims to evaluate the strengths of his arguments in terms of both assumptions and content, and offer alternative perspectives and suggestions to his views.  In presenting his case, Borthwick referred to an article in Associated Press in June 1999 that featured case studies of churches reaching out to the youth through specially designed youth services. In his view, the article, in describing youth ministry, was in essence, describing a typical cross-cultural missionary outreach, although no specific reference was made. To set out his case, Borthwick listed the foundational assumptions of an effective youth ministry. This was followed by a list of eight issues facing the youth ministry that were once thought to be applicable primarily for missionaries and, lastly, Borthwick raised five biblical principles that he believed transcend culture and ‘repeatedly emerge as the foundation of an international youth ministry theology’.  Despite the focus on youth ministry, Borthwick did not venture to define what he meant by ‘youth’. He had used words like ‘teenagers’, ‘young people’, ‘children’, and ‘adolescents’ interchangeably throughout the article. In his conclusion, he made a reference to ‘those under the age of twenty’. While there is no universallyaccepted definition of ‘youth’, it would have made a stronger case if a more specific segment of youth was identified. For example, The United Nations defined ‘youth’ as those persons between the ages of 15 and 24 years, as a guide for needs assessments and developmental programmes. While it is acknowledged that the definition of ‘youth’ varies in different societies and culture, providing a more specific definition of the segment of society in question would render it easier for readers to identify with their needs, and thus, enable a more concrete comparison to the needs of cross-cultural mission. Borthwick’s referral to the youth ministry as a cross-cultural outreach is based on assumptions that youth ministry is committed to three objectives: reaching out to the youth where they are, evangelising to the unchurched, and integrating the youth into the local church. Borthwick argued that most youth ministry models are focused on discipling the churched youth without paying sufficient attention to seeking out the lost. While the missiological mandate is important, an effective model for youth ministry should not be a zero-sum game – either discipling, or evangelising. It should, in fact, address both needs. If the comparison to cross-cultural mission is made only to the missionary aspect of the youth ministry, it is not a holistic comparison. The term “reaching out to the youth” is applicable to both reaching out to the youth in church or out of church. The youth in church are not insulated from the world and its cultures – to effectively engage the youth, whether in church or otherwise, it is important for youth ministers to be able to identify withthem and contextualise the gospel in a way that is theologically sound but relevant.  At the same time, Borthwick also assumed that it is the youth minister’s role to integrate the youth into the local church and, as such, the youth minister becomes a bridge between the culture of the church and the youth. This third assumption seems to contradict with his first assumption – that youth ministry, must be committed to reaching out to the youth where they live, and that this is to be contrasted from a ministry that ‘only seeks to press young people into the church-culture mould of adults’ and ‘focuses more on behavioural conformity rather than reaching youth where they are’. If indeed youth ministry is a cross-culture ministry, the issue of integrating into a local church culture should not arise. According to Borthwick, spiritual development in youth must include the involvement in a local congregation and therefore there is a necessity to integrate the youth back into a local church. This observation alone differentiates the cross-cultural challenge of missionaries to that of the youth ministry. Reaching out to the people of a different culture is not done with the intention to eventually integrate them into ‘local culture’, but rather, to allow them to be Christians in their own culture. In his article ‘Contextualisation: The Theory, the Gap, the Challenge’, Whiteman raised ‘The Gap Between Our Talk and Our Practice’ – that is, the tension between contextualisation and denominational existence which results in the reluctance to let go of certain features of the existing culture to adapt to the new culture. To reach the youth where they are in order to present the gospel to them in their context, only to eventually try to integrate them into an existing church culture, in my opinion, presents subtle traces of hypocrisy. As Whiteman stressed, one of the most important functions of contextualisation is the reminder that ‘we do not have a privileged position when it comes to understanding and practicing Christianity. It cannot be the exclusive property of any one culture, for it refuses to be culture bound’.