Monday, January 10, 2005

Reflections on IASYM

I spent the better part of this week at the bi-annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Youth Ministry. My purpose there, as well as being a member of that organization, was to present a paper as a part of the Faithful Practices Project. (FPP is a Lilly Endowment-funded grant to the Christian Education department of PTS, and it’s funding my dissertation research into eight emerging churches.) More on that paper later.

The IASYM is a group still in its infancy; it’s a professional guild founded less than ten years ago. However, as youth ministry has professionalized and more courses on YM have been offered around the world, the association has grown dramatically, now counting almost 400 members, about evenly split, it seems to me, between youth ministry instructors and youth ministry practitioners. The purpose is to encourage the academic study of YM.

However, there is some pain as we grow, as you might expect. I can count at least two pressing conflicts. However, in each case, I do not think it best if one of these sides wins out over the other. Instead, I really think that we should try to hold each of these in a healthy, dialectical tension.

U.S. and World: This is a real tension that came out at a couple different points, including the election of new Executive members (no Americans were elected). There were also some sparks when a U.S. participant made imperialistic sounding comments and when a Brit used an Abu Ghraib image as an “icon” during worship. Honestly, these latter were almost completely unhelpful, and all of the conversation about the election of new Executive members was in hushed tones around the fringe. In the future, we’d better get this conversation out into the open. (Ironically, just as the U.S. was accused of being colonizers, the IASYM announced that they are hosting a regional conference in New Orleans in a year – this troubled those present who are members of the AYME, an already established organization in the States. For all of the talk of “partnership” in the members’ meeting, this seemed like a move that will preclude true partnership.)

Social Scientists and Theologians: The first generation of youth ministry professors were old and wise youth workers who were hired by colleges and seminaries to teach this new discipline of church-based youth work. The second generation, and the bulk of those currently in most positions, hold terminal degrees in the social sciences (sociology, education, anthropology, cultural studies). And now there is an emerging generation of scholars (among which I count myself) who are primarily theologians. Thus, there are social scientists with an interest in theology and theologians with an interest in social science. Both sides have the tendency to get arrogant, yet each side needs the other. I hope that the IASYM can work hard at keeping these two branches of academic youth ministry in a healthy and mutually critical conversation – we’ll all be better for it.


Blogger EL MOL said...

great synopsis, felt like I was there . . . I think it is good you were

9:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

dude! turn on your rss feed!


10:55 AM  
Blogger James said...

I wonder if the tendency to become arrogant is the best way that Satan works against the kingdom of God. Seems to me that arrogance might be the polar opposite to the sermon on the mount, to the ethic of the kingdom of God. It would be great to see some study done in the area of the relationship between levels of arrogance (self-satisfaction, self-regulation?) and the effectiveness of the church in a historical context. Looking around at my adopted country here, (USA) the church is very self-satisfied and is not very effective.

Unless you count voting as ministry.

Which I do not.

Anyways, I'd read a book on this, as long as it was from a theologian with social interests. (kidding)

11:08 AM  
Blogger St.Phransus said...

Thanks for the synopsis Tony. I'm a member and got to vote via email, and wished that I could have gone. Too much going on in life and too much $$ to travel. I'm glad you went and presented, though.

Jonathon Norman

12:16 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While so appreciative of your perspective and comments...indeed you are correct that no person from the US was elected (this time). There are however two from the US who are on the board having not yet rotated off. Doing this from memory I may have missed someone but this is close; The current board is comprised of 2-US, 1-Netherlands, 2-South Africa, 1-India, 1-UK, 1-Switzerland (originally from the US). A slight corrective but having just been at the conference with you, I am more interested in your insights when you have the full information.
peace-amy jacober

6:04 PM  
Blogger theoskaris said...

Amy's right. While no American was elected this time, there are already two on the board. Out of eight members, that's a good percentage considering the number of countries represented in the association. Yes, roughly half the current members are from the US. But, in our efforts to truly be global not only in perspective but especially in practice, I believe that we need to let the IASYM executive committee reflect WHERE WE WANT TO GO, not necessarily where we currently are. And truthfully, as much of a contribution as either Amy or I may have made, this doesn't mean that we won't stop our work in the association. In fact, in some ways, my not serving on the executive committee ensures that they have one more set of hands to do things than they might not have had before.

I'm also convinced that part of the growing pains of a young association is its discovering of its identity. That is the area where I think we are struggling most. Are we an association that focuses on bringing the best thinkers (both academics and practitioners) together to talk about youth ministry from a theological perspective, or are we an association that is focused primarily on helping new countries/areas of the world to develop culturally contextualized youth ministries? I'm not sure that we currently have either the resources or the time commitments from members to be both. As much as I like St. Paul, I think that in our efforts to "be all things to all people" we stretch ourselves thin and soon lose our central identity.

Like you, Tony, I do have a concern about the regional IASYM conference to be held in the United States. As a member of both IASYM and AYME, I would love to see a partnership develop between the two. Maybe even to the point where every three or four years the "regional" conference in the US is a joint conference between the two. But right now, I'm already looking at my scarce professional development funds for next year and realizing that I will probably have to make a choice between the two (unless someone wants to make a generous donation on my behalf!). :-)

As IASYM continues to grow up, I believe it will soon distinguish itself from AYME. As a general rule (strictly my opinion), I think that IASYM seems to have more of the theologians you described, while AYME seems to have more social scientists. Perhaps in the end, this distinction and attendant focus will be what distinguishes the two groups. Just my two cents (although looking back at what I wrote, I would guess it's actually closer to a buck).

Grace and peace,
Jim Hampton

11:18 AM  

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