Immerse is a proud sponsor of the National Youth Worker Convention Theological Forums again this year. Over the next months leading up to the conferences we will be having some of the panelists that will be at the forums sharing some pre-cursory thoughts on some of the questions they will be asked. This week our friend Andy Root lets us in on his preparation for the up coming eschatology panel.
As I was preparing for my eschatology panel in Dallas at the National Youth Workers Convention, I got an email from a youth worker asking for some insight on why he was so uncomfortable with a youth mission trip he had just gone on. He explained that his young people spent all day working, motivated by rhetoric from the leadership on how big a difference they were making, how they were changing the world. The kids were told over and over again that if they really believed in Jesus and really wanted it, they could do anything.
Yet, he explained, “I’ve now been back there six years in a row, same place, and honestly things aren’t getting better but worse. So what are we doing there?”
I thought it was a great question and one that could only be answered through an eschatological perspective embedded in the resurrection of Jesus. As I’ll say on that panel in Dallas on eschatology, the only way for eschatology not to be weird (like a poorly done Christian Apocalyptic movie) is for all our eschatological assertions to be embedded in the person and action of Jesus. Jesus is the man of the eschaton because Jesus is the new Adam. Unlike his friend Lazarus, who is raised to die again, Jesus is the man of the future, man of completion because, now alive, death is no more. (Death is no more for him, and because we are in him, as Paul says, we are promised that one day death will be no more for us too. But this is in our future, in the eschaton, though it is now for Jesus—because he is the man of the future).
What did I say back? Something like this: (which, by the way, comes from an upcoming book, Unlocking Eschatology and Mission in Youth Ministry [Zondervan 2012]).
A mission trip in youth ministry is about witnessing to the resurrection; it is not about bringing the resurrection. Jesus, and Jesus alone, is the resurrection. The mission trip is about joining in God’s action by entering death with people, trusting that our actions are windows into the promise of God to take all that is death (hungry stomachs, sagging roofs, parentless children) and bring life out of it. Promise can happen only within reality, only within bearing death. But promise honestly enters into the death of this reality, hoping and waiting for the next, the new reality.
It is about what is coming. The mission trip is standing in reality while, through our action, witnessing to the action of God, who promises to overcome death in all its forms.
The youth ministry mission trip possesses no power to bring forth justice. But it nevertheless bends its life toward justice by seeking the person of Jesus who brings forth the coming of God’s future, when all will be fed and cared for. So now, today, we feed and care for others as a sacrament of the fullness of God’s coming future.
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