Q&A with Sharon Galgay Ketcham

Q&A with Sharon Galgay Ketcham


Sharon Galgay Ketcham is associate professor of theology and Christian ministries at Gordon College in Massachusetts. She earned her PhD in theology and education from Boston College. Sharon’s two decades of experience in ministry include serving in full-time ministry, researching, writing, teaching and mentoring. As a practical theologian, she is a scholar for the Church and invites people to reflect theologically on lived Christian faith. She is currently writing a book that examines the community-forming practices essential for a maturing faith among teenagers and adults. Sharon lives in New Hampshire with her husband and two children.

Q: Barna findings indicate that social issues are of great concern to the parents of teens in youth ministry. Many feel the goal of youth group is to provide a safe space for their child or to be a catalyst for healthy friendships. Why do you think these social concerns are so urgent for parents of teens today?

On the other hand, senior and youth pastors feel the primary goal of youth ministry is discipleship and spiritual instruction—and they cite the busyness of teens as the number-one challenge of youth ministry. As someone who has studied environments for learning, what are some practical ways that youth pastors can create a culture where spiritual instruction takes hold and has impact?

There is a well-known narrative shaping our perception of teenagers. The narrative is as old as the socially created category “teenager” that emerged in the 1900s. We hear it daily in the media, in helicopter parenting and even in our approaches to youth ministry: the idea that teenagers are broken, deficient and in need of help. We problematize teenagers and use significant resources to try and fix them. This narrative evokes fear and, in loving response, parents are desperate to keep them safe. I am not saying we live in a danger-free world; of course there are real dangers. What I am saying is that teenagers are more than problems to solve—they have potential as human beings, and surely God sees their potential in Jesus Christ through the work of the Spirit.

Helping teenagers imagine how they might contribute to God’s redemptive movement in the world will unveil their potential. When parents, youth pastors and church leaders train their eyes to look beyond the dominant problem narrative, to recognize teenage potential and provide a place in the church for teenagers to practice using their gifts, teenagers will find a meaningful purpose in the church. The busyness of teenagers is connected to the longing of adults to help problematized teenagers make it into adulthood. Imagine if we saw teenagers as Christ does: full of potential to join God’s purpose.

Q: There are a number of relationships that contribute to effective youth ministry: between senior and youth pastor, between youth pastor and parent, between parent and teen and so on. What are keys to successful communication in these relationships? 02

Relationships are intended to be generative, to produce what is life-giving (see Gen. 1:28). This takes form in mutual giving and receiving. Most relationships, however, have a top-down structure: the old give to the young, the mentor gives to the mentee, the parent gives to the child, the senior pastor gives to the youth pastor. When our expectations of these relationships have a one-way flow, we miss out on what they might generate. We do not need to remove appropriate roles, but our expectations of who gives and who receives in these relationships can stifle the form of communication needed in generative relationships. When we expect the person who is “lower” to give as well as to receive, relationships hold greater life-giving possibilities

Q: How can the church body—both leaders and adult members— better acknowledge and understand the presence of youth in their congregation? What are some practical ways to make their interactions more meaningful, for adults and teens?

Mission statements for youth ministries often describe fostering a teenager’s relationship with Jesus Christ (with varying theological nuance), but rarely include a focus on a teenager’s relationship with the church. This relationship becomes ancillary. A theological question arises: How should we understand a teenager’s relationship with the church? Perhaps we do not believe this to be a vital relationship, and if this is so, we should not be surprised when teenagers leave the church after high school. Leaders might connect them to Jesus, but what happened to connecting them to the church? Pastors, youth pastors and parents need to reflect theologically on whether fostering a teenager’s relationship with the church is vital. If it is, sermons will include relevant illustrations for teenagers, teenagers will contribute in main worship and programming for teenagers will cease to occur simultaneously with the adult service.

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