Q&A with Daniel White Hodge

Q&A with Daniel White Hodge


Daniel White Hodge, PhD, is the director of the Center for Youth Ministry Studies and associate professor of youth ministry at North Park University in Chicago. Currently, his research and community engagement explore the intersections of faith, critical race theory, justice, hip-hop culture and emerging multiethnic Millennial culture. His three current books are Heaven Has A Ghetto: The Missiological Gospel & Theology of Tupac Amaru Shakur; The Soul Of Hip-Hop: Rimbs, Timbs & A Cultural Theology; and Hip-Hop’s Hostile Gospel: A Post Soul Theological Exploration. He is working on a coauthored book with Irene Cho (Fuller Youth Institute) titled Between God & Kanye: Youth Ministry in a Post-Civil Rights Era.


Q: As someone who focuses on theological and academic study of topics such as film, media and hip-hop, what are some fruitful ways that youth ministries can model engagement with culture and entertainment? How can youth ministries be a companion (to both the home and the school) in terms of helping teens think critically about what they read / watch / listen to?

I have found that engagement with this generation of young people, those under 19 years of age, looks more like being present than doing. Many ethnic-minority youth from a hiphop context want you to be there, listen, question and grow with them, rather than participate in a full-on program.

One example of how to effectively contextualize a youth ministry for a generation of young people in a certain area comes from Phil Jackson, who runs the nation’s premier hiphop church (The House Church) in Chicago. He built the ministry around the foundational elements of hip-hop culture (breaking, graffiti art, emceeing and DJing). From there, volunteers and paid staff live with and engage youth, with hip-hop as the central premise and ethos of the ministry. The main thing to take away, at least from my research, is to be present and engaged with the young person. Things will come up, and from that, you can walk with them as they develop into adults. Hip-hop, film, music and art are all spaces to engage with the gospel.

I have also found that part of that engagement is helping this generation think critically about the choices they make in their consumption of media. Many young people have lost a sense of history, on almost all levels. With that comes a detachment from origination of materials and items. In other words, a lot of young people are not really clear on why they do the things they do; thus, it is imperative for a ministry to process that information with them. It means getting in the

mix and deconstructing music that you might not agree with or even like, but any time spent helping your youth process meaning and their love for that song is important. That does mean, however, that youth workers (both paid and volunteers) need critical skills to interpret what messages are and how they are developed within media. It means doing the difficult work of finding God within the sacred, the profane and the secular, and in turn developing a missional model of engagement, having the gospel at the center, for young people immersed in media.

Q: What unique opportunities does a youth group have to pursue and live out multicultural ministry, perhaps in ways that might prove more difficult among other age groups? 02

I think that the time and era we are in is ripe for engagement with intercultural ministry. I use the term intercultural because it is more about the interweaving of cultures into a particular ethos rather than simply having multiple cultures. In other words, it is too simple to have “many cultures” present, without ever interweaving them into the church or ministry. Moreover, interculturalism is about removing hegemonic authority and disrupting dominance from one group. Thus, the term is much more appropriate and applicable.

That said, young people are open and at a place where caring adults are still important in their lives—something that seems to hold true across all studies of youth and adolescents. Therefore, there are myriad spaces to engage interculturalism:

• Partnering with local ministries on excursion trips to places such as Flint, Michigan, or Ferguson, Missouri

• Usingcurrenteventsasaplatformforyoungpeopleto dialogue and engage

• Taking trips to key Civil Rights locations throughout the country

• Making the decision to cultivate interculturalism in the congregation

• Creating games in youth group that replicate what is happening in current events (e.g. rigging Monopoly to illustrate income inequality)

• Inviting organizers and local activists to come talk, or going to them to see what is happening in their context

I think the goal is to get young people involved and talking, being present with them and helping them process issues of interculturalism. You may need some help—especially in homogenous and monoethnic settings, or if you are a youth pastor that has a very conservative senior team. Yet I would argue that these issues are important enough to “die on the hill” for. Young people are ready; more than likely they are already engaged and talking about the issues with their friends. Why not invite that into a space that you can build upon?

Q: There are a handful of notable differences in the ways that urban senior and youth pastors responded to the survey. For example, pastors of urban churches are much more likely to list serving the community and serving the church body as top goals of youth ministry, and less likely to list discipleship and spiritual instruction as their top goal. Urban churches also seem to favor small group or adult-teen mentorship approaches, rather than large group teaching or having teens attend adult services. Do you have any thoughts on how the urban context shapes the perceptions and practices of youth ministry in these ways? 03

I would add that it is not that discipleship is overlooked or not valued, but that, from a traditional youth ministry perspective, it simply looks different. In the urban context, mentoring programs are part of discipleship. There is a sense of lived theology among young people and while there are programmed discipleship spaces, “living life” with young people is seen as a much higher value, as those are typically the learning spaces for youth in those settings.

Because urban spaces are more likely to be smaller than, say, a suburban megachurch youth group, small groups and fewer programmed events are typically what works better. Moreover, the urban context is dealing with pragmatics that the suburban youth pastor might not be aware of or even engaged with. For example, an urban youth worker might have to deal with a young person being harassed by the local police, gang fights in front of their building, a parent on their way to or from prison or a sibling that is missing school to hang out with the local street hustler—all in a day’s work. Also, there is sometimes less of a parental presence, and therefore the urban youth worker takes on more of the role of a parent or guardian. When I was doing youth ministry with Urban Young Life in the Bay Area, I ended up acting as a guardian to several young men. I went to PTA meetings, checked grades and at many points provided shelter in times of crisis. These are just some examples of what some suburban youth pastors face only occasionally, if at all.

I would be remiss if I did not mention the urban context is changing. Urban is more of a cultural and spatial term rather than an actual geographic term. We have to remember, in cities like Chicago, those in suburban poverty now outnumber those in urban poverty. And with the rise in “redeveloping” central business districts of cities across the U.S., the working class and those at the poverty line are often displaced for more affluent classes. The ’hood is coming to the suburban pastor, and never before has there been such an impetus for the suburban pastor to be trained in intercultural studies and by urban youth workers. We are becoming more urban, not more suburban. It is imperative that the field of youth ministry begins to embrace the richness and value of urban youth work. When seen as a vital part of the new generation of youth ministry development, it can be embraced, rather than just seen as an adjunct to youth ministry programs or training.

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