Five for Friday is a periodic blog series in which we interview Reformation pacesetters: those who are leading the way for Reformation in the own communities and churches. This week, we’re pleased to introduce you to Cameron Cole.
Cameron has a B.A. in Latin and English and an M.A. in Education, all from Wake Forest; and he is currently pursuing a Masters in Divinity from Reformed Theological Seminary. He is the founding chairman of Rooted Ministry and the co-editor of “Gospel-Centered Youth Ministry: A Practical Guide“ (Crossway, 2016). He has been the Director of Youth Ministries at the Cathedral Church of the Advent since December of 2005, and in January of 2016 his duties expanded to include Children, Youth, and Families.
If you know of a Reformation pacesetter that we should interview, please drop us an email with a brief explanation of their work and their contact information.
Why is Michael Horton speaking at the 2016 Rooted Conference in San Diego so historically and sentimentally significant?
Rooted Ministry started very, very modestly. We had no grand plan to have impact on a national and international scale. Frank Limehouse, the senior pastor at the Cathedral Church of the Advent, had just finished reading Michael’s book, Christless Christianity, and it really shook him up. He was burdened for the church as a whole. The two of us were talking about the book and he said, “I think the area with the most glaring case of Christless Christianity is in youth ministry.” He then declared that we should have a conference about the message of the crucified Christ in youth ministry, and nothing else. He wanted a simple conference at our church about the Gospel and kids with no accouterments or accessories.
On a long-shot, we invited Michael to speak, but he was booked. For us it is a special moment to have Michael, who has an indirect but significant role in founding the Rooted movement, serve as our keynote. His presence takes us back to the pure beginnings of Rooted with the desire for the Gospel to be central in youth ministry, but it also shows us how much God has done in the ministry and movement in six years.
What continues to be the biggest issue in the field of youth ministry?
Youth ministry has made progress over the last decade in several ways. Across the board, youth ministry influencers are placing more emphasis on partnering with parents and integrating young people into the church in an intergenerational manner.
However, I think most people continue to misunderstand the foundational problem all teenagers have. Their problem is the same as my problem and your problem. It all goes back to Genesis 3 and Adam and Eve. They do not believe that God is good and trustworthy, and they believe that they can live life independent of the Lord. In essence, their problem is sin.
If we misunderstand the fundamental human problem, then we will always revert to a model of ministry based on a theology of glory. As a result, we falsely will think that what kids need is moral education, service programs, and friends. All of those things are good, but they are not primary. When we operate from a theology of the cross and start with a biblical understanding of the human problem, then we will make the Gospel, scriptural teaching, and prayer in the context discipleship relationships central. Scripture tells us that these means of grace effectuate lasting change and sustainable faith in people’s lives.
What role is Rooted trying to play in the broader field of youth ministry?
Rooted thinks that the research over the past fifteen years regarding the declining spiritual lives of young people screams for a modern reformation. Moralistic therapeutic deism, the term coined by Christian Smith to encapsulate the composite theology of young people, is basically the opposite of the Gospel. The Gospel emphasizes what Jesus has done above what we do. The Gospel exalts the glory of God above our self-esteem and personal happiness. The Gospel speaks of a sovereign God actively at work in all things through the Holy Spirit. I don’t think youth ministry can do much better than to return to the sola’s of the Reformation.
Through our conference, networks, and publishing efforts (blog, books, podcast, social media, etc.) we are hoping to bring the Gospel to the center of youth ministry. We think what will form students with a lifelong commitment to Christ and the church, is knowing God’s love for sinners through the Cross. We think the Christian faith offers unique hope, comfort, and purpose that kids will find nowhere outside the Gospel and relationship with Christ.
Rooted hopes to encourage a model of ministry, which we call Gospel-centered youth ministry, grounded on five foundations: (1) Gospel centrality (2) theological depth through exegetical teaching (3) relational discipleship (4) partnering with parents and (5) intergenerational integration. We think this approach will make ministries more effective in forming lifelong followers of Christ.
What makes a Rooted Conference different?
Rooted hosts a conference that models our philosophy of ministry. There are no frills, no laser light shows, no fog machine. We bring in pastor-theologians and student ministry leaders who teach the Bible well and proclaim the message of grace. With a conference where grace dictates everything, an atmosphere of vulnerability tends to emerge every year. Consequently, people engage in meaningful conversations and build real friendships. People are grateful for the equipping and education on how to do youth ministry more effectively, but I think they come back from all over the world each year because they experience comfort and intimacy through the Gospel.
What about the Rooted movement inspires so many people?
We really believe that we can change the direction of the American church by influencing the practice of ministry to young people. Former WHI guest, Thomas Bergler, suggests in his book, The Juvenilization of American Christianity that the moralistic, therapeutic, deistic theology and practice of youth ministry was a major – if not the major – factor in in the “Christless Christianity” that Michael Horton observes in his book. The Rooted movement sees this as an opportunity.
What if the broader field took on an approach that was Gospel-centered, biblically-based, and discipleship-focused? Churches very often adapt their models to attract twenty-somethings and young families. Meanwhile, young people tend to seek out church environments that resemble what they are accustomed to as children. What if the next generation of young people become so used to hearing the Cross proclaimed, the Bible taught, and relationship discipleship practiced that they will bounce around until they find a church that values these things? This thinking convinces us that with the help and leadership of the Lord we potentially can effectuate vast change.
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