Posted by: rogermitchell | October 21, 2011

Youth and Authority

I’ve just completed an article on the theology of youth and authority, for ReSource, a courageous initiative by a good bunch of folk within the Anglican tradition. As usual these days I’m in some trepidation over whether they, or more particularly their clientele, will be able to handle all its contents! But by the sound of other contributors to the youth orientated theme of this coming edition of the ReSource magazine, and my encounters with members of their team, this looks like an interesting edition. Why not subscribe and have a look?

In a nutshell, without giving too much away, I have developed the article along the lines of the kenarchic principle of giving priority to children and youth, and framed it around the qualities of empowerment, mutuality and hope. I suggest that we look at all times for ways that any authority we might have can be given to empower young people, whether official or institutional power (exousia in Greek) or pragmatic or operating power (dunamis). I suggest that this remains the case when we are faced with confrontation and resistance either from youth themselves or from the institutions which provide the context of our interaction with them. This involves advocating for youth when parental, educational or legal authorities intervene to control or dominate.

I then look at Luke’s account of the adolescent Jesus’ behaviour as a template for parental and civil disobedience as a means of making the transition from parental submission to mutuality. I consider the way that the gospel narratives show that Jesus invested hope for future governance in children and youth, and that the angelic realm is geared to that (Mtt18:1-5,10). Finally I suggest that we find signs and opportunities for kenarchy in the context of the widespread youth involvement in the Arab Uprisings, Occupy Wall Street and related movements.


  1. Giving youth authority, scary but so necessary. I have seen young people encouraged in their giftings and yet still a reluctance to allow them the authority for fear of man. They sure can’t make any more of a mess of the world that our generations have done.

  2. You know, I deal with this issue daily. I teach in a college (undergraduate) so many of my students are just out of highschool, though some are older folks who have returned to education. And I constantly wrestle with an academic tradition that gives all authority to s/he who has been around the longest no matter who they are or how effective they are. So long time teachers win respect and others don’t. Students voices are channeled for the most part into unimportant decisions while the critical ones stay firmly in the hands of the highly paid administrators. Yes, we do student evaluations but those are used more for deciding whether or not I get asked to teach again as a part-timer.

    It is the whole system that’s off. I watch them as I travel the halls. In classroom after classroom they sit glassy eyed while some instructor blasts powerpoint slides at them. This is not education. This is not how human beings learn best but the system, in all its authority, to credential them for the ‘professions’ and all their authority, demands this.

    I actually enjoy these people. I love interacting with them, learning their stories (they constantly amaze me), giving them a push when needed to do better. I like to see them learn. But oh, this system. Only a few prosper under it and we name them the real learners and reward them. The rest struggle to survive, get booted onward, and hope for a job. What would a system that really honoured youth and young people and their inherent abilities to learn look like?

  3. You put the challenge so clearly. And I don’t think you are cynical. I also believe that the gospel belongs in the system, ‘in it but not of it’ is for real. We have to discover how love empties out the false power of the system from within. It won’t do it without the cross, without us taking it up and dying daily. But the resurrection is for real and it is our hope.
    Some of us have to help each other articulate this properly and live it practically. It involves reconfiguring our understanding of God, humanity and society in the light of the testimony of Jesus. I firmly believe that the three generations of Holy Spirit visitation in this past century carry the grace to help us do this.

    • I’m not cynical (most days) as much as I am angry and frustrated. But most frustrating, as I grade tests, is that in my head, the whole time I’m thinking not about the students but how I reconcile my grades with the expectations of the administration. Too many A’s and I’m in trouble. So I wrestle with the whole thing, not in order to benefit the students but in order to satisfy the admin that rules us all. It is quite frustrating and a great snap shot of what is wrong with the system. Research shows that tests demotivate students, especially young males (my demographic as students). So I’ve gone through an exercise in demotivation to do the test and I will likely demotivate further when they get their grades (carefully calibrated to satisfy the admin while engaging in whatever subversion I can get away with) back from me. It means I’ve wasted a week without teaching and progressed nowhere. As a teacher I find that frustrating. But grades are the end product of the education system. They determine a student’s ability to get funding, their ability to continue on in academia, and can determine their employment. So I will spend the next couple of days in increasing frustration trying to be a teacher while working within a system called academia, which really has little to do with learning or teaching. I know I’m ready for the Kingdom, come Lord Jesus come. c.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: