New Kind of Youth Ministry

In one of my very first posts back in June, I spoke about my belief that youth ministry is barely scratching the surface of what it should be accomplishing. The very paradigm that youth ministry in most denominations is based on (including my own and those of virtually all of my friends) is limited because it wasn’t even developed with the local church in mind. (check my post The Role of Youth Ministry)

While I am convinced that many programs are doing a good job of speaking the gospel into the lives of teens and encouraging them to begin speaking it into others, the church has some other important responsibilities which it is all too often failing miserably. Many of us (especially the non-liturgical types) are not providing tools for teens to sustain their faith beyond high school, nor are we in any real way aiding their integration into the church – neither the present local church nor the historical church.

My friend Nate responded to this original post with the following:

In reading this post, it brings up the constant struggle I have
with youth ministry, and something needs to be done to address it:

I agree with your 3 aspects / purposes of youth ministry to (a) bring the Gospel to teens; (b) provide tools for growth; (c) facilitate integration into the larger Church… BUT (and this is a big BUT)…

That takes committed, stable, energetic, understanding, reliable volunteers.

Lots of them.
One of the reasons I am a youth minister is because I am a very good youth communicator (by His grace, not my ability) and I have a distinct knack for speaking their language at their developmental level.

When I teach and discuss, kids listen to me and are interested. Most adults, even good solid adults who love Jesus, do not have this knack. Most adults are frightened of teens. Most teens are ick of their parents and quite honestly (a) will not come to youth; or (b) will not act like themselves if they come; when their parents come. If your vision of youth ministry is going to gain ground (and I believe it should), then you are going to have to answer some real basic questions about how to form the spirituality of the entire Church in order to become the type of place where Church-based youth ministry becomes a reality.

For someone with my “skill set” your vision of youth ministry is a bit scary. I am gifted at teaching, counseling, and preaching, in that order. Administration, calling, and riding herd on a bunch of volunteers is not what I do best nor what I enjoy. How does your vision fit with someone like me, who is not so much a team leader as a vision caster?

Nate’s first concern was the need for a large group of committed, healthy volunteers. That is absolutely correct. However, more than just a cadre of volunteers, I believe that this is going to require the whole church to readjust its vision of what youth ministry is and looks like.

So Nate, we must have vision casters, such as yourself, that are assisting both teens and adults in an ever maturing understanding of what it means to be faithful followers – isn’t the very nature Spiritual Formation to be on a continued journey toward Christ’s image?

Over the past couple years I’ve been in a prolonged conversation about youth ministry with a friend who is a well known, established minister. He is not convinced that youth ministry is valid and useful – and with our present situation I’m not so sure either. Here’s why: we are raising our teens with false expectations. They have this segregated peer group that is devoted to “good clean fun”. Our youth events and worship experiences are known for pushing the envelope; we do things with teenagers that we all know would cause lots of the older people to keel over on the spot! The energy is always high, the topics always relevant.

But what happens when our teens graduate from high school? With the exception of a lucky few, most will find themselves suddenly in an “adult” church environment. That of course means straight rows, lectures, and no summer camps! But have these teens – because at 18 or 19 they are still teenagers – changed that much during the summer break after 12th grade? Are they now saying to themselves, “all that relationship building we did and the retreats we went on, the music that spoke to my generation…I don’t like any of it anymore.”

Yet that’s what we ask them to do. At no time in their adolescent life do we typically treat these teens as though they are actually a part of the whole congregation, and somehow we are surprised that as much as 50% of our teens leave the church after high school. It’s our fault – we prepared them to leave by not preparing them to stay.

So, Nate, I’m with you. I agree that a new vision of church-based youth ministry is scary. It messes with a seemingly successful business (just check out the youth specialties website) and it threatens to shake up the livelihood of guys like you and me. However, I also know that you, like me, view this as more than just a way to make a living. We view our calling to youth ministry as a God-ordained mission to strengthen the kingdom and come alongside young people in their journey. So we must have the courage to do what must be done to continue faithfully in our mission.

You said that your talents are in teaching, counseling and preaching. Great. We need teachers, counselors and preachers. We need folks speaking to the young people about the need to be in relationship with older Christians; the need to be developing Spiritual habits and disciplines; the need to have an investment in Christ’s Church. But you can’t view yourself in isolation. If it’s not you, then someone does need to be responsible for organizing and supervising volunteers. Someone needs to be actively training adults, speaking to the congregation – doing the same things you are doing, only from the adult side. This is not an either/or situation. You needn’t become an administrator for this new vision to take hold – but you do need to find someone who is an administrator and encourage them to catch the vision.

Its true that a lot of adults are scared of teens, but you know maybe its time they got over it. As you well know, fear has never been an excuse for those whom God has called to a task. Under the old paradigm only a select group of people felt “called” to ministry to teens – mostly young guy people. People who looked cool, played basketball and were still rebelling against authority themselves. While your gift to communicate to teens is invaluable to the Church’s mission, we must begin to teach people that we all have something to contribute.

I’d like to continue the practical side of this conversation and discuss what this looks like and how we accomplish it, but I’d like to pause and chew on what’s already been said. Perhaps someone else has something to add.


Posted on August 12, 2005, in new kind of youth ministry. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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