I’ll Probably End Up Preaching
I’ve never believed that youth ministry should be a stepping stone to real ministry and I’m not sure that it is a very good place for young ministers in the first place. However, I realize that in many ways my understanding is a minority viewpoint. I enjoy working with young people. I enjoy the zeal of teens and young adults; their desire and passion for community. Their willingness to be formed into something…anything really. But I’ll probably end up preaching.
Don’t get me wrong, I love to preach. I’d even go so far as to say that I may have some small amount of giftedness in preaching. I don’t like that after my last youth ministry job, my older friends were telling me that this was my chance; I’d finally put in enough time in the minors to hope for the call to the “The Show.” I could now be a real minister…a preacher.
Among scholars, theologians, ministers, and Christians in general, there are those who believe Youth Ministry (YM) is not only a waste of time, but a detriment to the Kingdom of God. In my mind, this isn’t really about YM so much as it is about the Church’s view of and approach to specialized ministries in general. And therein we find the problem.
It seems that the Church is in a Catch-22 regarding YM. It is fairly obvious that there is dissatisfaction with the present state of YM, yet there is also a pretty firm expectation that ministers fit the current mold. We want mature youth ministers, but we only want to pay to hire a rookie. We want a man with a family, but we want him to maintain a single college student’s schedule. We want something more than a bunch of fun and games, so long as that “something more” doesn’t involve doing anything differently than what we’ve always done. We want them to involve the congregation, so long as they don’t actually expect the congregation to be involved. We want them to teach the young people to function as a part of the congregation and to ensure that they will stick around after high school, but this should be done in a manner that doesn’t disrupt the flow of “big church”.
I’m not sure that youth ministers themselves are really going to be able to facilitate some of these conversations within churches. There is too much baggage and expectation. So I’ll probably end up preaching. It will give me an opportunity to advocate for (what I believe to be) a more healthy approach to specialized ministries in general – YM being one of those.
Spiritual Formation has been a central and intentional focus of my approach to ministry for the last several years. The intentional, lifelong process and journey of being conformed to the image of Christ is an essential part of our identity as the Church. In relation to my specific theology of ministry, I often refer to a three-fold personal calling: introducing individuals to the life of faith, providing tools for continued growth across the lifespan, and building a connection to the church – both the local congregation and the historical church across time and geography. These three aspects are key components in curriculum design, calendar development and all other aspects of ministry – regardless of the population with which we’re dealing. This approach was developed through experience and research in youth ministry, but I have become convinced that it has value as a whole church approach.
I firmly believe that the church’s ministry must not stop at simply teaching the Gospel and baptizing individuals who then become participants in our Bible classes – as vital as that is to our identity, it is only the start. I believe that we must be about equipping the saints for works of service and helping them to find their connection to God’s story. This means that the church must exist as both a called and a sent community, one that exists outside the city walls where security, safety and peace are not guaranteed. If we do not take on the characteristics of the called, then our attempts at forming Christians who actively seek to serve God will be academic at best…and completely ineffective at worst.
Our continued formation into the image of Christ means that we continually learn what it means to empty ourselves, becoming nothing, taking on the very nature of a servant. As a minister, I am committed to see this type of growth occur at all age levels with the support of all age levels. In this way I may be able to work toward the spiritual formation of children, adolescents, young adults, as well as middle aged folks and senior adults. Each of these groups should look not only to their own interests but also to the interest of others. What if the preacher saw it as his role to provide the theological framework for an intergenerational, congregational approach to specialized ministries? What if the preacher was concerned with the spiritual formation of the other ministers, the ministry leaders and volunteers, all of whom together focused on equipping the whole congregation for works of service?
I’ll probably end up preaching.