Sunday, May 30, 2010
Youth Ministry... or Not
I must admit that I am conflicted over this thing we call youth ministry. I have read a few books on this – some from Baptist and non-denominational sources – complaining about what has been done in the area of youth ministry. They lamented that youth ministry has become everything from babysitting to fun driven activities to Christianized versions of the same things available in the community (from sports to music to social networking. The defenders of this always point you to the need to build youth and teen friendships with those who share the same values and faith, of the need to break out of the stereotype of somber, straight laced Christians who do not know how to have fun, and to promote a ”not your grandfather’s faith and Church” which equips young people for the future rather than a focus on the past. I suppose there is some legitimacy to all of this but I do wonder if youth ministry simply means kids having fun at Church. If this is all there is to youth ministry, then it is costly and not all that efficient.
Some of the critics of this have suggested that we are doing wrong by our youth by teaching them that Church is about fun or Christianized versions of the same things they do in the secular world. They bemoan the Biblical illiteracy among youth, the separation of values from life choices (for example, some polls suggest that Christian faith makes only about a 6 month difference in the average age teens become sexually active). They insist that youth ministry must be about substance and that we must engage these youth on the plane of beliefs and values that matter and make a difference in their lives. They challenge the youth ministry models of the past and present and insist we must radically redefine our goals, purposes, and plans for ministry to pre-teens, teens, and college age folks.
Other critics complain about the way we have segregated youth to a youth room and isolated them from other generations and adults. They insist that such isolation only reinforces the very false suppositions that the Church ought to be dismantling. They urge congregations to include youth in all the adult things of the Church from governance to witness to teaching and to skip the emphasis on fun. I am hardly an expert on youth ministry but I agree that we sell ourselves short by baby sitting our kids instead of engaging them in substantive matters of Christian faith, values, and life. We hear all the time about the money these kids spend, the adult activities they engage in, the manifold choices they have before them, and all the time they spend alone or out of the company of adult supervision. Surely it would be a good thing to confront these thing directly in the youth ministries of the Church.
I have heard all the good things that large group gatherings (like the national gatherings of the Lutheran church bodies) provide in terms of identity, socialization, and impact but I also know the high cost of such venues and the inordinate amount of time spent on entertainment, contemporary Christian music and make work types of service projects. I am not ready to dismiss them but neither am I ready to say that it is worth the cost and effort to put together and to bring youth from across the country to these places. I know that there are alternatives (Higher Things among them) but I have not had enough experience with them to fully evaluate them here.
I hear people say that we do not spend enough money and time on kids in the Church but given the time, money, staff, and energy invested in Sunday school, catechism, VBS, and youth programs, I find it hard to give credence to their complaints. We seem to program more for youth and elderly and leave out the folks in the middle when it comes to programming and staff. So there you have some of my concerns and some of the things I am hearing, but I wish I knew more...