Saturday, July 18, 2015

Youth ministry presuppositions. . .

For as long as I can remember youth ministry has been in trouble.  Ups and downs have always been part and parcel of the typical church's youth ministry.  This is no less true among Lutheran parishes.  For the same time, we have seen a commonality of youth programing across the spectrum of denominations.  This has resulted in a largely peer-dominated, parent-free zone paradigm of youth ministry programs.  In other words, the best people to lead youth programs are youth and the best teachers of youth are youth and the best folks to decide what youth ministry should be about are, well, you got it, youth!

From a theological perspective, and it is always dangerous to talk theology in the same paragraph as youth ministry -- we have long affirmed (at least in theory) that parents are the primary educators of their children and thus have the primary obligation and responsibility for their children’s faith formation. Yet the manner in which we organize youth programs is to suggest that peers are more significant teachers of the faith than the moms and dads of the kids.  It is as if we operate with a methodology that undermines one of our basic theological principles -- namely that the parents are the most significant spiritual mentors, roll models, and teachers of their children.

I would posit the radical truth that the most effective youth programs in the parish take place in the home.  Where mom and dad are examples of faith and faithful Christian life for their children, youth find not only instruction but pathways on which they too will journey as the baptized whose vocation is to become the people God has declared them to be.  While it is certainly truth that not all, perhaps not even most youth benefit from this kind of spiritual leadership in the home, the church can and should fill the void.  The void that should be filled first, however, is working with the parents within the home to take up their divinely appointed responsibilities to their children.  Second, the church must take great care not to imply or infer that the spiritual leadership of the home is neither as significant or as reliable as the encouragement of their peers.  Finally, the church would do well to make sure that inherent in our youth programs is not the subtle distrust or suspicion of the very adults whom God has placed in their lives of these children to lead and guide them.

Just thinking. . . and you know how dangerous that can be!


1 comment:

John J. Flanagan said...

I agree with you about the problem, and although the real solution is found in parental example and discipline, many have placed Christian education into the hands of the church, thereby absolving themselves of their own clear responsibility as parents. It is the same with those parents who seldom show an interest in educating their children, but pass it on to their teachers and schools. Then they wonder why their children are learning wrong values in the public education process, and from their peers. It is a problem which existed for many decades, including my own failings in this area. At a Lutheran church I once attended on Long Island, a woman whose child was involved in soccer on Sunday complained that they could seldom attend church because it interfered with soccer games. What kind of priority have Christian parents placed on their children's spiritual education in America. Then we wonder why our country has become a Babylonian society of immorality in a relatively short period of time, and why some churches are closing in some areas. However, all is not lost, because in the West (Arizona), where I have lived for 7 years, churches are huge and have large youth ministries and full family participation, and also in the south. Our local LCMS has a good youth membership at church and at the local University, but yes ideed....everyone would like larger numbers. We have to keep talking about it, and keep moving, doing God's work even where parents themselves may be indifferent, apathetic, or just too busy working to do their part.