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...


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

In our society as a whole, we don't know what to do with youth. Do we placate them? Do we entertain them? Things revolve around them. . .

I would guess that this is probably in the influence of American Marketing ideals - where youth have disposable income and thus are able to buy things. It's rock and roll culture, where everything revolves around being young (and staying young).

But we forget that the purpose of our interaction with the young is to help them to grow - that which we do towards youth shouldn't be focused on their "youth" but on helping them to grow and mature. What does this look like - I don't know, but I think it would be a good sort of criteria to think about.

John said...

Sorry, but I don't get it. I don't get the concept of separate ministries for various parts of the congregation.

Why, when so many congregations are looking for ways to be more unified, do we find ourselves knee deep in things that divide?

Are we doing the right thing at church when we bend to the wants of groups and individuals when it comes to services and Bible classes, rather than being certain that they're getting what they need?

Let the youth have their own Bible study at their meetings.

Sunday morning Bible study should be for all communicant members, AND it should be year round.

Sunday morning should be about the congregation being in the Means of Grace, together. We're talking about 2 1/2 hours tops per week of the congregation together in Divine Service and study of the Word, year round.

The youth, the elderly, the men, the women, the singles, the young couples, can all have their separate meetings and Bible studies at any other time of the week, but NEVER on Sunday morning. That's when the congregation worships and studies together.

Pr. Chris Hinkle said...

IMHO smaller congregations generally do a better job of producing committed adults because they provide young people individualized opportunities to learn and serve according to their abilities. It's not about sitting on committees; it's about working side by side with adults, worshiping with them, and, yes, having fun with them. It's about being known and loved and appreciated by the community.

Steve said...

I just made reference to this on the previous blog. Second comment, "third" Steve comment.

I don't want to see the church approach it as a bribe or lure to get kids involved. I'd rather see this approach and message sent. You can have the fun activites or whatever. BUT, they come after and are strictly OPTIONAL. Don't put the focus on the 'activity.' It's an optional thing that is availble as long as you are in "good standing." Make it earned. It's a benefit, but not the focus. It's just like our company Christmas parties. We don't just show up for the party and only come to work occasionaly.

Also, whatever activity is planned, that needs to be tied into giving something back to God. It's a great lesson and active example. Whether it be the group that does "x" activity and gathers to works on a song "youth oriented" (yes, suck it CCM song isn't going to kill anyone. If it 'is' that bad...stick it and the end of the service. "Postlude" if you will) acceptble for God's church. Or along with the fun activity, they also do a fundraiser. They go to "x" trip, or movie, or event with the money they raised -BUT.....the money thats raised, 10-20% goes to God first. That percentage (just like we are to do as adults in our giving)is given for Mission work, or maybe in the case of a young church body, something God's house needs like new hymnals or choir music, etc. Give the kids a choice on PRE-SELECTED giving choices. Let THEM vote and have the final say. It's THEIR offering. They profit, but GOD get's his share first. Also, bring them together and have them present that offering to God in His house. Whatever it is, let them present it and teach them how we are to do that as well. It's NOT about "recognition" for themselves. GREAT LESSON. Most of them aren't learing that at home.

We work hard, we play hard, but we put God first in all we do should be the main focus. There has to be balance or it's just a big party. And the true focus is lost.

God shouldn't have to be subjected to look more "enticing." We know better than that. We can do things that entice us, but God comes first and foremost in everything. Balance, and a commandment. Number one 1 believe! Are we worshiping the "bribe" or God?