I recently got an email from an apologetic parent saying that their child no longer wants to do youth.
I wasn’t offended, nor did I feel like it was a reflection on me as their youth pastor. The church has been transitioning from a youth leader who has been there for 5 years. It’s perfectly understandable that this transition has been hard on many of the kids and that the “new guy” just doesn’t quite get them yet. Some of them may not want to invest in getting to know the “new guy.”
I was trying to figure out what my next steps should be. Should I call? Should I email back? Should I try to meet up with them? Or should I just let this one go?
Until the wording of the message jumped out of my phone.
“No longer wants to do youth.”
For me, this was a huge insight for my current and previous church settings (both in affluent, Anglo-dominant, suburban areas). I wonder how many people who fill the pews of our church feel like church is something that we “do”?
Church and spiritual formation are not top priorities if church/God are things we just do, because those can easily be dropped from our already hectic schedule. Church should be something we are. Faith is not an activity, but a calling. God is not something that takes an hour of life, but someone who desires our all.
So, how do we, as church leaders, help the people we serve move beyond doing church and start being church? How do we get them to see that faith isn’t an activity but a lifestyle, a calling?
For me, it’s a shift of mentality. I’ve talked to many UMC youth pastors and youth workers in Southern California. The majority of them feel that building relationships with youth is one their biggest priorities, and I agree with them. Strong relationships are vital to all ministries. But what I started to feel was that we don’t go any further than establishing good, healthy and strong relationships. As a pastor or leader, we become that dependable, trustworthy, wise, gentle, question-answerer for our people. This also describes how I feel many Christians view their God. Kenda Dean, in Almost Christian writes about how many young people view religion and God based on what churches and adults have handed down to them:
The gospel... functions primarily as a social lubricant, with a “god” who supports teenagers’ decisions, makes them feel good about themselves, meets their needs when called upon but otherwise stays out of the way.
Yes, Kenda is writing about teenagers’ faith, but how many adults do you know who may have the same concept of God in our churches? As Kenda writes, the kids believe this because it is the gospel that we (whether intentionally or unintentionally) have taught them with our words and actions.
My goal is not building strong relationships with parishioners based on/with the foundation of faith (although that’s a good one). No, I believe we need to go deeper. Our goal should be intentionally making disciples. As Mike Slaughter preaches, “everything we do should lead to discipleship.”
When we focus on discipleship, I strongly believe that God becomes more than a “social lubricant.” Discipleship leads people to see that faith in God goes beyond a once-a-week commitment-- it's a life commitment. God is involved, not one day a week, but every moment of our lives. When we are intentional in making disciples, church won't be something we do, it will be something we are.
Joseph Yoo is pastor of youth and spiritual formation at Valencia United Methodist Church in Valencia, CA. He blogs at Step by Step.