Youth Ministry in 2014

January 28th, 2014
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I recently attended a youth training event and it reminded me of several things:

Youth Workers, plural

There remains a cadre of people, particularly women, who are concerned and committed to helping the church's youth. It does the heart wonder to see over a hundred people giving up a beautiful Saturday morning to gather together to think, pray, learn, fret about, and/or be energized over working with the church's teenagers.


There are an incredible amount of resources available in today's market concerning young people. I started working with youth in the summer of 1971. Two years earlier the fledgling companies of Group and Youth Specialties were started, in part, due to the lack of resources, and NOW those two companies are just a part of the huge explosion of youth resources. While there is this incredible amount of “stuff” it has become a double edged sword. On the one hand all these resources including books, articles, curriculum, web sites, blogs etc.; and on the other hand a world where some people feel compelled to “publish” any random thought, idea, or youth ministry concern via blogs, facebook, twitter, or even self-published books. The “average” volunteer or even “professional” (meaning being paid to do “youth ministry”) can and often does have trouble making a discerning choice of what to believe and what to use.

3. The incredible lack of historical memory by most youth ministry resources and even some “professionals.” Now here I will sound like the “old man” that I am. For example the youth empowerment movement, where youth are to be the leaders, is “old,” and not some new found theological stance. Curriculum was designed for this in the 1990s; it was very much the rage in the sixties and seventies; and if you are an astute church historian you know that in every age of church history there has been some form of youth empowerment movement including a teenager being the “bearer” of Christ into the world. OR consider about the recent book talking about the failing of recreational youth ministry. For forty years I've heard this and now it is new again? This lack of historical memory comes about as those in youth ministry have not been able to glean from past generations the wisdom and experience they have in their experience in youth ministry. It is as if each successive generation of youth ministers, both “volunteer” and “paid,” have to create everything NEW without any knowledge of the past.

4. It is incredibly difficult to create spiritually mature Christians out of teenagers (which is what seems to be the goal of much youth ministry today) who are probably not “mature” in any other way (for example physically, emotionally, socially, economically) AND it is even more difficult to create spiritually mature Christian out of teenagers whose parents and church are not spiritually mature either. In fact, why would we even think we could create spiritually mature Christians out of folks who are 15, 16 or 17? (see The Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas E. Bergler, 2012.)

5. Lastly, when I started in youth ministry most “speakers” would tell their conversion story as a way to draw the audience in and to create some type of credibility or connection with the audience. Over time the “conversion” stories became more and more “spectacular.” It was if the speakers had to say to us, the audience, my conversion was even more dramatic then the last speakers or even Paul’s (you know from the Bible). Another word if you did not have some dramatic conversion story of how God saved you from every evil in the world then you did not have credibility and/or your faith was not good enough. A few years ago the speakers in youth ministry began to tell the stories of youth they knew and/or ministered with as a way to draw the audience in and/or have credibility. But now, as then, over time the stories of these young people being told by speakers resemble not so much the stories of the young people who live in my home or go to my wife’s churches, they resemble the stories of the worst juvenile delinquents on the planet. It is as if you haven’t worked with or “converted” the worst of the worst you cannot have anything to say to us youth workers.

Just some random thoughts on youth ministry.

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