Last year I read Mark Yaconelli's text Contemplative Youth Ministry and breathed a sigh of relief. At last, a youth ministry tome that was giving us all permission to slow down, to introduce silence into our time with teenagers, and to focus on relationship over entertainment. I was impressed enough with that text to share many of its general themes with my adult youth ministry team and encourage them to join me in introducing more worship, more prayer, and more relaxation into our youth ministry gatherings.
Now Mark has come along with, I think, an even more important text: Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry. This book is really a companion to the previous text. It is a practical theology growing out of the other book's theory. Mark shares the history of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project (YMSP) and then provides a great deal of anecdotal information on how the project was put into practice in a variety of youth ministry settings. In some churches, the introduction of contemplative practices brought transformation. In others it brought frustration. What has really resonated with me most in my reading so far is that the YMSP is not first-and-foremost suggesting that we turn youth into junior monks, forcing them to sit around chanting and taking a vow of silence. Rather, the first step is to attend to the spiritual life of the adult leaders:
[A] Contemplative approach to youth ministry does not entail teaching youth to become contemplatives. It entails a leadership team committed to a contemplative process of its own that enables its members to see ways of crafting programmatic action that authentically participates with God in nurturing life and faith in young
This sort of thing gets the gears in my head going. Imagine a group of diverse adults from your church who gather periodically, not to plan scavenger hunts and ski trips, but to pray, study scripture, and discern together the movement of the Spirit within your particular youth ministry setting. I'm not suggesting here the typical "youth council" model which tends to be primarily a calendaring/programming body (as well as the group that gives a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down"to the youth minister's wackier ideas). Rather, the idea here is to develop a team that will focus on the spiritual health of the youth, the youth ministry and the way in which that ministry fits into the spiritual life of the whole church. I'm anxious to see how this idea is developed in the rest of the book.