Tuesday, September 29, 2009

    Are We Playing It Safe in Youth Ministry? Pt. 2

    In a recent post, I argued that we need to stop playing it safe in youth ministry and encourage our youth to follow a more radical Jesus. Several of you offered some helpful comments on this post and I didn't want them to go unnoticed. Here is a sampling:

    It is more dangerous inside the church than it is outside. It is like being trapped in a garage with the car running and breathing spiritual carbon monoxide, until you pass out and then die spiritually. The toxic fumes of religion are no match for following Christ in the open air of a hurting world.

    So much of youth ministry have been tuned to "protect" teens from the "evil world". The church turns missional, but strangely enough youth ministry seems to be the last to change. In youth ministry we still do the contra-world type ministry where we simply duplicate what happens in the local culture and so it in a "safe Christian environment". Dangerous Youth Ministry might be not have youth group, but to send our teens back to where they come from... that is where they should be living, not true?

    To make a Church dangerous, we as Youth pastors must first be dangerous. When Jesus is being made known and people see the fruit in our ministry they will either: fire us, or follow us.

    Our blogger friend Jason shared a sort of companion post he wrote for his blog that echoes the sentiment that perhaps we've been playing too safe with our youth. Jason comments:

    After reading your post Brian I couldn't help but think of Lenore Skenazy in New York who wrote a book called "Free Range Kids." As a reporter she found that the HYPE about danger was always WAY out of proportion to the reality. She was voted worst mom for letting her 9 year old ride by himself on the New York Subway system. Churches could probably do months of lessons on just statistics alone showing how the things we think are dangerous in reality are not the things we
    should be worried about.

    And finally one reader was helpfully honest:

    I'm living that "safe" youth group (note - I can't even call it ministry) and it's killing me! Oh, to be dangerous...that's what I want. How can I get my church to become dangerous?

    This is the real question, of course. How do we get our ministries to be more "dangerous" when it comes to following the radical way of Jesus? I have suggested some broad approaches: radically reinvisioning the world in which we live, opposing violence and working for peace, speaking out against intolerance and injustice, leaving the comfort of our youth rooms, and deciding that sharing our faith means more than convincing other people of our religious point of view. Those are the big ideas, but how about some practical suggestions to get us started living more dangerously. One reader, Jay, shared what his group is trying to do:

    We started 2 years ago doing what we call eVANgelism, where we pile into vans loaded with press pots of coffee and hot cocoa and head to downtown Toledo Ohio on winter evenings (typically thursday) and give everyone we can find coffee and cocoa, sometimes praying with people, sometimes sharing the Gospel, sometimes just having conversations.

    This evolved into a summer ministry where we take our bikes downtown split up and just meet people on their lunch breaks, or general pedestrians and talk about life, pray, and share the gospel. The response has been tremendous for the most part. The one piece of advice everyone gives us is this "Be careful". I understand the concern, I really do, but that advice is an indictment on where we are as a church in america... too much caution, too much fear.

    Read the rest of Jay's comments here. Jay's eVANgelism effort started small, with intermittent success. But this is the way to move into more dangerous ministry. Dip your toes in the water. Be a careful observer of your youth and see what they are ready for and what challenges will excite them. Take small but brave steps and see where they take you. Those steps might include:

    • Challenging your youth to round up all the stuff in their rooms at home that they hardly ever use, even though it is perfectly good "stuff." This might include clothes, cds, books, electronics. If they haven't used it in the last year, have them bring it to the church, hold a rummage sale, and decide on a worthy cause that could use the funds. Follow-up on a study or radical stewardship.

    • Experiencing a homeless simulation by creating a shanty town on your church parking lot from cardboard boxes and then you and your youth sleep in them overnight, your only food being some sandwiches and water served to you from the trunk of a church member's car. Debrief the experience as a way to talk more honestly about the problems of homelessness.

    • Taking a stand on an issue involving justice, peace, prejudice or oppression in your community by creating signs with positive messages about the issue and then displaying them as your group stands on a busy street corner on a silent vigil.

    • Partnering with local interfaith youth groups to do a mission project together, taking time in the experience to learn about each other's values and belief systems.
    Other suggestions? --Brian


    Derek said...

    It seems to me that the idea of "danger" according to many of these posts is merely being uncomfortable:

    "radically reinvisioning the world in which we live, opposing violence and working for peace, speaking out against intolerance and injustice, leaving the comfort of our youth rooms, and deciding that sharing our faith means more than convincing other people of our religious point of view."

    ooh...having a vision about something, being bold enough to speak out on an issue, promoting peace, sharing my faith...I might get killed if I do these things. Where's the actual danger?

    Those aren't any more dangerous than sitting in a youth room talking about what you "should" be doing.

    Those ideas are the popular thing to do in America. They barely even make people slightly uncomfortable. It's part of the postmodern world. If you want to promote tolerance...go somewhere other than one of the most tolerant countries in the world. Where's the real danger in those things?

    How about a Mission trip to a Muslim country, with intentions to bringing the good news of Christ, where you have to fly in with a hidden agenda.

    How about standing firm against sin in areas other than tolerance. Where are you truly more likely to experience real danger...holding a picket sign outside of the whitehouse saying, "God loves gays...you should too" (I admit, there's been a few crazy violent right-wingers...but comparatively...) or standing outside an adult porn store telling truckers that what they are doing is sin?

    Brian said...

    Thanks for commenting. We are of course speaking of "dangerous" here in relative terms. And I think it's perhaps helpful to remember that we are not talking about what might seem risky for us as adults, but rather what might create an experience of risk for adolescents. Asking them to leave their comfort zones, make a public statement, experience life the way others do, go without all the amenities their culture tells them they must have, walking into the middle of a poor urban neighborhood -- for many teens these "baby steps" are what they need to test the waters of a more radical faith.

    And I would argue that it's a far more radical thing for many Christian teens to sit down with a Muslim or Jewish teen and share about one another's faith, to learn for each other, without the hidden agenda of each trying to convince the other that they are wrong. And actually I like your idea about standing around with signs about how God loves gays. And the most dangerous place you could do that in this "tolerant country" is outside almost any church on Sunday morning. Try it and see what happens. Better yet, perhaps we should ask our youth to!

    Brian said...

    "radically reinvisioning the world in which we live, opposing violence and working for peace, speaking out against intolerance and injustice, leaving the comfort of our youth rooms, and deciding that sharing our faith means more than convincing other people of our religious point of view."

    Oh, and just for clarity - these suggestions above are, to my understanding, the things that Jesus was all about. They were what he devoted his ministry to as far as scripture is concerned.

    Jay Miklovic said...

    Derek I totally understand you sentiment... except much of what you suggest is intangible to the vast majority youth leaders reading this blog. For instance, a mission trip to Saudi Arabia for 25 kids... I'll do it if you fork out the 100K to make it happen.

    Do you think it is popular for our kids to go downtown and get cussed out by total strangers who they try to serve? It happens. Or to engage people that are scrounging around for change so they can get more crack rocks, is that safe. Or what about the girls that go down with us and have to hear the derogatory comments from men who would love to have their way with them.

    Danger for the sake of danger is stupid, the end goal of youth ministry is to honor and glorify Christ, not to be dangerous. Danger is certainly a means of doing that, but danger for the sake of danger makes 'being in danger' a mere idol.

    I agree that simply fighting intolerance is popular in America for the most part and not overly dangerous... nonetheless moving youth into dangerous ministry starts with getting them outside of their room and seeing that the world actually needs ministered to.

    Then again, maybe the day after you became a believer you bought a plain ticket to the Sudan to fight against genocide... but I doubt it.

    I agree that asserting our 'point of view' is not the sole purpose of ministry, but it also should not be neglected. I suppose I would be so crass as to say it is not mere 'point of view' we present but the very power of God unto salvation.

    We try to balance our ministry as Christ did, see Matt 4, where He begins preaching everywhere that men must repent and at the same time going out and serving all He could.

    I thought this was a very good post and dialog. Thanks for linking my site also. I never realized that the internet community would actually help in my practical ministry, but the ideas and comments shared here and elsewhere have proven very helpful to me in the past few weeks.

    Marv Nelson said...

    Brian, my 12 week series on Jesus is up! This could be a way too, just teaching on Jesus and what he was about. http://emergingyp.blogspot.com/2009/09/old-skool-jesus_30.html

    Marc said...

    Tom Wright provided a key transforming image which makes me want to take our youth ministry outdoors with the comparison to lighthous keepers who, instead of keeping the windows clean put up mirrors to keep the light in. The calling of Abraham, Israel and the Church is the same, to recieve AND appropriate blessing to all nations. Let's finally get with the programme.

    KaGe said...

    Where we have to be careful is how much emphasis we put on the shock value of being dangerous. I agree with the comments and the thesis of the original post, but we have to be careful not to use these 'dangerous opportunities' to scare youth/people into believing in God. I can see the value of these ops in that they are hinge activities that help the students rethink what's valuable in their lives. But if this is the bulk of the ministry without any guidance/direction from the YP, then we've just set up a series of feel good evenings that don't have any depth. Remember, we do this to minister to the youth. Even though they will be ministering to the community, our main focus is guiding the development of our youth's faith.

    How would you go about getting parents to sign the permission slip to send their kids to the Middle East? What would it say, "Your child will more than likely come back disfigured if he/she comes back at all, but will come back having learned a valuable lesson in personal sacrifice and/or martyrdom...Parent/Guardian Signiture required." ;)

    Anonymous said...

    One of my favorite quotes is by Soren Kierkegaard where he says, "No risk, No Faith."

    I mentioned "Free Range Kids," but "Freakonomics," is another great book with more realistic statistics.

    Any youth leader that can find a High Ropes course at a favorite camp has a perfect set up for lessons on risk and challenging youth to literally take a "leap of faith."

    Anonymous said...

    I remember reading an article a while back about an engineer who finds ways to eliminate traffic signals. You can read about it on WIRED's website here:


    The strange thing is that we think this makes the streets more dangerous when actually it forces people to pay more attention to what they are doing when they are driving and there is actually fewer accidents.

    Mo Rocca had a similar report on the CBS Sunday morning show not long ago. You can watch the video here:


    I think there is something about dangerous situations that makes all of us wake up and pay attention in a way that normal "Sunday School" classes in the basement of a church could never do. Just a thought.