Tuesday, May 24, 2011

    What's Wrong with A Busy Youth Ministry Summer?

    What's on your youth ministry's calendar for this summer?  Camps, camps, and more camps? Mission trips?  Retreats?  Lock-ins? Road trips to amusement parks? 

    In my early days in youth ministry, summertime was always a chance to amp up the activity level of our youth program. Everybody was out of school. None of the younger youth had jobs. We all had lots of free time on our hands. So we created summer calendars packed with trips and events and theme nights at the church.  Maybe in those days that all made sense.

    But what is the reality for the teens you serve today?  If they are like mine, most of them are attending at least a few weeks if not months of summer school. Most of them have jobs (why, I'm not exactly certain).  Most of them have band camp, sports camp, theater camp that is required if they want to participate in fall events at school.  On top of that, there are family trips and activities.  What time is left for church?  Or more to the point: what time is left for sabbath? Our scriptures are ripe with calls for sabbath, both as a way to remember God and as a way to respect that all people (all of creation, in fact) needs rest. Sabbath is also a reminder that, in our tradition, even God rests: 

    Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don't do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day. (Exodus 20: 8-11, The Message Bible)

    This summer why not give yourself and your teens a break?  Slow things down.  Get rid of the over-scheduled calendar.  Provide opportunities for your teens to simply catch their breath, rest, appreciate a time of quiet reflection, and perhaps even silence.  Some possibilites include:

    • Meet regularly at a coffee shop for no other reason than to just sit and talk and catch up on each other's weeks.
    • Cut-back your schedule of activities and encourage your youth to use the extra time for rest.
    • Have a Sabbath lock-in. This one definitely won't be an all-nighter! Design the evening around restful, quiet experiences where teens can read, play cards, or just lie out on a couch and nap.  Set an early bedtime and talk about the scriptural understanding of sabbath and why it's important.
    • Schedule opportunities for your youth to get together and just play...simply. Invite them to bring a frisbee, a football, and so on and just enjoy an evening together hanging out on the church lawn (No Bible study!)
    • Covenant to rest together.  Pick a time each day that you all agree, whenever possible, to stop whatever you are doing wherever you are and simply rest and enjoy a time of silence.  
    I'd just offer one warning:  the more rest you build into your summer youth ministry, the more likely you will be to never go back to the old ways of over-programming your time with teens.  Sabbath is habit-forming!

    What other suggestions can you think of to help teens experience Sabbath this summer?


    mckeetr said...

    Thanks for posting this. It is a reaffirmation of a conversation I had with a youth last night. She's too busy all summer and will be looking forward to camp to get away from the pressures and busyness. And it's a call that I need to heed myself this summer. After being brought back on to the full time church ministry I am able to not work another job, and have the summer off seminary. Sabbath will be had!

    Steve Randall said...

    I appreciate what you've said here, because the youth workers I know do need time to rest and refocus, but here are some thoughts about what's wrong with an inactive youth ministry summer:

    There seems to be an implied assumption here that kids will be less busy in the fall. That's not the case; in fact, they're likely to be even more busy. What we're really talking about here is that the world is winning the hearts of our kids and we're willingly stepping aside because of perceived busyness. No doubt youth work is different from all other forms of education, primarily because of the voluntary nature of the youth-youth worker relationship, but we must have expectations too. It saddens me when I hear students say they can't go on a mission trip because they have, using your example, to attend a required camp for sports or some other school-related activity. I don't buy the busyness excuse. This is about priorities, faith, parenting, and world determined to squeeze the church out of the lives of our young people. We need to stand firm against this. We need to help students and parents see that church is required in order to grow in Christ-likeness.

    Also, the Sabbath is one out of every six, not a three month period of relaxed activity. I'm not saying amp up, but far too many churches take the summer off altogether. Is the enemy taking the summer off too?

    In addition, Sabbath is about rest, but it's intentional God-centered rest. How are we as shepherds going to guide students toward intentional rest focused on honoring God? This might take more than saying meet me at the coffee shop on Thursdays.

    Lastly, contrary to the world's message of busyness, I find that students have more free time in the summer than any other time of the year and most of that time is spent without a mature voice speaking into their lives. Parents are working, youth pastors are resting, teachers are vacationing. This is a time for youth workers to do something different, something more informal and spontaneous, but we still need to be intentional, consistent, and faithful to our call to ministry. Shepherds don't let their sheep wander aimlessly for three months.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Steve, thanks for your reflections. I want to affirm all of what you've said about sabbath and just suggest that everything we mention in the post has the potential to allow one to be centered in God, in solitude or in community with others.

    Sadly, the students I work with Do seem to be twice as busy in the summer as the school year, putting things like camp and mission trips lower and lower on their lists of priorities.