Wednesday, February 08, 2012

    On Second Thought: RE-Rethinking Youth Ministry

    In the first of a new category of posts, Brian considers "Could I have been wrong?"

    Part of "Rethinking Youth Ministry" is not just simply critiquing the current paradigms but also rethinking my own assumptions about what youth ministry is and how it should function within the Church.

    Two recent companion posts at the excellent youthministry360 blog have challenged me to do exactly that. In his essay Can Big Fun Still Be In Style?, Ben Kerns makes the observation that the growing tide against attractional youth ministry seems to be related to the rise of professional youth ministry and the increasing age of the typical youth minister. Why is this a problem? Kerns writes:
    With youth workers aging, is it possible that the passions, desires, and energy which goes into the job dramatically changes? The older I get the more I’m interested in global issues and local impact. I want a life and a ministry that’s integrated, and making an impact with more than just suburban middle class kids. Compared to these new things God is doing in my life, setting up a marshmallow war just doesn’t seem to pack the same punch.
    Kerns appears to argue that some of us 30+ year old pastors working with youth who turn our noses up at attractional youth ministry do so partly for reasons that are not strictly theological. Rather, we are just simply too old to want to spend a great deal of our time playing silly games with teens. And as much as I hate to admit it....I think he's on to something.

    In my twenties, I was happy to play sardines and engage in messy games. Now, I'm more likely to stand on the sidelines and watch simply because those sort of activities don't interest me any more. Does this mean I've decided to rethink my opposition to attractional ministry? No, but Ben does cause me to consider that perhaps the older we get, the more we must be intentional to see the world through the eyes of the young people we serve. Is it possible that relating to teens is too hard to do the older we get? Should pastors over thirty simply get out of the youth ministry business altogether? No way says co-founder of youthministry360 Andy Blanks (in one of the best essays on youth ministry that I've read in a long time!).

    During those early years serving with youth, I made it a point to surround myself with volunteers who were at least a decade older than myself. I was the youth minister, but I learned a lot from those older adults about how to relate to youth and what real priorities should be in ministry. Now that I am one of those older adults, I can see the benefits that a few extra years can give you in working with youth. Perhaps the best youth ministry teams offer a mix of ages -- young adults who still love lock-ins and all-nighters, and older adults who show that they care about teens not because they are so much like them, but because we are all one in the body of Christ, travelling together on a very long journey of faith.


    Calvin Park said...

    Brian, I totally agree that we need a mix of ages among our volunteer teams (though I'd hesitate to call 30 old). In fact, it's something we're currently trying to build into our volunteer team at my church.

    However, I don't buy that the push-back against attractional youth ministry is related to age. I'm an under-30 youth director, and--as you know--I don't buy into the whole attractional youth ministry thing. I had two summer interns last year who, as we discussed youth ministry philosophy over the summer, didn't really find much resonance with attractional youth ministry, even though it had been the way things were done in their youth groups growing up.

    Sure, our desires change as we grow older. I would say the push-back against attractional youth ministry is actually an issue of youth workers being better trained now than they were 20 years ago. We now have practical theologians who focus on youth ministry. We have seminaries that have staff devoted to youth ministry. All of that means a much more theologically nuanced approach. So, in the end, I don't really think that the (possible) aging of youth ministry staff has much--if anything--to do with it, at least vis-a-vis age. Experience might play into it.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Thanks Calvin. I think you are right that is more related to the professionalization of youth ministry --that we have more theologically trained youth pastors who understand that ministry with youth can be more than entertainment and programs.
    By the way, I'm 45 and I don't consider myself old (and members of my church who are in their 80's would laugh if I told them I was "old."). I think you can be in youth ministry at any age, still be able to access your inner "child" and also lead a ministry that is mature and grounded in the things that really matter.

    Andy Blanks said...

    What a thoughtful and thought provoking post. I love your willingness to continually engage and evaluate your ministry mindset. It's part of what makes your site and words so valuable.

    And, sincerely, thanks for the kind words on the article. Coming from you, it's high praise indeed!

    Keep up the awesome work.

    Benjer said...

    Personally, even when I was 23, I was never great at organizing "purely fun" events, or at planning games that would be fun and build relationships.

    "Attractional" to some people means "fake," "consumer/entertainment driven" or even "bait 'n switch." Attractional youth ministry can just mean "fun." And while fun isn't everything, I think (and I'm learning, because I'm a get-down-to-business-and-talk-about-Jesus-for-45-minutes-who-needs-games guy,) that fun is an important part of Jesus-centered community. Because people who love each other will often let down their guard and have fun together, whether it's a game of spoons in a six-student youth group or a fancy worship setup complete with lights, a polished humorous skit, and amazing sound.

    Here's a huge question we need to ask: is the event/game/program/facility saying, "Look at me/us!" (our ministry, youth pastor, building, how great we are), or is it saying "Look at Jesus"?

    Oh, and Brian, I hope I'm still in youth ministry when I'm 45, Lord willing.

    Brian Kirk said...

    Benjer, I hear you saying that our motivation is important. I think if we are doing attractional (aka "fun") knowing it has nothing to do with who we are but simply because it will draw in more teens, we might want to rethink that approach. It borders on manipulation. I agree that building community is important, though, and there is no reason it can't be fun. As Christians, we probably need to be doing a lot more celebrating the way we have found each other and formed community together as the body of Christ.

    Brian Kirk said...

    You are welcome Andy. And thanks to your site for inspiring my brain to do some rethinking!

    Steve Blanchard said...

    I Definitely think mixing it up is a good idea. various ages is important and I'm of the belief that any age can actually engage with youth.