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.