I was struck, but not surprised in hearing of the death of Amy Winehouse last week. It was painful to hear about her. I secretly hoped that she would pull it out and have an amazing career. Yet, her lifestyle was one of unrestrained passion and careless risk taking. As I remembered her last week, the comparison to youth ministry was just too close. So I asked myself, what would a youth ministry look like led from her perspective?
I’m going to skip all the details of alcoholism and carousing and assume no youth leader would be caught doing those things. Instead I will focus on the ideals that drove her life.
Amy Winehouse was given in to passion. If she led a youth ministry, I think she would have preached from her passions. She would have shocked teens weekly with a tirade of questions about how they lived.
Judging from the lyrics of her famous single “Rehab”, she would have been brutally honest in calling out what was in the room. She would have confronted hypocrisy and called for action. Above all she would have brought adolescents into a place of being real with themselves and moving on from shame in past mistakes.
Because the candle that burns brighter burns half as long, she would have only lasted a year or two in a church. Her defiance and need to push the envelope through expressing herself would have, unfortunately, put her in a place of vulnerability too easy for critics to dismantle. Let’s face it, she would have had many critics. Many parents and pastors would have resented her blunt confrontations.
The truth is, there are a lot of youth ministries around who look a lot like this. A huge appeal to becoming a youth pastor is to rage against the machine of church politics and preach a radical truth. While this is somewhat satisfying for some, it also leaves a frothy white mess in its wake.
How much damage is done from serial youth ministers in mainline churches? The impact of long term growth is denied in this model of youth ministry. This style also suffers from a lack of faith. In trying to be the sole truth bearer, youth ministers who serve in this way don’t allow room for the Spirit to work in individual’s lives and produce real fruit.
So, we learn from Amy Winehouse’s life that passion attracts a crowd but doesn’t always lead to long term change. Many will remember her for a long time, but her significance as an artist is limited by her untimely death. Like her, youth leaders also reflect this lack of longevity when they lead only from passion and shock value. They will have an initial impact but will lack in long term significance in the lives of those they lead.