This question has been rolling through my head for months now. I found through my experience with Mark Oestreicher‘s YMCP, that sometimes community answers these questions much better than an individual (me). So I asked several people whose opinion I highly value to answer it. This is the first post in a series.
I’ve only met Joel once at last year’s NYWC in San Diego, but I have been reading his blog for a while now. I always find him a fresh voice with ideas that are much more mature than his age. There’s an old soul living in him.
“If I had to sum up the objective of youth ministry, it’d be in two words: make disciples. To add two more words, “go and make disciples.” Of course, the word “disciple” has all sorts of implications, images, and baggage associated with it. A disciple is one who follows Jesus, and success in discipleship is long-term holistic fruit. This means seeing students who love Jesus with their heart, soul, mind, and strength years later as adults. It means having relationships with students that last far beyond a program, that their relationship with Jesus lasts for decades. Their entire identity is found in Jesus, and their lives are signposts for the kingdom of God in our midst.
That all sounds very idealistic, because it is. Discipleship is inherently a journey, a process, a story being told that is never completely finished on this side of Jesus’s coming. I’m not interested in making youth group champions, i.e. those students whose best spiritual years happened between 14 and 18 years old. I’m interested in making disciples, those whose lives are completely transformed by an ongoing experience and relationship with Jesus.”
There’s so much about this that I love, that I could write pages in response.
If you have read this blog or know me at all, you know the D word pulls a lot of weight in my life. The fact that Joel sees discipleship as a process, and that it’s more than just education gets me excited. I personally find that this objective (which is really a path more than an outcome) bears tons of fruit and exorcises so many problems in youth ministry.
I have maintained an e-presence with Adam since the YMX days. Though often pigeonholed as a technology guy, he has way more to say about youth ministry. Rumor has it that he is also working on a book on this subject. If that proves to be true, I’ll be first in line to buy it.
“I think we’ve made youth ministry about attending our program. (And church about attending our worship service) This was the crux of the fishbowl I lead and I’d love to walk you through the thought process behind it over the phone or something.
Here’s the short version: For 90%+ of students in our community the way we disciple, worship, or relate to God doesn’t work for them. But yet every single high school ministry is shaped the exact same way… like McDonald’s. You are either part of the program or you are not.
So for the 10% of people who have wrapped their entire relationship with Jesus around this one thing… attending worship services or going to youth group… when that goes away when they turn 18ish… they don’t see the church as a viable option anymore. The church is doing something completely irrelevant to their experience.
How do we head this off? I think from top to bottom we need to be integrationists. That’s all I’ve ever done when I’ve been in charge. I got high schoolers on boards, I got them voting rights in the church, I kicked them out of Sunday school, I got them running our kids ministry, I got them running our worship services, they did visitation with me… on and on.
From middle school on up we need to involve students in everything we do. That doesn’t mean we don’t need a youth pastor. It means that the youth pastor has to see himself in a different light. Sure, there are moments where the youth pastor still does youth group stuff. (I lead mission trips, took kids to amusement parks… we did 1 fun and 1 service thing just for students every month) But the point of the youth workers job can’t be to run a program and act as a cruise director. It has to be to integrate and advocate for students in their community.
That’s part 1. ”
If my introduction for Adam didn’t show him as a pioneering idea factory, then his words certainly do.
If we could all embrace a role of helping teens practice their faith in the life of the church through integration and discipleship like Joel writes, I’m convinced we would see a different church in twenty years.