Thursday, March 13, 2014
"You get paid for going on vacation's with teenagers?"
"I wish I could have a job where I could go to the mountains for a week each summer?"
"You do 'that' for a job?"
"When are you going to get your 'own' church?" (Translation: When are you going to "grow up" or become a "senior" minister?)
With 25 years of Youth Ministry under my belt, I have heard a lot of strange comments from people who do not totally understand what I do.
Let me insert an important note here, I have personally NEVER worked for a church that did not honor, respect and hold in high regard the role of student ministry and ministers (I realize I am very blessed). Most of the above statements come from those outside my church context and/or individuals I cross path's with at various speaking engagements.
From the outside, it may be difficult at times to see the theological trajectory and pedagogy (I thought it would be fun to use big words) of paint ball, mud volleyball, messy games and amusement park programing of student ministers. Therefore, I am going to share the three reasons student ministers do what they do for the Church and serve a crucial function in the Kingdom's advance in the world. The big "three" are not totally original to me or any one person. My awareness and dedication to them have primarily come through witnessing the interplay of the three in my youth ministry heroes lives and intense theological reflection (for fear of leaving someone out, there are too many heroes to attempt to mention. Even so, my youth minister, Philip Nichols, modeled the three perfectly and still impacts my life today. Mike Yaconelli and Chap Clark solidified the theological place of the three in my ministry). So... senior pastor, minister, church leader, parent, student or church "curmudgeon," here are the three.
The purpose of Youth Ministry is to...
...assist families and adults in bringing students into the presence of Jesus Christ. This great commission task (Which has a secondary focus as well--see below) should dwell in the core of all believers and certainly ministers. The role of youth ministry is NOT to keep students busy, entertained, happy and out of the way of big church activity. Our role is to serve as missionaries that present the never-changing truth of the gospel in an ever-changing adolescent culture (that is why some of the methods or communication can seem a bit "off the wall" at times). In many of today's youth ministry contexts, one of the most important jobs of the youth minister is to raise up an army of caring adults to share the gospel because there is not a stable family environment present in a student's life.
...assist families and adults in educating students for life and eternity.
This is the second "teaching them to observe..." part of the great commission task. You may have noticed, most youth minister's do not back down from talking or starting a conversation about uncomfortable topics. Why? Because youth ministers, as cultural missionaries, know students are asking, will ask or about to ask difficult questions of faith and life application. Sticky Faith research has shown that student's who express and explore doubt during their adolescent years have a better chance of "sticking" to the Christian faith after high school graduation (The Fuller Youth Institute has just released a great resource for working though difficult questions with students. Check out Can I Ask That?). Youth ministry should be proactive and not reactive in educating students and assisting families/adults in educating students (btw: a proactive education program takes intentional theological and need assessment reflection). It is my belief that it is a sin to bore students (or adults for that matter) when presenting and applying the Word of God. So, youth ministers will look for creative ways to educate students and families/adults with the facts of and practical application of biblical truths (again, that is why teaching moments are often more than creative lecture and "off the wall"). I acknowledge that much more can, should and is constantly be discussed concerning the how and what of education and youth ministry. The point being made here is that youth minister's have a key roll of assisting in and educating student's for life and eternity.
...assimilate students into the overall community of faith.
For years, even in the most supportive youth ministry environments, the "official" task of youth ministry concluded with the graduation of the student from High School. However, with churches moving to more of a holistic view of ministry, this third task of youth ministry has risen in importance. In other words, church leaders are beginning to acknowledge the ill effects that silo-ed youth ministry programming is having on our students and church communities. There are "successful" youth ministries (number of participants being used as the marker) that fulfill the first two purposes of student ministry with excellence and effectiveness. However, after graduating, what kind of connection do these students have with their overall church community? Some of these students have rarely been in a worship service with other adult believers or even heard a steady dose of preaching from their senior pastor! My intention is not to throw rocks but shed light on the importance of this third purpose for youth ministry. It is my opinion that senior pastors, ministers and leaders have to constantly ask longitudinal and assimilating questions of their ministers and ministries. Such questioning leads to systemic change in the silo-ed ministry programming mentality and replaces it with a holistic programming model in which all ministries work together in the spiritual formation of students (youth ministry "assists"is a word used in the discussion of the first two purposes of student ministry. This word is intentional and highlights the responsibility shared by the entire community of faith). While youth ministers, with humility, can suggest the process, Senior pastors, ministers and leaders, ministers need to be the originators of the longitudinal and assimilating questioning of ministries. Why? Without senior leadership level buy in, the third purpose of student ministry is very difficult if not impossible to accomplish.
Certainly, youth minister's will continue to hear "you do 'that' for a job?" type of statements.
Even so, now you know the simple, high calling of Youth Ministers.
Sorry I have to run.
I have to go camping with a bunch of 8th graders (no, it is not vacation).