Sometimes youth ministry can be tiring. There are programmes to run, young people to see, problems to solve and people to please. And there is so little time. Activity makes us tired, yet there is something even more tiring than activity itself, and that is activity that leaves us with a nagging sense of its real worth. A nagging sense we are not quite doing the right thing.
There are times in which youth ministry has been like that for me. I, perhaps like many, have found myself into the trap of adopting an approach to youth ministry that looks for the next great programme in order to succeed. I’ll scour the internet for ideas; I’ll talk to other youth leaders and find out what has worked for them; I’ll browse bookshops for latest and best resource; I’ll even work to develop my own original resources in the hope that I will find some “magic bullet” that will deepen the faith of my young people.
Don’t get me wrong. Resources are valuable and there are some very good resources out there. And yet I’m tired of youth ministry that relies on me finding the right resource in order to “succeed”.
There is another approach to youth ministry that makes me tired. It is an approach that sees cultural savvy as the key to effective ministry. Nowadays more than ever there are countless, books, studies and theories about youth culture and how to successfully disciple young people within the culture in which they live. In fact, the sheer volume of what’s available and some of the conflicting theories can leave one bewildered.
Again, I’m not for a moment suggesting we don’t take time to study the culture, especially those cultural characteristics that lie below the surface such as values, beliefs and worldview. What leaves me tired is the expectation that if I can just “figure them out” and apply the right formula to my youth programme, then effective ministry will follow.
There is one more thing that tires me out. Approaching youth ministry in a manner that sees as its goal, the filling of young people’s minds with the knowledge of what they should and shouldn’t do. This approach to youth ministry is simply a form of legalism, albeit it Christian legalism. Our “thou shalt” and “thou shalt not” messages cause young people to see their Christian walk as one of rule keeping which either leaves them feeling proud (pharisaic) about how good they are compared to others, or leaves them feeling defeated because there are too many rules to keep and they failed too many times.
One more time I need to issue a disclaimer about what I just said. I’m not saying that we should not teach Biblical values and standards of morality to young people. I do that myself, but need to constantly be on guard so that rules and rule-keeping do not become my primary focus.
This is the youth ministry I’m tired of.
But let’s consider another approach to youth ministry: one which sees God as the Head of the youth ministry and its greatest resource. Let’s consider an approach where the knowledge of Him and His ways are regarded as the key to effective ministry. Let’s consider an approach that places relationship above rules: one where our goal is not simply to teach rules but to help young people develop their own real and living relationship with their Creator and in so doing grow in their hunger to know how to please Him.
In short, let’s consider an approach to youth ministry though which God leads His church through us, drawing young people into a Life giving relationship with Him.
In part 2: Building a theological base for a different approach to youth ministry.