Perhaps the most apparent belief system held by young people today is that of hedonism. Hedonism is the belief that meaning and fulfilment is found through the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain. If you have any doubts about whether or not this describes your young people ask yourself how often they utter the word “boring”! If something is not personally enjoyable to them then it’s deemed of little value.
Those who hold to the belief of hedonism exhibit behaviour according to three rules. The first rule is the rule of personal gratification in which they ask themselves “What’s in it for me?” Actions that bring benefit and blessing to others seem to carry little attraction if they involve personal sacrifice with no sense of personal enjoyment or satisfaction.
The second rule the hedonist lives by is the rule of subjective gratification in which they decide whether or not something is personally gratifying to them. It is characterised by the motto “If it feels good do it!” They have little interest in your assurance that they will enjoy something because others did. What’s important to them is their own subjective assessment.
The third rule is the rule of immediate gratification. The hedonist looks to receive pleasure in the immediate future – the more immediate the better. Your appeal to the fact that “you’ll be glad you did this later”, is unconvincing at best and irrelevant at worst.
These rules which so many young people live by have important implications for how we approach youth ministry. The question is, do we do fun activities simply to attract hedonistic young people? Or do we do more serious Bible related activities that demonstrate the emptiness of hedonism. Again, my suggestion is, we do both.
There is nothing wrong of course with having fun. God loves to see young people enjoying themselves. There are two dangers to avoid though. The first is that we simply feed hedonism by having fun for fun’s sake, or that we make fun an end in itself. If a programme is simply designed to be fun and has no redeeming purpose by which young people might eventually find meaning in Christ, are we not simply feeding hedonism?
The second danger is that we use the promise of fun to dishonestly lure young people into our programmes and then once we have them there we revert to our real agenda. By all means have fun in your youth programme but never use fun to hide the spiritual dimension to your programme when you promote it. Doing so is dishonest.
So in planning for an effective youth ministry we not only have fun, but alongside this fun we openly offer something that offers greater depth and meaning than what “fun” can provide. In time, the young people themselves come to realise this and hedonism is replaced by a belief system that puts love of God and love of others ahead of love of fun. In short, our strategy is to both recognise the reality of hedonism while at the same time exposing its shallowness and overcoming it.
Let me finish with a story that illustrates this. Our weekly youth programme took place on Friday nights. We would meet at 7.30pm for worship and Bible study and from about 9.00pm onwards they were free to play games, eat food and talk. One of our leaders once commented to me “When I first came to youth group I really wasn’t interested in the worship and Bible study. I only came for the fun afterwards.” I replied that I knew that and that that was OK. It may have been that the fun was what was attractive to young people but over time they gradually came to appreciated the value of Bible study and began to enter freely into worship.
For reflection: If someone accused your youth ministry of being basically about just having fun, what evidence would you present to refute them?
Excerpted from our booklet “Effective Youth Ministry”