Series Editor, Tim Schmoyer This is the twentieth installment in my on-going series as I try to discover current issues facing youth ministry. Over the past several months I've collected interviews from youth workers all over the world. Abby Fox is the youth director at Harvest Presbyterian Church in Ceres, CA and blogs atextraordinary.
What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is struggling with today? Isolation:
It’s great when a church can dedicate specific space for their youth. Churches everywhere are embracing the idea that allowing the youth to have their “own space” will help to create a sense of community within the youth group and be a comfortable place where kids can be themselves and also invite their friends.
Too often the youth room is also representative of what happens within a church. The church allows the youth to be isolated, and sometimes they want the youth isolated, which is anything but unifying for the church. We have all heard the old adage, “youth are to be seen and not heard,” and many still subscribe to the idea that a large youth group means a healthy church.
The deeper problem here is that when the youth are isolated, so are the people who minister to the youth. When the pastoral and/or the lay leadership do not recognize the youth as the church of today and do not extend the reorganization of leadership to the youth worker on their staff, division is created and the church is not unified. Too often churches do not embrace their youth worker and the end result is that the ministry, the church as well as the Kingdom suffers. When a youth workers are considered to be just a glorified babysitter, the ministry will not flourish and will not be effective for the Kingdom of God.
Being a youth pastor is just part of the career path to being a senior/head pastor:
About a year ago I was at a meeting with other youth workers and I struck up a conversation with one of them who was an ordained pastor. She shared with me how she constantly needs to explain to people that she has been called to be a youth pastor and has no desire to be a senior pastor. One thing she constantly has to communicate with people, mostly in her congregation, is that her call is the youth and their families.
One of the great urban legends of youth ministry is that on average a youth worker is only in their position for 18 months. While in some cases this is true, in order for a youth worker to be effective in the lives of the youth and families that they are ministering to, there needs to be a minimum investment of five years in order for the ministry to be truly effective and make a major impact for the Kingdom of God. Too often people enter into youth ministry as a means to an end, meaning they have something bigger in mind. From being a senior pastor or the director of a para-church ministry, too many people enter into the crazy world of youth ministry as a means to get to some place else. Instead of thinking of the tomorrow, youth are demanding that we as youth workers stand up with them and think about today. If we really want our calls to ministry to be taken seriously we need to be thinking of today and where the Kingdom of God is alive right at this very moment, jump in and ask questions later.
Youth being thought of as the church of tomorrow, instead of being acknowledged as the church of TODAY:
I am not sure about you, but I live today. I know that the moment I wake up in the morning I need to give my day to God, because if I don’t I will fall on my face. Guaranteed! First and foremost, we need to begin standing up and proclaiming that teenagers are loved by God just as much as those who have been walking with Him for decades. Like it or not, youth are here to stay! It’s part of God’s plan, for all of us to experience some type of suffering while in the depths of junior high and high school years that are full of decision making opportunities that can significantly impact the rest of our lives. God strategically places people in our lives that will either help us to build the Kingdom or allow us to have a hand in tearing it down. He also strategically places youth workers in churches to communicate the importance of recognizing that youth are the church of today as well as the leaders of tomorrow, and if we have any hope of there being a church tomorrow, we need to live in the today and disciple our youth for Kingdom building.
What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is responding to effectively?
Beginning to better understand that kids are hurting:
Just today I heard someone say that the current generation of kids we are ministering to are an “angry” generation. The prayer that was followed by that statement was that they would be able to turn that anger against evil things and use it for the Kingdom of God. While I do not in any way disagree with that statement, I did walk away wondering why. It saddens me to my core that kids are hurting, and a lot of them seek answers in our churches and in our ministries. They want to know why, and, frankly, I do too. It seems that many youth workers are beginning to have their slice of reality widened and have come to the conclusion that many kids are hurting beyond our wildest imaginations. The kids we are ministering to and their friends are hurting, and they are turning to us for answers.
Our Rolodexes are filled with the contact information for probation officers, police officers, counselors, social workers and many others who face the hurt of kids on a daily basis. As youth workers, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of the hurt that is happening in our kid’s lives. We have just begun to understand that we need to be more educated Biblically as well as academically in order to begin to tackle the issues of hurt that our kids are experiencing. But most of all, we are recognizing that engaging our kids in real, authentic and healthy relationships that are rooted Jesus Christ is the first step in any type of healing.
Knowing that youth can do:
Too often teenagers are written off by adults as being immature, not ready and unable to take on leadership roles in the church. While it is true that teenagers are still developing emotionally and physically, there are many teens that are capable and willing to tackle leadership roles that many adults shun because they just don’t have the time or they already have too many responsibilities. In fact I know many teens that are more spiritually capable of tackling major leadership roles within the church, than the adults who currently have taken on those responsibilities.
Masses of teenagers give their spring breaks, weeks during their summer vacations and various weekends throughout the school year for service and mission projects in foreign lands. Many adults write a check and consider it their contribution to mission work.
In what ways does youth ministry need to change?
Change is one of those things that people constantly acknowledge needs to happen, but when it actually comes time to happen people just don’t like it. What I have learned about change and God is that His intentions for change are steeped in love, grace and mercy. But the root of God instigating change has to do with us growing closer to Him.
Does youth ministry need to change? Sure, it always needs to step up its game to beat the evil one that is tempting kids, but we are able to rest in the knowledge that God will never change and He will remain constant. He was the same in the 1970 as He is today, and He will be the same in 2020.