Series Editor, Tim Schmoyer This is the second installment in a series of questions I asked youth workers all around the world. Matt Glover is a pastor and cartoonist in Australia. Learn more about Matt and his artwork at his www.mattglover.com.
What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is struggling with today? Sexuality comes to mind first. It’s big news here in Australia as one of the major denominations recently decided to ordain practicing homosexuals – the reaction from the church (the body of Christ) as a whole has been divided and has ended up in a lot of infighting. Those that aren’t involved in the mess have simply ignored it, hoping it will go away. What we are left with is generations of sexually broken and confused people who desperately need a community and to connect with God.
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Youth ministries need to respond to this challenge in an open and honest way that ’sets the standard’ for the rest of the church. God loves gay young people. God loves lesbian young people. If God wants to change them in any way, then let’s let God do it. Let’s not put a barrier to the gospel by saying you must sort your sexuality out before you become part of our youth group. But on top of that, the idea of godly sexuality for all people needs to be put back on the agenda. “Love education” or “Sexual discipleship” are some of the terms we have been using.
Mental health is also a big one. There’s a lot of misunderstanding when it comes to depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and the like. Again, it can too easily fall into the too hard basket. There’s no need for it too though – We visit young people in hospital when they break their leg, we should still visit them when they are admitted to a mental health institution and support them as much as we can.
Thirdly, the whole question of “church” is becoming more and more of a struggle for youth ministry. I don’t think anybody would deny that it has always been hard to communicate what youth ministry is to a traditional, institutional type church.
But with the growing emerging church scene, things just get harder. I admire much of the call to mission that the [emerging church] preaches, but quite simply, it does youth ministry badly. It’s fine with young adults, but with high school students it is hopeless. Perhaps it is a generation gap or cultural differences or who knows what, but it seems to me that making sure you have a community of faithful people to nurture and disciple young people is becoming harder for youth pastors and leaders all over the place. The [emerging church] takes pot shots at the institutional church. The [institutional church] does the same in return. Young people are left wondering why you would bother.
And finally, finding a way to keep youth pastors and leader in their positions for the long haul. There’s still an 18 month average stay in one position. This is terrible.
What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is responding to effectively?
Hard to answer this one in any other way other than on the local level. For us [in Australia], the call to mission is being responded too most effectively by our young people. By the end of this year we will have sent four into full or part time ministry positions in other churches or organizations; sent a team of ten to the Philippines and mobilized a group of 20-30 for a time of intense local mission through summer.
Tackling the hard questions is also something I see being done really well amongst our young people. Some of those mentioned above are wrestled with in real ways and in the process, real, life giving communities are formed.
In what ways does youth ministry need to change?
It’s hard to answer this as our culture changes so rapidly. But overall, I’d say we need to make sure we’re taking our young people deeper into their faith. But not just in Bible studies, but in their experience of mission, church, worship and so on. We’re experimenting by drawing on different traditions that stretch back hundreds of years and reclaiming the spiritual disciplines. Who knows what will happen?!