The Time is Ripe

Tony Toth
October 3rd, 2009

Come to Puerto Rico!

Crystalline beaches, luscious mountains, and people living a stress-free life—but there's more than meets the eye.

Although Puerto Rico is highly industrialized and economically developed, social and spiritual chaos is rampant.

Before undergoing youth ministry studies, I thought I needed to change the whole way of doing ministry in Puerto Rico by imitating what was done in the States. Then I realized I had to work within the reality of young volunteer leaders trying to be ministers. As I prepared to offer youth leadership training, I expected to find adults participating; but to my surprise, they were all youth under the age of 22. Youth leading youth. This is how youth ministry is led in Puerto Rico.

Youth ministry in Puerto Rico has grown immensely since the '70s, with revivals beginning on college campuses. The thirst and passion for God have encouraged many young people to go into ministry without formal preparation. To this day, I see young people standing up to lead, either responding to the need or inheriting their role. Although there are adult youth pastors, they are few and far between.

Similar to what's happening around the world, Puerto Rico is losing values, integrity, and positive role models. Catholicism is the traditional religion, but in Puerto Rico there are actually more evangelical churchgoers than Catholics. The average Christian church's attendance is less than 200; there are more than 8,000 churches on an island with 3.8 million people, 100 miles long by 35 miles wide. Even though there are many churches, there's a desperate need for shepherding, discipleship, and ministry education.

It's amazing to see young people taking leadership with courage and passion. Ironically, the lack of training, materials, and resources actually drives and forces them to think creatively. However, this situation limits their effectiveness and creates high burnout and turnover rates. Leaders who are young need to be equipped to lead at different levels of responsibility, discover their gifts and talents, be nurtured with Scripture, and be mentored by other adult leaders until they're ready to take a stronger leadership position. This doesn't mean spoiling them, but allowing (and provoking) them to discover their calling in Christ.

Youth ministry here is quite eventoriented— especially outreach concerts— with far too little emphasis on discipleship, spiritual growth, and nurturing. Initial impact isn't followed up with shepherding and integration. The young people are participatory, family-oriented, driven by image and status, relational, expressive, and passionate—and music is an important part of their lives. In some ways, they are like kids anywhere else in the world, but in their own Puerto Rican way, they're quite distinct. And these characteristics can be useful for an effective ministry. The time is ripe, and the need is great for youth ministry education.

We've begun Youth Awake ministries, offering leadership workshops, gathering front-line leaders, and equipping them to understand the full cycle of youth ministry and their roles as leaders in the lives of their students. There's a need for Spanish teaching materials and ministry books adaptable to this culture. And we hope to offer a Bachelor's degree in Youth Ministry for the first time in Puerto Rico by the time this article is published.

More than 90% of Puerto Rican youth leaders are volunteers. A system needs to be developed that encourages and supports these youth leaders. In Latin America, there's an incredible movement of youth leaders searching for training and resources. We're seeing how God is equipping leaders to equip others. I want to be part of what God's doing and desire that many more venture into this vision. I believe that Puerto Rico will be a nation that continues to send youth ministers to other nations.

Tony Toth

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