What Can Muslim Youth Work Teach Us?
Original photo by Gisella Klein.
Don’t immediately throw stones at me when I say this, but I think the rise of Muslim youth work in the United States (that is, youth work done by Muslims for Muslims) might be a very good thing for the Christian church, the Christian family, and the Christian youth group.
Before I launch into the why behind that statement, let’s clear something up: I realize it’s easy to get tense when the subject of Islam is raised, so it can be helpful to put things in perspective first. Most of us are aware that Episcopalians don’t do Christianity the same way Southern Baptists do, and Lutherans don’t do Christianity the same way Pentecostals do. The same principle applies to Islam. Muslims are divided by theology, culture, and history, just like Christians are, and only a tiny fraction of Muslims have radical aspirations.
Make sense? Okay, good. Now, back to why the rise of Muslim youth work could be good for the Christian church. There are about 1900 mosques in the United States. Many of us see a mosque on the way to work every day. Some of us have a mega-Mosque across the street from our church or the main school our youth attend. I’ve looked at all 1900 of these Mosques (via saltomatic.com), read their websites, and observed if they have a youth ministry (about 18 percent of them do). I’ve also interviewed the main Muslim national youth work leaders (and those in Canada and the United Kingdom.)
If the youth group has a website, I’ve studied it—and it’s very interesting stuff to say the least! Muslim youth work is organized very much like Christian youth work. It’s mosque-based. There are regional organizations that provide camps and leadership training. There are national organizations that host large-scale, Muslim youth rallies and vocational youth work training.
In my interviews with Muslim youth work leaders, I noticed some parallels to the work we do. One important Christian-Muslim youth work commonality that wasn’t surprising to me is that Muslim youth workers love youth. And Muslim parents love their kids and want them to maintain their Muslim faith in a country in which they are a microscopic religious minority.
What shocked me, however, as I got better acquainted with Muslim youth workers in these interviews, is that Muslim youth workers face many of the frustrations and hardships as Christian youth workers. They face struggles like:
2) “Above them” leaders don’t “get” youth work.
I heard heartfelt frustration in words like, “I can’t stand most of the sheikhs and imams around here. They have no concept of how vital it is to reach young people… we’re going to lose youth if we don’t provide for them!” How many times have we heard the same kind of angst among Christian youth workers many times when their pastors, or the elders, or whoever, can’t understand why youth work is important?
3) Lack of resources.
One leader told me, “Oh, you Christians have it so good I’m sure… you have all the money you need, right?” I laughed out loud at his comment, and then we laughed together at the challenge of resourcing youth ministry.
So back to my original question…
How can the rise of Muslim youth work actually be a good thing?
It’s going to force us to be clear about what we believe about Jesus. Credible research shows that nearly half the youth in evangelical churches, and their parents, do not believe that Jesus is the only way to God and salvation. They believe Jesus is good for us, but “… my Muslim friend in biology class (or on the one on our soccer team) can’t possibly be going to hell. She/he is so nice!”
Now we have to figure out how we can help our own youth believe John 14:6 (“….no man comes to the Father but by me”) actually means what it says. We’ll be talking about this, as well as some ways to connect with Muslims, in my Atlanta session of the National Youth Workers Convention, What We Can Learn from Muslim Youth Ministry, and you can come to the theology track session titled “Making Disciples of Whom? Christology and Youth Ministry,” where we have a conversation about why Jesus is the only way.
Len Kageler has a long and positive track record in working in church-based student ministry. Len is professor of youth and family studies at Nyack College. His many books include Youth Ministry in a Multifaith Society: Forming Christian Identity Among Skeptics, Syncretists, and Sincere Believers of Other Faith, and The Volunteers Field Guide to Youth Ministry.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.