Saturday, 3 February 2018

Youth Ministry in the 21st Century: Five views

I asked my minister if he had some books on youth ministry that I could read. On his shelf was this book which he had borrowed from a theological library two years ago and he still hadn't quite gotten round to returning.

This book presents five different views of youth ministry. These are not programs or methods in how to do youth ministry, but more underlying philosophies of youth ministry, meaning these present grand ideas that shape how youth ministry is done, or where the emphasis should lie. They said that these frameworks can work within a Sticky Faith or Purpose Driven Youth Ministry programmes, it just depends on how you package your programme to fit within your underlying philosophy.

This is a counterpoint book, so the four other authors get to respond to each chapter and then the author has a short reply to those comments. One of the most regular responses to these was that they couldn't see how these ideas worked out. It would have been good for these guys to get another 500 words or so explaining how their meetings looked like, or what an average week consisted of.

Greg Stier put forward "The Gospel Advancing View of Youth Ministry" or what I think should be called "The Evangelism Method". In this method we give youth a vision to go and tell the world about Jesus, we equip them in how to share the gospel with others and then we send them out to do it. The idea is that as we equip and send out youth to tell the Gospel (going wide) they will also naturally go deep in the Gospel in their own personal lives. Kinda like if you have to cram for an exam, having something to focus the mind (evangelism) will naturally cause you to brush up on what you know and how you live. I loved how this was squarely centred on making disciples. After reading this chapter I was thinking, who would want to be against this method, after all, Jesus kinda told the Church this was its mission. One response to this method was that they didn't think youth were mature, or able to do this, I think this probably setting a low bar of expectations on the youth. My five year old can and does tell people about Jesus. Stier also toyed with the novel idea that Jesus was into youth ministry with his disciples as only Peter and Jesus were asked to pay the temple tax (Mat 17:24-27) so maybe they were the only two old enough to be eligible to pay the tax.

Brian Cosby presented “The Reformed View of Youth Ministry.” Of all the authors I like this guy's writing. His responses to each chapter were quite thorough and Biblical. In this chapter, Cosby presented God as sovereign over all and took sin seriously. I like that he added a bit more depth to the above method. Instead of just focusing on evangelism he also introduced the idea of the "means of grace" in how God generally operates. God can do what He wants (no one wants to put God in a box), but generally God has given the church His word, prayer, the sacraments, acts of service and community to make Himself known to people. So we should be using the same God-given tools to our youth. The responses didn't quite say this, but they pretty thought that this option sounded boring.

Chap Clark, who is also the editor of the book gave “The Adoption View of Youth Ministry.” This is like a Church integrated model where we aim to get youth involved in "big church" and get other adults from the congregation to take some a youth under their wing. If some youth wants to work the sound desk for youth, we also get them to work the sound desk on Sunday, with an adult overseeing. This adult is doing more than training them the technical skills for the sound desk but is also aiming to mentor them in the faith. This is a good model, encouraging church and youth group integration and encourage an "every member ministry" mentality. Clark has a good section on talking about the church as a family and not just a community or gathering. Afterall throughout the New Testament, we are told believers are brother and sisters, we have been adopted by God into His family and Jesus does call us to love Him more than our own blood family.

Fernando Arzola talked about the “The Ecclesial View of Youth Ministry.” This was a hard model to get around, and most of the responses said this sounds more like a teaching program than a grid or framework to build a youth ministry on. Arzola wanted to see more church history and reflection on the past in youth ministry. I appreciate the idea of drawing from the long history of the past as this may give perspective on your own issues and just how big they are when faced with a sovereign God and also being in a comfortable Western country that has freedom of religion. However, besides trying to take a broader perspective, I am not sure I would be running some sort of teaching program to the youths about certain church Fathers (I mean I might draw from their ideas if they are on point) as Jesus is kinda better to talk about.

Ron Hunter had the “The D6 View of Youth Ministry.” This was the closest position to the Family Integrated Church (FIC) movement, although not as strong as others I have heard as they still see value in running Youth Groups. Drawing on Deuteronomy 6 (and Ephesians 6) they see that the family has primary responsibility in raising children under God, but Hunter also agrees the wider church family can and should play a role. In this way, the primary emphasis is on training and equipping parents to raise their children in the Lord. The responses pointed out that this is a fine model if children have Christian parents, but it is model lacking for those who come from dysfunctional families and families that aren't Christian. I went down the FIC rabbit hole a little and found Voddie Baucchuam a good advocate for abolishing youth ministry altogether, and then I found this talk to be a great response to Voddie (while Voddie was in the room) and the FIC movement. Still, I do think getting parents to see their role as primary spiritual carers (assuming they are Christian) and youth ministry as a compliment or as auxiliary support for what they are doing every other day of the week.

This was a helpful book to see how others approach youth ministry. I did like bits for all of them and the difficult thing I think is to work out the difference been the "good" and the "best". I like an emphasis on evangelism, I like the broader look of the "means of grace" the God has provided. I do think we should be integrating the wider Church and families into youth ministry, and applying some broader perspective on our current day issues can be helpful so we don't all freak out if some first world problem occurs. However, in the end, I did find another guy in another book to be more helpful to me when thinking about both philosophies and structure for youth ministry. That book was Fruit That Will Last by Tim Hawkings. I will review that book soon.

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