Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Youth Ministry 3.0

At my church, I have taken on the role of youth leader, so I have been reading a bit on this topic. This book was on a list of youth books to read, and overall I hope the list gets better.

From the title, you can tell this is all about the next thing we should be doing in youth ministry, the previous two versions are over, we are on to the next thing that will help strengthen and develop strong Christian youths. Conquencidently, the versions that youth ministry has gone through have been over emphasizing one area of the three tasks adolescences seek, these are identity, autonomy, and affinity.

Back when youth ministry started, version 1, from post WW2 to the 1960's it was about building its own identity where some guy in a suit would speak their language (ie know their parlance) with a view to converting youths to Christ. They would have rallies, an emotive talk and then people would raise their hand and give their life for Christ, like a Billy Graham crusade.

Then, from the 1960's to the end of the century youth ministry 2.0 was about building its own autonomy. Lots of programs opened up focusing on the youth, and this too was attractive. They could run separate events on separate nights to the rest of Church.

But now, for youth ministry to be effective we need to focus on affinity. This involved going small, focusing on experience and communion (not the Lords Supper, more like community). Essentially the book was arguing we should be forming cliques. We should find out what sub-culture our youths are into, let them stay in the same cliques and kinda circle around other cliques. This is because there is no one size fits all youth culture anymore, and I kid you not he uses Burning Man as an example. This is a festival where people search for belonging while also being able to do what they want, and hang out with whoever they want, with no program, no cops, and no rules. Great, sounds like we are pandering to culture, going more individual and selfish than Version 2.0 (which was about autonomy) with forming cliques and chaos.

He goes on to say that this doesn't really have a model, it will look different between two groups of white, suburban eight-grad boys. But generally, the sense of affinity comes from spending time with the youth boys he has oversight with. He says

"In a sense, I’m the worst youth ministry volunteer on our team... I rarely go on Sunday mornings. I don’t go to the events. I rarely go to meetings. I’ve decided that, with my limited time, my youth ministry will be the best contextual, missional, communional ministry of spiritually transforming relationships I can possibly have with the six students in my eighth-grade guys small group."

Great, so let's have an adult who doesn't go to group events (Church gatherings?) but instead just hangs out as much as he can with 13-year-old boys. As a parent, I'm not sure I'd be liking that so much. Clearly this was written in a different culture that didn't have a Royal Comission into things like this. Also, this go deep with a smaller group, absent from community (and structures like oversight and discipline policies) sounds like the Discipleship Movement in the 1970's which didn't end so well...

However, to add some balance, near the end of the book there is a section on linking Youth Group to Church on Sundays, which I am all for. That was positive in the book.

So is version 3.0 the way to go? I don't think so, and even by the books own model, it doesn't hold up. If teenagers are after identity, autonomy, and affinity, why not try and do all three and not focus on one? Why not try and doing evangelism, discipleship, and community? Why must it be community over evangelism or discipleship? And by community I mean putting up with people you don't like, not just hanging with your own kind - there is no love in that, just your own personal preference over others. Racists churches did that before the 60's.

The book was light on Bible. Here is one of the few citations to the Bible:
You can hate postmodernism all you want—even call it every sort of nasty name you like—but the reality is completely indisputable: We live in a postmodern culture. Scripture calls us to be in the world. If we have any hope of engaging teenagers in their world, then we simply must understand and minister in the context of a postmodern mindset.
So to be in the world we have to be postmodern. What about Romans 12:2-3 which says:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God,what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Why not camp out on this verse when dealing with Postmodernism or even when dealing with the theory behind adolescences? The start of the book is worth a read when it goes into detail on the phenomenon of youths and adolescence. Adolescence was considered a period of about 18 months in 1904 (from 14.5 to 16) and whereas today we are pushing adolescence to start around 11 and extending it to the early 20's. Since this is a relatively new concept why are we even conforming to this new worldly idea of classing people?

Throughout the book in the margin are comments from other people. So if you ever wanted to know what Jess, Ben, DanRead, Erik U and about 20 other names thought they are there as well. I think they must have been random comments on his blog somewhere, as some looked like screen names. My wife read this book as well, and her two main take-homes came from these commentators who disagreed with the author. It takes a brave man to put dissenting comments next to your own work, so again that was a positive in this book. 

So I am holding out for a better model. Perhaps one that looks to build all three aspects of identity, autonomy, and affinity; or evangelism, discipleship and real community. Perhaps we should look further back than our present situation and see that people have always been saved the same way (by hearing and responding to the spoken Gospel message) and Christians have always been built up by the means of grace (God's Word, prayer, and the sacraments) that God has provided.

1 comment:

  1. As a teen of the 60's our issues were the vietnam War, Beatlemania, Hair - the musical, Jean shrimpton and deciding the length of your skirt, the anti-conscription moment, equality for women, abolishing the White Australian Policy, rights of Indigenous Australians, the whole hippy thing and free love. Today the issues are very different but people are still the same.
    Still have the book "Discuss and Discern" by J Hills Cotterill (1968) with 24 topics dealing with moral issues from the Sermon on the Mount. The other book from the same year is "Runaway World" by Michael Green IVP which looks at the things people are escaping from eg rat race, addiction to the tv, death etc. They were great books and thought provoking in an age when the few went to university.

    The teenage years are the most crucial in a person's lifetime as teens choose friendships, values, morals, careers and beliefs that will affect them for life. Without a strong and healthy youth group the church dies. Have seen this in a few churches. Youth wil always need strong, caring, consistent (yet flexible when needed) and relational leaders. An opportunity for imput and questions into what they would like, relevant Bible studies in discussion groups and interesting and sometimes outrageous activities.