Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World: A Hopeful Wake-Up Call

Awhile back I was a little cynical about a book I had to read for uni called The Once and Future Church. It was on the fall of Christendom and the rise of post-modernism or post-Christianity. Since then for uni I had to read a number of other books on Christendom and our culture and I think the signs do point to the fall of Christendom and that Post-<whatever> is in vogue (until we work out what we actually are and not just what we are not, or "post").

Brock Morgan has been in Youth Ministry for over 20 years in American. From his move to New England, he has seen the Post-Modern world and learned how to minister to kids in that context. Halfway through this book, I saw that Mark Oestreicher helped publish this book - he was the guy who wrote Youth Ministry 3.0. So that kinda explains my feelings about this book, only with a little bit more positivity. Chap Clark wrote the forward to this book. I came across him in the Five Views on Youth Ministry book. Clark's adoption view comes out a little near the end. Generally, I found the middle bit of this book a bit off the nose but it did start and end well.

Brock looks at what life for a post-modern student looks. Students they are overworked and stretched. School has high demands for them, plus there is sport, dance, gym etc that they are involved in. Sunday is not a sabbath anymore so there is no time for a rest. School counsellors will see their busy timetable and tell them to dump youth group or church as there are no final tests for them. Adolescence with a busy timetable may try to assert their identity and autonomy. One way they can assert control over their busy lives or by being rebellious is to cut the religious things they do. Besides, most of the media they consume sees no relevance in religion anymore.

Then on the ground, Brock put forward a few things we should embrace in Youth Ministry. I wasn't a fan of this or the next chapter. I think Brock had drunk too much post-modernity, as he suggests we should embrace things like Christian relativism, tolerance, mystery, and spirituality. It is now easier to say you are "spiritual" than a "Christian" and so we should run with that. Also, kids are already saying there are no absolutes and don't hold to the authority of Scripture so we should be tolerance of that, while on their journey. I would take that to mean that we don't embrace their view, we correct it, but there wasn't much in the book about "correcting" just about grace and acceptance.

Also, Christians are known to be narrow-minded and bigoted, so instead we need people to know that the Christian faith embraces a wide view of different positions on things like homosexuality, hell, six-day creationism and the rapture, so we need to be relative in our views to present a unified faith. (See how all those issues are grouped together as if to say they are all of equal importance? That bothered me.) If we can't agree on anything anyway then let's just be as open to our fellow Christians - we don't want to be seen as intolerant. My problem is that Brock didn't draw any lines in the sand, instead, he said we are the keep the main thing the main thing, but didn't really say what that was. He also said Brian McLaren's book Generous Orthodoxy was "brilliant", which was a red flag for me. Like other emergent writers he posed a few questions without answering them; grouped conservative with Republicans with evangelicals with fundamentalists and challenged what you to thought about your position but not really correcting it or affirming it. Just embrace the differences, Christianity is big enough for all points of view - we can even learn from Buddhists because God's truth exists in other religions as all truth belongs to God.

One of the main solutions put forward is to be in the schools and just love the students. It makes sense to be in the schools, (if you can and are allowed) as that is where they are. It is a good way to model how to be salt and light in the context they are in. I am not sure how I can work that out in my position, but it was a good point. The whole just love them and give them grace, is a good one, but another red flag went up as I struggled to work out what he means when he uses mostly the same words and language as I would, but with less precision or definition.

On creating an environment of grace the general premise was to let any and all who want to be involved to be involved. We need long term goals, we don't want to be helping 15-year-olds to be more godly, instead, we want to help these 15 years old to be making wise and godly decisions when they are 30. But, we do need to remember that grace is a slow teacher. This is all good, I agree, but then this "grace" seems to be a little too affirming, with no correcting. For example, Brock talks about a mission trip he took some of his students on to San Francisco. I take a mission trip to mean when you go and tell people about Jesus. In this case, I think holiness in your volunteers would be important. Brock didn't seem to have a problem with letting his pot smoking students on a mission trip to San Francisco. I'm not sure Jesus or Paul would have approved, but that would be judgemental of me to say so. I shouldn't care so much about the Bride of Christ except if we are called intolerant and narrow, if that is the case then we should care and counter those objections by being open to everyone, not just by accepting them and involving them in our regular activities, but also as missionaries, as representatives of the Church. But you know, those kids had good experiences on the mission trip, so it was worth it. Is the mission for the volunteers' experience or for promoting Christ and Him crucified? Brock says:
We'll run into students who are lead by their emotions, who are stressed-out, who have the weight of the world on their shoulders, whose families are messy, and who have believed cultural lies. In the midst of this pluralistic world, all of these students are trying to figure out who they are. They definitely don't need to feel like they must try and live up to one more adult's expectations.
The Apostles Paul is a real drag when he writes to the Corinthian. How un-Christian of him to get the Church to live up to yet another set of expectations. Jesus also didn't get the memo when he set expectations for how people of His Kingdom would live in the Sermon on the Mount.

Despite my negativity about the middle bits, the last two chapters of this book were really good. I would like to hand them out to other youth leaders. Brock shows his excitement and love well. He would like youth ministry to be integrated into the "big" church better, for youth groups to stop doing so many segregated activities, but instead, aim for a multigenerational church. He would like lots of adults praying for students, and investing their lives around them. One student should have 4 or 5 adults from church in their life cheering them on. Brock rightly sees the power of stories and tell lots about the youth under his care so others can how great God is in working in their lives. I would like to promote God in this way.

The book ended on a real encouraging note, saying we are to rest and trust in God, after all in ministry most of it is God's work anyway. We need to be close to Jesus and to trust Him and His Father, knowing that God doesn't just love our ministry and what we do, but God loves us.

So the book was like a smile. Up at the start with his assessment of students in a post-modern word, down with his suggestions and up at the end with his integration into church, parents, prayer and with his encouragement to youth leaders.


Post a Comment