if you are here from the christianity today link the article about ron luce you are looking for is here - youth ministry - the next 50 years - part two
the president of youth specialties, mark oestreicher (marko) has kindly tagged me (after i suggested some female perspectives) to write on the future of youth ministry. christianity today just published a 'future of the church' in the next 50 years and wrote a short article about where church youth experts believe we're headed.
the article wasn't as satisfying in it's breadth as marko hoped so he has tagged a huge variety of voices to give their input. as the wife of a youth pastor and one who has a great love for tweens and teens and participated in youth ministry for the past 20 years, i have my own share of thoughts on this matter. i have purposefully not read any other perspectives except marko's post and the CT article yet, so i am able to bring my own insights to the table here.
standing apart from youth ministry for this past 12 months has given me a lot of perspective. things have crystallized for me that once were curiosities or wonders. questions and difficulties that were raised in me while ministering are now finding answers and clarity.
i observed that during our time in paid ministry over the last 10 years that many parents and church leaders, usually the ones with the bible training and a lot of the power in the church, really want their children programmed with all of the right information to get them through the next 10-15 years of their lives without loosing their faith or their way. it is motivated by well meaning, loving people - but i feel it is misguided at best.
information will never transform anyone.
the push to indoctrinate the youth of the church, while successful in the two to four years you have their attention, cannot create the permanent lasting change the parents and church leaders hope to maintain in their children's lives.
because much of this indoctrination they hope to instill in the youth is so lifeless they must dress it up in rock-star clothes and hype it up with great displays of emotion and crusade-like events, hoping that in and amongst all of the window-dressings the truth of god will be consumed like the crushed up pill in the spoonful of honey.
somehow we have lost our way. jesus didn't come to earth in 2006 for a reason. in my opinion he came at the least opportune time for relay of information and message. i would have thought that god had more brains than that. cnn, mtv, satellites, dvd's - all of these things could be used to convey the powerful message he wanted his church and the world to hear. but he didn't. and he didn't because it's not supposed to be translated that way.
it's organic, it's viral. it's supposed to be about relationships. it's supposed to be spread like the cold my son brings home at the beginning of every new school year.
human contact is where it's supposed to happen. the man, who started this whole thing, said before he died 'numbers dilute giftedness'. yac had his finger on the next 50 years 10 years before anybody was really paying attention. bigger is not better. stronger is not more powerful. power is not in the glitz, the glamour and the games.
i think the best thing that is ever going to happen to youth ministry (and the body of christ) is the bankrupting of these great, grand edifices and campuses that are popping up all over north america called 'church'. when the economy drops out and people cannot sustain the big show anymore we will have to be reduced back to the basics. we will have real need, and be forced to face community with our hands empty and have nothing to offer except a shoulder to cry on and the love of jesus.
indoctrination won't help that freshman in college get through their first philosophy class at university. all that was poured into them will go up in a puff of smoke. it will evaporate. it also won't get them out of bed on sunday morning after that big party in the dorm on saturday night. the church in their college town just doesn't feel like the one 'back home' so they don't go.
we have spent so much time teaching out children to fall in love with church that we've forgotten to teach them that god loves them and invites them into relationship no matter what - no matter where.
i played a lot of team sports in high school. i was even all-state and the captain of my volleyball team my senior year. it takes a lot to maintain a love for volleyball when you're 40 years old and have two little kids.
i watch those raised to run or swim, or even play golf or tennis with a lot of envy. i never built those muscles. they are still running, and swimming and playing tennis - they can pick up and do those things any time they want to. they are able to maintain their relationship with their sport alone.
i think teaching youth to fall in love with the team sport of youth group is just as dangerous. yes we are meant to be in community - we are meant to be members of things larger than ourselves - but if we can teach youth that their relationship with god is their's and their's alone they can take that with them wherever life leads them.
they don't need the hype of a convention, the altar call with all of the tears or the activity of the group to keep them connected.
because our spiritual journey is a personal relationship with god we are meant to walk much of it alone. giving teenagers tools for this kind of life will take them far further into the future than any indoctrination ever could.
spiritual disciplines more developed than 'read your bible and pray more' would give them the ability to weather the storms of life far into their adult years. simplicity, silence, solitude, contemplation, contentment - i know it wouldn't blow the doors off the church or increase the numbers at youth group but what would it look like if we truly gave the those hungry teens in our communities the ability to commune with god? where would it lead them? where would it lead the church?
i don't know what the next 50 years will hold for youth ministry or the church, but i do know that if this happened maybe the church might not look any different, but the world surely would.