As we launch in a new direction with our mode of ministry to youth and start ministering with youth, some might (actually have) ask, “where is this coming from?” or “what prompted this change? Is there a problem?” Truth is, there is a problem. The one I mentioned in the last post about the rate we lose students from the church after they graduate high school.
Here’s a little more background.
I spent about 13 years in full-time youth ministry in four states. I served in small, medium, and large churches. I saw God move incredibly among youth and watched youth do incredible things. Today, there are youth from our former groups who are pastors, missionaries, youth workers, worship leaders, sunday school teachers, children’s workers, and various other levels of involvement in their respective churches. While I can easily point to the success stories and am proud of each one, that is not the whole picture. Unfortunately, I have to say that most of the young people that attended the youth groups we led are not actively living for God today; some are flat out living very tragic lifestyles. It would be normal to claim that is true for everyone and that our percentages are better than the average numbers we read about. That would be a cop out and just trying to ease the blow.
Did we fail? Yes and no. I have stories to illustrate both. The problem is deep and has as many facets as individuals being talked about. With some we did fail, with others, nothing we could have done would have changed the choices they have made.
Several years ago I was in a conversation with a leader from what was a nationally known, very large youth ministry. We were comparing insights and talking about some of the frustrations of youth ministry and seeing students walk away. This brought up the topic os defining success. Of course, that conversation came down to the fact that real success is defined by God not man and numbers do not tell the whole story. Every endeavor to reach and raise up people for God will have the gamut of stories to tell, leassons learned, mistakes made, and lives affected.
As I walked away from that conversation, there was a real uneasiness in me that I couldn’t shake. I didn’t want to take the cop out approach and “feel better” because even the largest youth ministries were experiencing the same issues we were.
We started to take some hard looks at how we were doing youth ministry and realized we were very top heavy. Meaning, it was mostly adults who were doing ministry and the youth were spectators. We immediately started making changes. Teams were formed from among the young people to get them more actively involved in actually doing ministry on an on-going basis and the adults were adjusted to more of a mentoring and guiding role. I even had a group of youth who met at my house regularly to help me brainstorm, plan, and even present the messages. This creative team took our services to a new level.
We saw some success as youth became much more involved in the overall life of the church as children’s workers, tech crew, in the music department, taking part in outreach, and on and on. As youth pastor, I was limited in the full impact of these changes on the church as a whole, but it was a step in the right direction.
Since that time, I have been rethinking youth ministry as a whole and wondering what if we built a youth ministry that was focused on youth doing ministry and made it part of the churches DNA to have the generations working side by side. Much time has been spent in prayer, conversation, and meditating on this.
That is just a bit of the background for the changes we are making.
This post is long enough, so I will wait until the next one in this series to start putting some structure to this new endeavor.