The Not-Abandoning Church

Originally published April 2005.

The following is a lengthy quote from Black and White Styles of Youth Ministry:  Two Congregations in America by William R. Myers. St. Andrews is the "white" church which was studied.Pastor Able and Grace Church is a neighbor church to St. Andrews and is the "black" church which was studied.

"Without rejecting the need for competent administrative practice, Grace Church remains wary of St. Andrew-like corporation models of youth ministry.'Such models fragment the church,' indicates Pastor Able.'When a church hires a professional youth minister to "do" youth ministry, that youth minister has been hired to run a second church, a "youth only church," alongside the intergenerational church.'Pastor Able continues: 'Youth in this model start relating to just the youth minister; they don't relate to the ministries of the church.Such youth ministry tends to promote a kind of "us" versus "them" mentality, never the "we" of the church; never the belongingness.'

 

"While Grace Church hires no single ordained professional to 'do' youth ministry, authorities (conference ministers, seminary professors, professional youth ministers, members of Grace, and pastors at other churches) agree that Grace has a powerful youth ministry.The key to this phenomenon is the claim that everyone at Grace Church is a minister, that ministry is an acknowledgment of the divine in one's life, and that people are regularly 'called' to be involved in specific forms of ministry, one of which is a caring ministry with youth.This 'calling' may or may not lead to ordained ministry; in the context of Grace Church, it can lead to being a sponsor involved in a ministry with youth...

 

"Stephen D. Jones, in Faith Shaping:Nurturing the Faith Journey of Youth, assumes that ministry with youth means much more than working with the youth groups and classes.Perhaps most importantly, it involves coordinating 'faith development emphasis.' Jones means, in part, a clarification and acceptance by the congregation of that community's faith bias.A faith bias is the particular faith stance of a specific congregation within a specific context.Jones would argue that not only by talking about faith but by living faith, believers bring faith near to youth.Jones puts it like this:'There must be a nearness (closeness) to the faithful community and its traditions, rituals, and stories.Being near to the faith is pivotal for youth.'

"The faith is near when Christian adults live their faith in natural ways before the young person.The faith is near when the young person feels that he or she is a close part of the church.The faith is near when the young person is allowed deep relationships with adult Christian role models...The faith is near when families are not embarrassed to express faith and when parents are public with their commitments.The faith is near when families develop and practice faithful traditions in the home with regularity.The faith is near when youth can see how much faith is prized by the important adults around them.The home and the church must be in harmony on the importance of faith."

First of all, any book that quotes my favorite youth ministry book ever (Faith Shaping) has got my attention.A second note of importance was that this book was written in 1991.That was long before talk of re-imagining youth ministry started, before Mark Senter wrote his landmark book The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry, and before anything new in church was called "emerging."Maybe such ideas as family-based youth ministry and bringing youth back into the life of the church are not new ideas after all-- except to those of us who have been locked into the corporate-style of youth ministry.

What do you think about this quote?"By segregating young people into special institutions, such as the school, Sunday school, and later into youth organizations such as Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts for a few hours each week, adults apparently hope that the adolescent will be spared the shock of learning the contradictions in the culture.At the same time, they believe that these institutions are building a mysterious something variously called ‘citizenship,' ‘leadership,' or ‘character' which will keep the boy or girl from being ‘tempted' by the ‘pleasures' of adult life.Thus the youth-training institutions provided by the culture are essentially negative in their objectives, for they segregate adolescents from the real world that adults know and function in.By trying to keep the maturing child ignorant of this world of conflict and contradictions, adults think they are keeping him ‘pure.'"This quote comes from Elmtown's Youth: The Impact of Social Class on Adolescents written by August de B. Hollingshead back in 1949.Yet it looks an awful lot like youth ministry today.

I have one more quote for you from an article in Youth Today (February 2005) which is a secular publication to youth workers.It was written by Peter Benson of Search Institute. "America has too many youth programs. We have after-school programs, prevention programs, skill-building programs and character education programs. And we have built substantial industries to support the programs. America is populated with program developers, program evaluators and program funders.I am not suggesting that we have too many youth workers. Nor am I advocating that we do away with programs.We need to put programs in their rightful place. ...Perhaps we have become so caught up in improving the lives of young people in a way we have come to know best, via programs, that we have missed the forest for the trees. Programs are part of the forest--sturdy and essential trees. But the forest ecology is much more complex and desperately neglected. ...At what point will we say enough is enough? At what point will we have the vision, courage, knowledge and will to push for profound societal change, the kind that moves young people to the center of community life?" (Bold added by me.)(For the complete article, go to http://www.youthtoday.org/youthtoday/Feb05/benson.html )

There is a lot of complaining by youth pastors about programming yet we all do it.Just to function effectively makes it hard to break out of it.Just to report to a board you need something to report and programs provide that something.As Peter Benson also wrote: "It is hard to break out of this program default. Money pushes us toward programmatic solutions. If you want government funding, you are required to show which proven and effective program you will use."

The question proposed is can programming push youth into the center of the community life of the church?As it has been working, programming has been providing a separate youth church, a separate youth room in the church, a separate youth pew section during the church services, etc.

The youth ministry at Grace Church does not look like the youth ministry that is taught in most college youth ministry programs.It does not look like the youth ministry ideas that are in most of the resource books.It does not look like the youth ministry ideas taught at most youth worker seminars.Yet I like the results.They sound long-term to me.They sound like an adolescent decision about one's faith could go with them into adulthood.And they might also continue their church involvement into adulthood.

The work we do is important, life-changing for some. We cannot do without programs. It is impossible so don't start daydreaming of ways.So how can we (you) bring your youth to the center of community life that also brings faith near in your situation?I know what I am doing at my own church and I'm encouraged.Actually I feel revitalized in youth ministry again.