What is the Right Thing in Youth Ministry?

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Originally published February 15, 2007.

Since 1990 Wild Frontier has been looking at youth ministry from that “wild” and “out there” perspective.  Hence why we are named as we are.  Coincidentally this is in the same time frame when Mark Senter, with his book The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry, challenged us that youth ministry needs to change.  Well, youth ministry is certainly trying to.  Back in the mid-90s books such as Purpose Driven Youth Ministry and Family-Based Youth Ministry (my favorite concept) came out with new paradigms.  In just the last year alone all of these new paradigm youth ministry books have come out: Creating an Authentic Youth Ministry, Youth Ministry in the 21st Century, Contemplative Youth Ministry, Presence-Centered Youth Ministry, Jesus-Centered Youth
Ministry
, and A New Kind of Youth Ministry.  I will probably be reading most of these books because I know I can gain a nugget or two from these great thinkers.  But suddenly these are a lot of books telling me how to do the right thing.  Is it the right thing?  Which one is the right thing?  If I do the right thing, will my youth ministry go better?

 I want to do the right thing in youth ministry.  I want to do the right thing for Wild Frontier.  This drive keeps me reading, searching, praying, reading, searching, praying for the right thing– that one thing that will sit well in my soul for the next couple of weeks or at least a  month.  Then the process starts all over again to what appears to be a herky-jerky youth ministry style.  I don’t believe others see that though.  At least I hope not.  This is my struggle–and maybe your struggle–while the youth ministry rolls on.

A life song for me is is Charlie Peacock’s “Monkeys at the Zoo” from the album Everything That’s on My Mind.  If I could teach one seminar to youth workers everywhere this year, this song would be the theme of that workshop (with an added plug for the importance of parents in youth ministry–I wouldn’t be able to help myself).  The lyrics of the Peacock song are:

Will I be different now or the same?
Will I have learned anything?
Was it just a way to spend a day or two
Set aside for thinking thoughts about you
If that’s all it was, I had a good time

But that won’t be enough for me
Not this year, not anytime soon
I have got to clean house
Gotta make my bed, gotta clear my head
It’s getting kind of stuffy in here
Smells sort of funky too
Like monkeys at the zoo

I’ve have been whoring after this
Because I want to feel safe inside
But that’s a big fat lie
No amount of green, gold or silver
Will ever take the place of the peace of God

Spirit, come flush the lies out.

Will I be different now or the same?
Have I changed at all?
If you were to dive deep inside my soul
Would you find Jesus there or a gaping hole?
Should I be content with my beautiful Christian life?

But that won’t be enough for me
Not this year, not anytime soon
I have got to clean house
Gotta make my bed, gotta clear my head
It’s getting kind of stuffy in here
Smells sort of funky too
Like monkeys at the zoo

I have been whoring after this
Because I want to get everything right
But that’s a big fat lie.
No amount of green, gold or silver, the perfect body, another hot toddy, work for the Lord, fame and power, power and sex, a seat at the table at the Bellamy Country Club
here’s the rub
nothing will ever take the place of the peace of God.(and the music hangs…)

Spirit, come flush the lies out.

My message to you at this seminar would be “What are you whoring after in the name of youth ministry?  Is it something to feel safe inside?  Is it something to get everything right?  Is it something to feel some control over your situation?”

There are a lot of voices out there to help you in your role.  Most are good voices–like mine.  Because of our passion for our work and because there are human souls we love on the line, we are susceptible to push too hard, live unbalanced lives, and carry too much of the world on our shoulders.  You strive for this.  You strive for that.  And those voices produce hope, enthusiasm, inspiration as well as guilt, shame, and feelings of failure.  Stop for a moment.

Spirit, come flush the lies out.

Who is left?  How much of your identity is wrapped up in being a youth minister?

You’ve got a “beautiful Christian life” but that should not be enough for you. Too much energy is being spent striving to maintain those words that are spoken about you as a youth minister.  Too much energy is spent striving to maintain those words you take as your identity. Your life never seems easy because you are always striving.  In the process, you have stopped striving to be identified as a child of God, which is just like everyone else in your congregation.

Steve Gerali wrote for the Youthworker Journal (July/August 2005), “Youth workers attend countless graduations in the course of their ministries.  Somewhere along the way we’re bound to have heard a revised version of Winston Churchill’s famous address to the students at Harrow School where he challenged repeatedly, ‘Never, ever give up.’

“Sometimes this inspiring concept can become damaging to the soul of the youth worker.  This idea, of perseverance in ministry, although very good, can often be misconstrued to mask deeper issues of control.

“I’ve encountered many youth workers who mistake perseverance for control.  Control issues are usually defined by deep longings to be needed, loved, ‘in the know,’ have things perfect, or be in the center of decision-making.  Most of the time these needs produce a debilitating stress, because the youth worker worries about countless variables.  The only way to beat the stress of ministry is to surrender.  Even now, there are many reading this article whose minds are already formulating the, “but…”

Spirit, flush the lies out.

You are a child of God and are loved very much.  “Think how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are.”  1 John 3:1.  You are also called of God to love and lead teens.  “My dear friends, we are already God’s children, though what we will be hasn’t yet been seen. But we do know that when Christ returns, we will be like him, because we will see him as he truly is. This hope makes us keep ourselves holy, just as Christ is holy.”  1 John 3:2-3.  This hope makes us keep ourselves holy.  It doesn’t make us strive or push so hard or live unbalanced lives.  We are to lead holy lives as Christ is holy.  And we are to do this while we are doing what we are called to do.

Here is the truth of which you can base your approach to God.  You are a saint.  In 2 Corinthians 1:1 Paul greets the church as saints–and then proceeds to rip them for their errors.  In love and respect, of course.  In Ephesians 1:1 it is written to the saints again–and then gives further instructions on how to live this Christian life.  Philippians 1:1 is addressed to the saints again.  To the Colossians in chapter 1, verse 2, they are holy and faithful.  Do you see the pattern?  And the truth?  This is your starting point for approaching God.  You are a saint, holy and faithful.  You live your life from that point on.  You work your ministry position from that point on too.

That is the peace of God.  All the books you read, all the voices you listen to, all the ideas you incorporate for the next month or longer, the decisions you make come from this peace based on your being loved as a child of God.

Thanks for letting me teach my seminar.  I’m sorry you didn’t get to hear the music.