What if youth ministry’s presumptions about young people need to change?

Maybe right now you are knee deep in working about a programme for young people, a new way of working with them, or developing work for them. But what if you actually dont know very much about the young people you’re about to work with at all, and are starting new somewhere. Maybe you’ve bought the programme, the magazine or the ready to use guide. What assumptions is that programme, guide or material making about the young people you know?

What presumptions about young people are popular within the church you go to , and how might these shape the work done with them? might these presumptions have more of an impact on the work that say the Bible or Theology and its view of young people ?

What if the assumptions that have been made about young people – for the sake of many existing ministries have sold young people short? and if they have, maybe that might be a reason, that despite the growth in youth ministry practice, that it hasnt resulted into long term change in church participation. (though i admit there might be a range of contributory factors for this, including the state of the church which has changed in a limited way as culture changes phenominally)

But for the sake of an argument, what assumptions would be good ones to make about young people in the UK. And if we dared to make them, what might that mean for the way in which they participate with the Christian faith ( in a broad sense, not just ‘youth ministry)

What if these presumptions were true?

  1. Young People desire spaces where they can act being older than they are- to be given the chance to act like an adult (and choose if they want to be childlike)
  2. Young People want to have their intelligence tested and space to discover the complexities of faith.
  3. Young People want to have their opinions and voice valued
  4. Young People want space to have questions and authenticity in the journey of discovering real responses
  5. Young People arent afraid of reality, of death, of violence or uncertainty (but maybe we are)
  6. Young People might not feel comfortable having to be evangelists in schools, especially without being given any tools to do it, or have any examples shown by the adults in the church.
  7. Young People might not want to sing, or go to large events, maybe they see them differently to how many saw these events 20 years ago. Young people might encounter God in different ways to then.
  8. Young People are not a separate entity when they turn 13.
  9.  Young People know that life isnt simple, dont make faith simplified, it might not feel real.
  10. Young people are complex, spirituality is part of the complexity not an add on.
  11. Young People are all different, thus, don’t assume anything.

Get to know, really know the young people who you want to know, build the kind of relationship where you learn about them day by day and week by week, invest in them for who they are and want to be. Listen.

A few weeks ago i met a young person on the streets, who said that in a conversation about a friend down the street, that his brother had just been put inside prison for a variety of acts of abuse. In her words, she said that she could understand why her friend was like he was, because of the abuse the brother had subjected him to. This young person was 10, and still at primary school. Tell me, what kind of church, or youth ministry would be able to work with a young girl who was that perceptive, that understanding and that gifted/compassionate. And if this young girl is in our churches, how might we know if they have this capability?

This young person had been a challenging one, even on the streets, but one occasion of a 30 minute conversation on the streets;  time, respect and listening and then the magic occurs. Presumptions disappeared, reality foregrounded.

Have ministries for young people made incorrect presumptions, that are barely proven, or need badly to be updated? but what if there is too much at stake in terms of established ministries to make changes, perpetuate presumptions, maintain ministries, and who benefits? young people at all? Does the thinking paradigm need to shift?

How might the church act differently with young people, if it presumed differently or not at all?

Working with young people and making different or no presumptions about young people might just make delivering it far more difficult, embedded in real conversations, context driven and in accordance with their actual needs, their actual ways of thinking and desires, it might provide young people with a youth ministry that they deserve. And if its made more difficult or challenging as a result for the church or youth minister, then so be it, something has to change.



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