Theres been a bit of a pioneering, copying and then adopting cycle in the world of youth ministry, in its relatively short history. In some ways it mirrors what happens when adults in society adopt the fashions, fads and things that young people are the early adopters of.
Just a few things that have been harnessed by the mainstream church, that began in various forms of youthwork & ministry.
The worship event- became the festival- and a dominant expression of worship in a gathering. Worship itself, ‘being contemporary’ led by the guitars of Graham Kendrick and the house group movements, and others in the youth movements, is now mainstreamed, and normalised, so that there is deemed few alternatives.
The approach of detached youthworkers have become adopted by ‘Street Pastors’ , these are two examples, other aspects are more subtle, as those who grew up and stayed in the church, or become leaders in the church have continued to, and understandably adopted the things of their past in youth ministry, to re-create the moments for the next generation.
Aspects that characterised youth ministry have become embedded in mainstream church. Churches today look different because of the influence of youth ministry, especially youth ministry in the 1960-70s, for its those early adopters who have changed the church.
The question is – what is youth ministry doing today, to pioneer the change in the church in the future?
If Youth Ministry is to enable young people to be followers of Jesus, then this has to, amongst other things, give young people opportunities to be able to be a transforming force in the world, ie, for feeding the poor, releasing the prisoner, for social justice, environment, and working towards Shalom. To give young people a personal discipleship that feeds them an individual Jesus sells them short of the full gospel. And yes that might be hard work.
But what would the world look like if young people in youth ministry are principle actors in the transforming of society, the principle actors in local social justice, local remedies? – What if this also included children in Sunday school?
Maybe the lie in youth ministry is that to give young people something easy and bite sized will keep them entertained and interested, but that’s not borne out. What if young people gathered to fight for a cause within youth ministry – not some charity to raise some money – though that’s a start- but being more active than this. Would changing focus on transforming the world in youth ministry help not only the young people, their discipleship & faith, and change the world & church. Maybe instead of feeding young people knowledge, we gave young people experiences to show love, show passion and be active in the Mission of God in transforming the world.
If young people really are the church in the present- then maybe that church has a prophetic-practical role (See Healy 2001, Ward P 2008) in every local community, that is where the passion, the gifts and skills of young people can be most useful. We needn’t wait for young people to know that they feel that things are wrong in society- their movies project a hopeless dystopian future, as church lets give them, and ourselves as youth ministers opportunities to get involved in changing it.
For young people to be disciples, let that be an active, passioned just response to the needs of the world. With that activity they will see God at work, and encounter him in faith in these moments. They will do church in their actions, and probably as a result not only please God but also be likely to seek truth and wisdom.
Youth ministry has a responsibility – though at the moment its being driven by the leaders & pioneers of youth ministry in the past, at a time when protecting young people from the world was needed- a different way would be to give young people opportunity to follow the way of Jesus in the world.
(I am aware that this assumes that this isn’t going on, maybe it is and that is fantastic, but might it be encouraged on a national scale? , I’m also aware that this also assumes that separating children & young people from ‘church’ is established practice. If it isn’t what kind of community transformation can churches encourage families to do as a way of life? )