Youth Ministry : Challenging the Cultural Practices in the church

Martin Saunders gets this spot on in his article Here, an almost tribute to ‘I love 1991’ and all its glory and the shifts in certainly British culture ever since. A shift that Youthwork Magazine has manfully tried to keep up the times with, to help or inform the christian youthworker of the cultural shifts that may be occuring generally, that might be ahead or behind the local context in which they are working.

Youth Ministry as Pete Ward recognizes (2008) became attuned to cultural studies, as it became a work of Mission and Missiology, or as in other cases to maintain relevancy so it could proclaim a message in an evangelistic way.

The question should be asked, and a 25 year anniversary of Youth work Magazine, or dare I say a 35 Year anniversary of Peter Brierelys well known data on Young People on the church (300 leaving every week)- has turning to general culture been a positive move for the long term success of youth ministry?  And if it hasnt what question or focus should youth ministry take in the next 25 years?

Wait, before we go further- what I mean is not the sustenance of youth ministry as a product, a practice or a profession, or even a technology – any church can have a youth group that lasts 30 years… – I mean the long term discipleship of young people in forms of church (be it new, fresh expression, or inherited). A culture that as Martins article and our own experience is shifting so quickly that even Politics now is dating quickly.

Culture has, as Youth Ministry has, had an effect on the Church too, there is no escaping cultural influences in the church as the churches have either backed away from, adopted uncritically, or sought to replicate aspects of contemporary culture. From Powerpoints, to Management policies, to Summer festivals, Music, Policies, Websites, Social Media, forms of church (cafe church, emerging church) all have some influence of or from culture. The church has shifted in 25 years too. But what hasnt changed in 25 years?

The church, if it could be grouped together, for as Tanner argues, it is not uniform, it acts and responds differently in different contexts (Tanner, 1997, 153), whilst it has changed adopting practices to attract new people ( through mission and changing its form ( ie messy church, emerging church etc) Has the church, even in a local context, changed policies, or constitutions or practices when challenged by youth workers about inclusion, participation and decision making?

Are there systematic and Cultural shifts required in the church that are needed in order that young people have opportunities for discipleship, belonging and supported participation in the ongoing community of church?

Heres a question for you:

What is the Minimum age that someone can be to be a Trustee in an Organisation in the UK? 

Go on have a guess…

21? 25? 18?

Before I answer this, have a think about the constitution of your youthwork organisation, or your church – and think about the age restriction, or belief restriction there might be for someone to become a member – again – is it 18? or is it ‘when baptised?’ or confirmed? or is there not a membership scheme at all?

Especially feel awkward if one of your organisational aims or values is empowerment or participation of young people.

If in your youthwork organisation or church there is a requirement that a person is 18 for them to become a member, or even 16 – then this is a decision that is made to restrict young people over and above that which is required by the Charity Law. You can read it here: Charity Law 2011 for;

There is no legal restriction on the age of a young persons participation in decision making in a UK charity – yes they have to want to take on the responsibility, etc etc, but age is not deemed a factor in this. They can be a trustee legally from any age.

And that’s for them to be a trustee – the equivalent of an Elder effectively. Not just a member.

So, Has the church actively prevented young people to participation in their constitutions? well that might be slightly unfair,  a crime of ignorance more that deliberation possibly. As this change was only made in 2008 and unless you have someone in your church or organisation who is an expert in charity law (and that’s assuming your church is a charity) .  There may be very good reasons why only over 18’s can be Trustees or Members in your church. But to comply with UK legislation isn’t one of them. And it’d be difficult to find a biblical reason either.

So for Youth Ministry it has had to move with the times outside of the church – its spent its time finding its space within the world to be incarnate or relational or intentional ( depending on which decade of the last 25 years it is in) , but what it has only been able to do is create alternative forms of similar churches in the main, because the youth worker, Youth Ministry has been unable to do is to affect what a cultural systems in the church that act as barriers for young people. It has gone to the communities in the margins to provide opportunities of faith, or acceptance and grow indigenous faith community, because thats often the easiest but more painful way of having to love young people, and be church, but almost keep them away from church in its current form knowing that as a culture it is too removed, different and exclusive at times.

It has been easier for youth ministry to move with the times to follow young people into the culture – leaving church behind to a degree, acting on its behalf missionally in the world.

Maybe the next 25 years of youth ministry conversations will happen the other way, that instead of youth ministry serving the church, the church learns and listens from its missional youthworkers, and reflects upon either systems and boundaries that exclude, or where they are lacking systems that inhibit. Yes the times have changed, and the church has to some degree, but it’d be hard pushed to find actual legislative change in 25 years that has had a positive inclusive effect on the participation of young people in the church. Youthwork magazine can talk all it wants to its own youthworkers, but where is the voice of youthwork, or young people in the Church Times? thats the space to engage critical thinking of these issues by clergy, diocese and affiliations.  Youth work magazine could become Youth Ministry’s its own echo, the curse that befalls Twitter.

And yes whilst not every young person wants to be involved in the organisation of the church or in doing so will increase discipleship, that is not the point, at the moment they cant. A youth worker in that church might be risking their job to challenge this. But it needs regional and synod, cultural and sytematic change, or whole affiliation change where this is deemed then an appropriate move. So at least then young people can. And its an option and opportunity afforded. Then the church might change when it hears the voice of young people in its decision making processes. And if they need to change to accomodate, so be it. Because its difficult to prove that another 25 years of youth ministry is going have an effect without cultural and systematic changes in the church.


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