What might be good for young people vs What they want

I received one of those emails this morning. It neednt have been an email, but today it was, sometimes its a poster, or a verbal request. It was an email that told me about a ‘Youth worship Event’ taking place somewhere, and could i take some young people to it, after all it would be good for your young people to attend. 

Before i carry on, this isnt an bash at the youth worship event- more the process of it.

The email went on to tell me how the adults in ministry who are organising the event have spent a while praying, and being concerned about young people and thought they would put together a youth event for young people in an area, so that young people would have somewhere to go to worship in a safe and relevant way.

As i said it needn’t be an email, as these crop up week on week all over the place. It could be a church Sunday event, an affiliation event, a tour by a large affiliation (to get young people to to ‘hear the gospel’ )  the list goes on, and you get the gist.

In the past I’ve been involved as a youthworker based in a church in partnership meetings where the plan is to ‘do a worship event’ for young people in churches, once the momentum of this sets in it becomes difficult to be the hesitant voice. The usual planning involves people acting on behalf of their groups to plan something that young people only get a chance to be involved when it gets to its ‘performance’. The assumptions of what young people like vary, but DJ music, loud bands, even a band full of young people, a good ‘speaker’ all appear in the ‘this is what young people will like’ category. Without even asking them.

It might be good for young people to go to these things. They might really enjoy it.

They might really enjoy it. Its especially easier to take them if the event is free.

But as young people in local churches, theyre pretty passive in the planning, suggesting and creating it – and yet they’re then expected to bring their friends to it.

Sometimes, if i was really critical, i might suggest that these events are for the church, for a ministry which often includes a band, or christian DJ, more than the young people who attend. Who is the event actually for? 

In thinking about the image of the Theatre – would theatre occur without an audience? probably not, but audience at a performance might be a crude way of describing such events. Maybe not too dissimilar to sunday church, but a loud, higher beated, more relevant form. But only a different form.

It might be good for young people to go to such events – and no one knows, and if it was about having research about these things then this is somewhat patchy – ie proving these types of things are longitudinally good for young peoples discipleship might be open to debate. Yes they might have always happened – but are they helping long term discipleship….however…

This is not about the ‘youth worship event’ necessarily, but the sense anywhere- especially in churches,  where decisions, activities, events, ceremonies are decided on behalf of young people – that might have ‘young peoples good’ at heart. The problem is the continual lack of ownership, or participation of young people in the process of the decisions that affect them, let alone their future discipleship in a local church. Yet it is in the local church where discipleship happens and this could be a participative arrangement.

The activity might be ‘what might be good for a young person’ but is that how young people perceive it? and if they are just consumers of it, they can as equally be non consumers of it, as entertainment aside their attendance (especially if they travel a distance to get to it) will be the only factor that keeps them.

Giving young people what they want..

On the opposite side of the discussion is the ‘giving young people what they want’ argument. And, in the main its where I would sit, especially where young people haven’t been given the opportunity to create and shape their own ‘destiny’ whether in a church setting, or in a community setting and you’re starting with them from scratch. So, find out what young people want by asking them, and where feasible work with them to cause it to occur. Which might not be ‘giving it to them per se’ because that might be too easy. But giving it to them might be what is needed in the first instance, such as an open youth club to socialise, or some other activity, but its what has been actively found out that they want to happen.

If this approach was taken in church in regard to worship, bible reading, discipleship and faith – what might the result be… – can we trust in the open space and allow young people to fill it with a form of discipleship that they have created?

What about creating a structure that young people might fill with ideas, suggestions and plans – how would that sound?

The danger is that in a consumerist world, young people become even more spoilt by their own wants, and if not getting what they want occurs – what happens then? are they too spoilt…and would this make things worse..?

what if what ‘we’ want for the young people and looks like what we experienced faith growing up, is different to what the young people actually want?

How brave might we be to recognise this and travel with them – but does this mean that they always have their way..? Yet in reality it might be that young people in churches might be so concerned with saying the right thing to please people that they suggest what they think they should be saying anyway, the trick in doing all of this would be to create the right kind of environment where young people in their groups trust in a participative process to suggest and be honest about those suggestions.

Is there Somewhere in the middle? 

If the first scenario as an extreme it breeds uninvolved young people who become passive consumers,  and the second gives them involvement but could produce demanding or even spoilt young people – is there an alternative?

Compromise, possibly, and balance – maybe more recognition of their purpose…

A question might be to think about what discipleship is that young people undergo, and how their discipleship is a collective experience in the life of a local church – which in turn is a group of people who are seeking to respond to God in their midst and perform the gospel in and with a local community. I could use a drama analogy, but wont, but is it fair to say that young people in their discipleship might be needed to be given the tools for themselves to assess what might be appropriate for themselves in the discipleship task that they are in?

It may be that neither what appears good for them, or their wants are particularly helpful – and that their call in discipleship is to use their gifts and give them opportunities to give to the worthwhile cause of transforming the world, the Mission of God.  Their discipleship might be more active, but probably only if we give them opportunities to share their passions, frustrations and what they would like to change. So after it isnt about them at all, but how they might seek to love the world that they are part of.



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