The White elephants within Youth Ministry. 

This month Youth and Childrens work magazine have produced one of their gems. I caught a copy of it at the Religious resources centre in North Shields yesterday. It is based upon 8 of the serious issues in youth ministry that they suggest that youth leaders and churches are ‘scared to touch’, it felt like a top ten run down of the most embarrassing conversations to have with the parents. So included was gender, sexuality, masturbation for example and a whole host of others.

These white elephants in the room were mostly all ‘ things that we think we need to talk about with young people but dont know how to’ . What instead if there were white elephants in the room about the practice of youth ministry that we might need to consider as practitioners, over and above thinking about what to talk about with young people in our groups, schools and sessions? Or on the streets, where discussion about faith, gender, sexuality, ghosts and relationships seem much more spontaneous and frequent, however.

So: Some of the white Elephants within Youth Ministry: 

The first one is based upon a number of recent blog posts of mine. How might the practice of youth ministry – focussed on teaching, telling, groupwork, events and church based activities have deliberately and implicitly excluded the poorer, working class young people in communities? How might this be addressed? who wants to face this reality? (That previous post is here: Youth Ministry has always abandoned the poor)

The second, Can Youth Ministry be a genuine missional endeavour – if it relies on ‘friendship’ evangelism within young people – that barely works for adults. If groups in churches find difficulty ‘accepting’ the estate kids, or fear them, or ‘call’ them chavs. I have had three conversations in the last week alone in which groups fell apart because of ‘estate’ kids trying to attend the ‘church kids fun night’ – and put those reflections here: ‘What to do when the estate kids turn up: http://wp.me/p2Az40-13t) 

The Third one – How much funding needs to address the north/south divide in youth ministry resources? And are there ways of allocating resources to young people in some areas in the same way parish share/ministry funds do to focus on areas lacking.

The fourth – Has Youth Ministry focussed too heavily on helping young people learn about faith, worship, and find salvation – and less about how young people perform what faith is all about? Again, this is potentially cultural, as sermons are often heavy on content, less on action. Where might churches help young people enact Gods goodness to the world, beyond that God loves them individually.

The fifth. Has youth ministry become too scientific? predictable? If Making disciples has been the intention of youth ministry, has the ready to use material, tools and resources reduced making disciples to methods, programmes and activities. Instead – what of Youth Ministry as a local art form? The youth worker who facilitates an ongoing masterpiece of creativity, of young people participating and contributing?

The sixth. Do only the strong survive in Youth Ministry? The leader material – rather than the quiet one, those who can hack the youth group, those who have the right parents, those who look and act the part. And if so – what might that say about developing a theology of youth ministry that is ‘for the least’, the ill, the lonely even. Those even who stick their necks out and take risks, those who are provocative and challenge. Can youth ministry house and host the rebellious?

The seventh. The church is only working with 5% of the population of young people. And that includes every pay to go to event, camp, festival, club and group. For every 10,000 who attend soul survivor, there are 500,000 young people who watch on from Bristol, Bath, Exeter and Plymouth, within 150 miles up the road and dont give a monkeys.  If there is a north/south split in the youth ministry, then my guess, especially that even in the Durham diocese churches are in contact with 200 young people – then that is less than 2%. It is not a numbers game. Its a reality game that 98% of young peoples contact with faith is a vicar at an assembly. Youth Ministry has to become a whole church response, a whole diocese response, a whole focus response. There is no other way. And in many areas the ways that will happen will not look like the club, group or activity, it is something else. (want to chat about what this might look like – contact me above). It is not posters but persons, it is not programmes, but presence.

The eighth elephant in the room. One year gap year students. Serve only their own purpose to get experience in ministry, and serve a local church. If youth ministry is trying to be about meeting the needs of young people and develop sustainable faith. The persons who are only present for 1 year will not suffice. It is just not good enough. Neither realistically are two year contracts for youthworkers.

The ninth elephant in the room. We need to name the powers. No not greed, or the government. But be honest about where the pinch points are, where the dominant forces lie in youth ministry, and how those influences are shaping practices in too many ways. Does a business and managerial culture affect youth ministry organisations and their desire for growth? or efficiency? or world branding and fame? Do other groups hold the keys to publishing, to conference platforms, to festivals, to resources even?  Who holds keys, and what is that game all about in the coridoors of power in youth ministry? influence? money? profile? survival?

The tenth elephant in the room. If Theological training for ministers has excluded any references to young people as a distinct ministry, or even the process of community work and development and how this would help in a parish – the the same is to be said on the reverse – Youth Ministry training in the next 10 years needs to include community development (and its tenets from youth & community work), emerging church & fresh expressions, digital and media, detached work (in all seriousness, it is still where young people are, on the streets), working with families and helping older congregations get involved in youth ministry, Youth ministry as a whole church enterprise, youth ministry and developing entrepreneurial initiatives for young people & self funding, and developing asset based youth ministry.

The eleventh elephant. Youth ministry has been too slow to deal with racism. Too slow to advocate anti-oppressive practice. Not sure ive heard much from evangelical youth ministry about condemning the actions of terrorists in the USA over the weekend. (Nb I started this post on charlottesville weekend)

The 12th. Are young people leaving youth ministry with any biblical literacy. So they know more than 10 verses out of context that appear on fridge magnets. Do they know how to interpret it, reflect on it and see it in context.?

13th. Church has always been a problem. Kids from Sunday schools didn’t end up in them (only 4%) so youth ministry has an ongoing battle. It can’t be the end game. But this issue has always been the case.

Not sure which of these is the worst, depends on your perspective. But any serious attempt to ensure that youth ministry disciples young people in the UK. Aiming high that they become followers of Christ and perform goodness in their local contexts. It’ll be radical, prophetic and challenging. But being good is risky.

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