What shall we do with young people when they grow out of messy church?
How do we integrate young people into the life of the church?
We do really great childrens work, but youths..?
These are three of the most common questions that I hear on a regular basis from church leaders and congregations in regard to a church working with young people.
I wouldnt say from the outset that there is a magic answer to solve all of these particular questions. however I do think that there is a game to be raised when it comes to thinking about how churches think of young people, which may be a start.
There has been notable advances in recent times at churches starting to use terms like ‘learning from children and young people’ rather than ‘teaching them’ and these are creditable. A shift to more child and young person centered education methods (though espoused in the 1960’s in Sunday school unions¹) have put specific young people at the forefront of curriculum design, rather than external programmes, again, all positive. So how young people are regarded in churches is a big deal. As you may know I have written before on the different attitudes that are had in regard to young people, from them ‘not being ready’, to being ‘aliens’, ‘scary’ or too precious and wrapped up in cotton wool – all of these attitudes are featured in this post : young people as saints of the present, not church of the future . In this post, I reflected further on young people being seen as theologians and using some of the themes within adolescent development, think about how their theological reflection changes. More often than not implicit messages like ‘you’re not ready’ or ‘you dont know enough’ are put as barriers to young peoples perception, and many of these are projections, fears and attempts to maintain control.
But, if youth ministry, is all about Ministry – why not conceive the idea, or permeate the concept, that young people have a Ministry and this is what the church is to enable to develop and flourish?
When I say ‘ministry’ , i don’t mean that they get to be underpaid, undervalued and be lumped with a whole load of initiatives and administration for little thanks…what I mean, what if young people were thought of, not as followers, disciples or ‘a group’ – but as Ministers of the gospel? But i do mean called, and prompted and hear the voice of God in the midst towards acts of ministry.
Would churches, sunday schools, messy churches and youth fellowships be transformed if their primary task was to discover and enable the ministry of young people to occur – rather that be bent on programmes, learning, containment, safety and entertainment?
What if each young person has a ministry to give to the local church, to the local community that needs awakening, acknowledging, and then using to its full potential?
I hazard a guess at yes. What if, as I suggested in my previous post. Youth Ministry was about the ministry of young people – and not the ministry of adults teaching at young people?
One of the sad truths is that for many in their churches, many adults, they have pottered along in churches for such a long time and not realise or have their own ministry recognised, because it hasnt fit with the norm. Only the other day someone in a church suggested to me that they felt passionate about litter, and the environment, and they aged post retirement had discovered a real new passion for this, but I wonder even if it was suggested how ‘ the environment’ might become a church’s overall mandate – for some it does and there are eco churches – but my point is that for many even in churches their ministry goes unnoticed and they are put onto rotas, leadership and organisation.The trouble is is then to ask questions about how young people might be ministers is to do so possibly in cultures where what determines ministry is already set.
So lets open it up a bit.
Starting with Andrew Root. For, though I have on many occasions in previous blogs talked about developing young people as ‘performers of the Gospel’ within churches and communities, it is Andrew Root, in Faith Formation who put forward, for me, the concept of young people as Ministers. In Faith Formation, one of the main thrusts of of Root is to ask ;what is faith? and ‘how is faith formed’ and though not always specifically related to young people, he highlights the issues created in practices of MTD youth Ministry stating that faith it seems has been more about an addition to life, rather that , as he suggests, a deduction within life. A Calling out of the material towards the sacrificial. a discovery of the ‘in christ’ of Faith- and what that might mean to be active in the same faith of Christ. stating:
We become like God by sharing in Gods energy, which we do by joining God action and being ministers²
For young people, what might faith formation look like if it was about joining in with God’s actions and being Ministers? Its a challenging question. I think. For so long we’ve thought of what weve done as youth ministers to be the ministry, and not think so much about how our ministry might be to harness the ministry of young people. If i was to be critical of Andrew Root, it might be that the view of Ministry that he espouses is somewhat limited, albeit probably confined to the ‘application’ section of the book. I may also want to suggest that Theodrama provides a better platform and structure to some of his arguments about divine action, but thats for another piece (or a previous one somewhere in the archives). But back to young people as Ministers.
Developing this further, if Young people are to be regarded as Ministers in churches – this becomes a question about ‘what ministry is’ and also what is the church and how is ministry part of it? All too big questions for this piece. Anthony Thiselton in Hermemeneutics of Doctrine’ brings together a number of perspectives of church, ministry and mission, and ministry and the church relate to each other. But an eccesiology question and ministry question do go hand in hand. What if the church’s main purpose as Thistelton writes (based upon Moltman, Pannenburg and Robinson) is that the church is 1. moving towards the eschaton (ie in act 4 of a 5 part drama) , it exists to fulfil Gods reign in the kingdom and secondly the church exists for itself and its own sake, more that Christ came to save himself, It exists to participate in Gods Mission to the world³. There is clearly a Theodrammatic view of the church coming through, and this also helps. Nicholas Healy (4) urges a view of the church that sees itself as being within the Theodrama (act 4 towards act 5) , and cultivates that the church in its nature (and thus its ministry) is to be both Practical and Prophetic, being present in the moment, recognising the past and the future, being practical to humanity in Gods world, and also prophetic to care for it and challenge the idolotors and narcissists who seek to destroy it.
Now, in a way this is not about burdening young people with all of this responsibility. However, the responsibility is our shoulders to facilitate young people as ministers within the church and within the world. There is a larger role than what Andy Root suggest for young people, faith formation might not just be ministry in the church, a ministry of sacrament, of generosity and gratitude – though all are important, but in thinking about the role of the church in the ongoing Theodrama of the world – the grander story that we are all participants of – then our task might be to discover how young people are being called and challenged by God into being ministers in the world in which the church plays its part, participating in mission- and thats mission in the grand sense, not just evangelism, which is one part. I have suggest that developing young people as ‘performers’ of the gospel is something that is required as part of faith formation before, and this only adds weight to thinking about young people as ministers, developing action discipleship might be the first paradigm shift we have to do, the second is to be looking for the ways in which the ministry of each young person is being revealed to us through their actions, communication and behaviour – and if this isnt being realised, then maybe our approaches have been deficient.
How might we keep young people in our churches? well, if psychologists (5) and a recent survey that I conducted indicates, its is community, challenge and autonomy that young people, and ourselves crave in situations – then supporting young people through faith formation through a enabling their ministry in the world might be the way of doing this. Entertained young people are not staying in churches – only those whose ministry is harnessed, so we need to harness the ministry of young people in the church and the world from as early an age as possible. If we have worked with young people and their families through messy church for 2 years, then we should know by now or at least be able to identify aspects of that young person, their qualities, passions, beliefs and spirituality to help us help them to find a place in the church and world where they can do ministry? cant we?
It will also help if they can be ‘included’ in practices of ministry – until they choose to reject them. And yes i do mean communion. As ministers children and young people need to be part of the ministry. Theyre not too young to be used by God – are they?
Let help young people be divine actors of Gods performance in the world- and see what happens then?
Might churches and Ministry be transformed if young people were regarded as ministers?
And i dont just mean the ones with ‘leadership’ potential, I mean all. I mean the example in which a young person didnt want to participate in an activity, but found real purpose in helping in the kitchen instead, the young person who wanted to raise money for charity, or the young person who wanted to use their generosity to be on the welcome team, or the young people who use the resources of the church to develop social action (something Kenda Creasy Dean is recommending) , the young people who protest against development or the reduction in green spaces, is this not prophetic?
What if young people were regarded as Ministers in the church- what kind of transformation might this cause?
And what kind of role, skills and abilities might we need to be, those in leadership in churches, to facilitate young people as ministers? And yes that might be following Gods calling and prompting to pick up litter. To be vulnerable in the task of divine action.
¹Thompson, Naomi, Church and Young People since 1900, 2018
²Andrew Root, Faith Formation, p176, 2017
³Anthony Thiselton, Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 2007, p 486
(4) Healy, Nicholas, Church, the world and the christian life. 2000
(5) (Deci & Ryan), Taken from Jocelyn Bryan, Being Human, 2016