Church; Be thankful that being young and trendy isnt the starting point to developing good youth work

Which is quite a relief. Isnt it.

The amount of times I hear, ‘but we’re just a bunch of old people, no young people will relate to us’ – or ‘we’re just too different from them’ or ‘we’re too old’  … And it makes me sometimes want to scream.

The fact may well be that unless youv’e been blessed with an eternal youth or maybe even decide that you didn’t want to grow up since being a teenager, then the chances are that in a number of ways you will be distant from the exact goings on in the lives of young people. Even this year all the exam grading changed again, so yes, GCSES are 1-9, not A** to F. Not to mention that they don’t buy singles anymore. (i know..) They use words like woke, and sick. Image result for trendy

So, when it comes to working with young people an ageing church could feel like it is unable to , because it feels out of touch, only ‘in touch’ because of the ad hoc moments with grandchildren, or ‘what they see on the news’ about young people. That distance keeps widening. And at the same time as young people are into well, who knows what they are into, you’re more likely to be found in the garden centre than the shopping centre.

There have been two competing strands in youth ministry, and they seem to be at loggerheads. The first is that youth ministry has strived to be relevant. Which can mean trying to keep up.

The second is that there is a call for those who work with young people to be authentic.

I dont think it is possible to have both. And young people normally see through the former, and ultimately prefer the latter.

The problem is that in churches we have convinced ourselves that the former is more important, trying to keep up, trying to ‘entertain’, trying to ‘keep’ and ‘attract’ young people will take a certain kind of youthful looking energy driven relevancy. But will it? Of course the problem with this thinking is that the numbers of 20-30 year olds in the church has dropped so significantly (because the previous generation of young people in the church escaped by 1/3) – then its left to the few 40-60 year olds to do youth work. Including the retired teachers, the clergy, the volunteers, the mums and dads. And there is no point in all of them trying to be cool. Because for them cool was wicked. Cool was the 80’s. Cool may have even been the Beatles. And so, if this generation of people thinks that they need to be cool, trendy or relevant to work with young people – then frankly there wont be any youth work done by churches in the UK. or at least not soon. And trying to be trendy is hard work and counter productive, because its fake. Its also not hugely respectful of young people and the space they might be trying to create for themselves.

Image result for trendyFortunately, and thankfully, there are ways of making youth work not about those who lead it. Its not about us, thankfully. Its about the young people. (and its about God, but thats for another piece). Very early in my youth work vocation i realised that the sooner we realise that youthwork is about being interested in young people, rather than them being interested in us, the better. We do have to be interested in the lives of local young people. That just takes some hard work, listening, learning and being present. What is going on?

What is going on with young people and how they communicate, how they travel around the local area, how they use local facilities, how they cope with situations, how some have access to opportunities compared to others…

What is going on in regard to young peoples mental health, well being, fitness, spirituality?

What is going on in regard to pressure, expectation, fears, dreams and ambitions?

What is going on in regard to helping young people use their gifts, skills, abilities not harnessed elsewhere?

If we can re-tune our thinking to think about young people and be interested in them, have empathy with them, connect with them then this causes any youth work to be about them, not about us. And ask – what might we be able to do to help young people? to be practical in their situation? What if the church can provide spaces and resources for young people to develop their own space, activity and community action? Rather than be ‘leaders’ of it?  Running a youth group is tiring, energy sapping and sometimes feels a lost cause, but – from the outset why not develop a participative approach where young people gather to make it happen using the safe welcoming space that could be in the church hall or main building.

If were interested, and have a desire to do good, and desire to show empathy – a desire that might be counter cultural in todays polorised generational society where young is pitted against old, and vice versa- this isnt Biblical its the Daily Mail remember. Then this might go a long way to trying to be authentic. It may well also be relevant, but in a more meaningful way that ‘just trying to be trendy’.

You dont have to be trendy to empathise, or trendy to listen, or trendy to walk alongside a young person, or to help them flourish, or to build rapport with them, or to mentor them, disciple them.

Maybe we do have to be youthful though, a kind of youthfulness that believes that young people can dream, can hope, can make something of themselves in the community their are in, a youthfulness that has hope for the future. A youthfulness that wants to still make a difference, however corny that sounds, and accompany that with a state of mind that doesn’t want to be the person who takes the credit for being that ‘difference-maker’. If we’ve given up on youthfulness and a that state of mind, then it might be argued that we’ve also given up on God and his redemptive transforming power, and lost sight of the eternal goal.

Be thankful you dont have to be trendy to start working with young people. And there are countless ‘un-trendy’ people who are being the saltiest salt and brightest light in the light of young people across the UK, but by providing places of welcome, conversation, listening and hope. Someone to talk with, a person who is there. Something this seemingly insignificant to our large ministry or weekly activities is hugely significant to every single young person, lets not forget this.

That doesnt mean to say you might not need advice, or guidance or support in trying something new – remembering that you may have survived the type of youth ministry you were subjected to – but others didnt and that might not be the best starting point today. But start with young people now, not history, or programmes, start by listening and learning in the local and the present. Shake off the shackles of falseness and attraction thinking and build from the ground, and build with young people not just in mind but present from the outset.

 

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A response to: ‘At nearly ___, arent you too old to be relevant to young people?’

The lesser spotted youth worker faces persecution from many angles, sometimes its about the changing job, sometimes its from poor management, or misunderstandings about the role itself. It goes without saying however, that the ‘age’ of the perfect youthworker question comes up frequently, especially when you’re coming up to a certain special age, 50, 40, or for the very youthful trendy church, even 30 might be seeming to be ‘too old’. Because, after all, there is a certain age to be a perfect youthworker isnt there?

the time is ticking then when you get to a certain age……

The other angle of this question, is from those around who dont view being a youthworker as a ‘proper job’ – so it is maybe an infantile role to do before growing up to something proper – like being a teacher, a vicar or proper ministry. So behind the question is less about being the wrong age to be a youthworker and being no good at the job (because young people care about how old their youthworker is), but that the youthworker role isnt for someone who is ____ old.

No one questions the age of the teacher, clergy or doctor, social worker, probation officer or police officer. Yet because youthwork isnt seen as education (often) but entertainment, then this is the task only for the highly trendy, captivating and fresh and new. From a youth ministry mindset, it buys into the relevancy narrative. It also buys into the desire for youthfulness mindset. Churches would be brave to employ youthworkers over a certain age – especially as the youthful narrative dominates. It wouldnt seem authentic to employ an ‘old’ youthworker would it?  or a youthworker that was older than the clergy.. (;-) )

So, no, the lesser spotted youthworker has a perceived shelf life. I do wonder if this is changing, and i guess an average age check at the 1000 youthworkers going to the National Youth Ministry weekend in November might be a bit of a yardstick on this.  Inevitably, though, other research is that the qualified youthworkers tend to be older, and also tend to be those who avoid this kind of event, going once. As they are managers, coordinators or academics.

The third problem with the age-old, (or old-age) problem, is that theres a perception that the little darling young people are fixated by having a youth worker as a role-model, which is possibly half true, but what can often happen is that churches have an idea not of the perfect role model for young people – but the perfect youth worker who is going to ‘pied piper’ their way into a young persons community and lead these young people to church. So, ultimately it is not about a role model who might be a person of experience, integrity and be older, gentler or compassionate – but be youthful, attractive and exciting. Every post in church ministry is about being exciting nowadays.

But thats the assumption. The reality is something vastly different.

Young people dont care about the youthworker. Not much, not enough to bothered about their age. They are more bothered about themselves. They are more bothered about being listened to, being given space to develop opportunities, being given a healthy space to be, to think and to participate. The age is less important that the approach. Young people want us to be interested in them. and their age, their hopes, dreams and concerns. They barely give two monkeys about us. And if they do, take it as a bonus.

So there’s a conflict. The church is looking for youthful youth leaders, but isnt always prepared for the church to become youth friendly, or become youthful as a whole congregation. As the church gets older, and training for youth ministry becomes smaller in the UK, then we’re going to have to think differently about age and youth workers.  We have a task to help the UK church to think about being meaningful with young people, not think that relevancy for them is the way forward. The attraction mindset is the one church is stuck in a loop of. And whilst this is the case, young people somehow just need youthful attention and entertainment. In the middle of a dilemma is a view of young people which should be of thinking of them as theologians in their own right, now the church of the future (ive written on this here: https://wp.me/p2Az40-Z7 ) And if young people are theologians in their own right – tell me now how old is a good theologian for a group of young people to be – someone who is going to explore theology with them?

(oh i forgot thats the vicars job…ha ha)

and yes i am feeling just a tiny weeny bit sensitive after receiving this question in the last few weeks.

Fuller Youth Institute have just written this piece on a similar theme, check it out – why we need the voice of experience with young people: https://fulleryouthinstitute.org/blog/your-voice-matters

 

Dreaming of youth ministry that is relevant from the point of interaction

Its time for a rethink in Youth Ministry.

Over the past three days I have ended up watching Ken Robinsons seminal TED talk on Education from 2006: The transcript of which is here: https://singjupost.com/schools-kill-creativity-sir-ken-robinson-transcript/  and the 18 minutes of your time are easily accessible on YouTube. The question he poses in this relates to education, but he asks:

We have a huge vested interest in it, partly because it’s education that’s meant to take us into this future that we can’t grasp. If you think of it, children starting school this year will be retiring in 2065.

and, then says

What we do know is, if you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original — if you’re not prepared to be wrong. And by the time they get to be adults, most kids have lost that capacity. They have become frightened of being wrong.

and then

And the result is that we are educating people out of their creative capacities. Picasso once said this — he said that all children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up. I believe this passionately, that we don’t grow into creativity, we grow out of it. (Ken Robinson, TED)

The questions that these pose for me arent as straightforward as to relate these specifically to the church and youth ministry, although that is possible, it is to ask the following;

What are the influence of the creativity of TED talks on the wider policy makers in UK education?

Probably not a lot. Given that since 2005 the capacity for creativity and breadth of learning in English education has shrunk rather than widened. Though attempts in Scotland had started as I left there 5 years ago. But what TED does is to promote ideas, to try and and explore the possibilities, to dream. To not be tied to the culture of current practice, but to look beyond, to look to the humans that are being formed and educated in education, not just the subjects that are assessed to enable industry to get its share of workers.

It takes an amount of guts to make bold claims about a culture and practice that has become so embedded.

So, let me put this one out there.

Have we ever asked the question to young people –

What is it you like about being involved in Youth Ministry/groups?

It may be that some young people articulate that ‘its something for them’ in the church – and in that way being relevant to that age group could be important – though youth groups have to retain relevancy as the persons get older. But other than that – the main things tend to be:

It is safe, it is social, it challenges me, Im forced to go by parents, i get to have experiences, I connect with adults, I get support.

More to the point, relevancy to the prevailing culture tends not to be what young people find fulfilling in youth ministry. It is consistency, challenge, a safe place , broadening of experiences and meaning.

Youth ministry need not to copy the world, to keep up with the times, to try and develop new strategies, policies, shapes and forms – unless they develop upon these five things, consistency, challenge, safe , experiences and for YP to find meaning in them. Without one of these there will be something lacking in youth ministry practice, for young people and they will find it elsewhere.

The problem with keeping up with Culture is that culture surrounds so subtly that we dont know we’re swimming in it. We dont also realise how the cultures in churches also affect what and how things are done. The church and youth ministrys role is not to keep trying to keep up with culture. It is to involve itself in the culture of young people, understand it from their lens, at the point of interaction, and then help them through it, help them challenge it, and also do the same. We need our theology and youth ministry to meet young peoples culture head on and be present in it. Trying to keep up with culture means that culture wags the churchs tail. But at times were all swimming in it anyway.

The reason, is that culture for every community is different, and so listening has to prioritise over previous known knowledge. Previous known universal knowledge about ‘culture’ isnt to be the benchmark – ‘all young people have iphones’ is not true and makes ‘trying to be relevant’ youth ministry look foolish.

It is to be distinctive in culture – to view our young people as creative and talented – so lets build cultures that help them thrive

It is to be distinctive in culture – to view young people as continuing to be artists – and creators – not just learners – so build a culture for creativity and construction

it is to be distinctive in culture  – to view young people as anything other than thugs – so lete create spaces where their talents are not being wasted, as education might be pushing them down a medicated/troubled pathway.

To be distinctive in culture – to regard them as saints not a problem, as Promise and not at risk.

If the church was asked the same question – how are we preparing and forming young people who have 65 years of the christian life ahead of them – what would we say?  How is what we do in youth work & ministry valuable in itself but also to prepare children and young people for the long haul?

And not unlike TED talks where there are many ideas and no policy makers watching, blogs, videos and facebook statuses have almost as much effect on youth ministry practice. But that doesnt mean that dreaming isnt possible, for the sake of young people long term discipleship in churches.

 

7 not-so-Deadly Sins in Youth Ministry

 

The film Se7en came out in 1995, I watched it when i was 18, i think, just. Or i may have been nearly 18. And it was pretty graphic and shocking for me at the time. Unlike Trainspotting or Aliens it isn’t a film i have given a re-watch to ever since. If you’ve not seen it, IMDB describes it as “A film about two homicide detectives’ (Morgan Freeman and (Brad Pitt) desperate hunt for a serial killer who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. The movie takes us from the tortured remains of one victim to the next as the sociopathic “John Doe” (Kevin Spacey) sermonizes to Detectives Somerset and Mills — one sin at a time.” Whether the film is in any way successful at telling this story is difficult for me to remember, but throughout its main story line is the effect of an ignorance of the 7 deadly sins:  pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth.

So, for some strange reason over breakfast I was wondering – probably because theres two conferences on youth ministry happening this weekend- is to think about what would be ‘the 7 deadly sins of Youth Ministry’ and focus on these 7 original sins, and i think there would be some merit in doing this to highlight areas of ministry that are prone to envy ( the successful ministry down the road), wrath (after the leadership meeting) , gluttony ( too many cream cakes during YF tuck shop) or Pride (‘its all about my ministry’). But I thought that would be a little obvious, and its likely that in the depths of time that Youthwork magazine probably did something similar.

So, instead of focussing on these 7 original sins, as I was out walking this afternoon, I thought about a different sin, linked to them all, ‘Ignorance’ and wondered if Youth Ministry, in part, or more in full, has been found to be guilty of ignoring the following aspects that have a real impact on the nature of youth ministry, the depth of engagement in young people, and how youth ministry might be threatened by what it accepts from the culture around,  in 7 key ways.

  1. Ignoring Theology for pragmatism. – Good theology helps give young people connection with a world story that they can assimilate as their personal story (McAdams 1997), Challenging Theology is what helps to keep young people in local churches so says recent research here: .http://wp.me/p2Az40-NP.  Settling for an easy night, of fun and distraction from the concerns of the world, might only be so helpful. Neither is settling for what Christian Smith calls is Moral Therapeutic Deism (2005) – connecting young people with a God who is ‘there for them’ to give them confidence, however, as a personal myth to believe in it will go so far, just it might need changing when it is tested.
  2. Ignoring young people. This seems strange as youth groups are full of them, but how many youth group evenings are judged as successful by the quality of conversations between youth leader and young person, and not by who and how many turned up? Young people can be ignored if they’re just to take part in the activities. What they need is a healthy place to be where adults take interest in them, listen and shape activities around their needs, interests and gifts. And that is on just a local level, and the local church.  Where do young people feature in the shaping of area strategies, of national programmes. Its also apparent when young people are counted as just numbers.
  3. Ignoring History. A bit like the Premier league, which only provides statistics of games back to 1992, as if football didnt exist before then. An understanding of History reveals christian youth work practice that nowadays would be seen as innovative, more risk taking and politically active. Meeting young peoples needs was core philanthropy in 1830, for example. Its what Sunday schools were developed for.  What might be one persons innovation might only show a blind spot for history, or good practice down the road.
  4. Ignoring the effect of culture.. What I mean here, is not the effect that culture has on young people. This is extensively researched, and if not the Guardian usually has something on ‘Millenials’ to reflect on most weeks. What I mean is the effect of the prevailing culture on Youth Ministry itself. The Sociologist Wolfe said:

In every aspect of religious life, American faith has met American culture, and American culture has triumphed… the faithful in the USA are remarkably like everyone else (Wolfe, 2003)

An example of this is in the marketing and programming of youth ministry resources, that are described as ‘almost Fordian’ (ie representing the process of making one size/colour fits all, mass produced motor cars) by Danny Brierley (2003) – It is an example of where the influence of Managerial theory and practice is inserted into the church. The same could be said for any youth ministry programme that claims to be efficient, calculated, predictable and be able to be controlled, for these are dominant tenets of the business model of Macdonalds. Without realising it, the prevailing culture wins, if a youth ministry seeks growth and transformational leadership to do this, then this again is from the management guru handbook, more so than Theology – however biblically justified. Youth Ministry is undoubtedly involved in the culture, it creates culture, but is also subject to it – it is worth being critical of the sources, methodologies and ideologies of practice – having filters set to ‘on’. Being predictable and efficient – might give 4 spiritual laws, but maybe not the complexity of a deep faith, and young people exploring difficult questions. Keeping up with culture isnt making Youth ministry more theological or relevant, its possibly only turning it into efficient organisations that are cost effective.  Managing a good youthwork organisation or it being managed well might not actually be having the best effect on young people.

5. Ignoring Youthwork (& Education) philosophy. What the Values and practice of Youthwork can bring to Youth Ministry is an increased focus, not only on young people and their needs, but processes shaped by values that are in their favour, such as empowerment, voluntary participation, inclusion & anti-oppressive practice, and informal education, what it also can provide, again according to Danny Brierely, is an ethical yardstick for youth ministry. Youth Ministry will only be improved by encompassing more of the discipline of youth work. Not only that but a refreshing of different concepts of education especially as young people participate in youth ministry in a voluntary way would be critical.

6. Ignoring Pioneers. For too long the biggest conferences are sponsored by the same people who select the same people to be the experts. Critical and Pioneering voices, generally are put to one side, unless they have been youth ministry flavour of the month in the past – and can still retain ‘Hero’ status. But in the main, those who are known for good, solid local practice are ignored. Those who lead ministries and have several lead responsibilities in organisations are the heralded experts. Some are the pioneers, but others are selectively ignored. Organisations, cultures and practices are only developed further through critical thinking, questions and dissent. Yes people will only keep the hamster wheel turning, critical thinking will ensure the hamster is travelling in the right direction. Pioneers are what the Disciples were, lest not forget, improvising in the new spaces what they had been taught.

7. Ignoring ourselves. Not unlike the film, the final twist is played on the main character and the audience. The final ‘deadly sin’ in Youth Ministry is when we forget about being honest and kind and generous to ourselves. We help define youth ministry and youth work through our very actions with young people, our communication with churches, partnerships, agencies and schools, we also define it as a practice through the cultures of the settings we create, the young people we invest the most time in, creating healthy spaces for young people also starts with being healthy ourselves – not perfect- just healthy, self-care is important, and probably the most ‘deadly’ of them all on an individual youth ministry level.

Could I have included others, possibly. But what might be yours? Excluding obviously ‘critical blogging’….

 

When did youth ministry decide that the bible was irrelevant?

Well it must have done at some point. Given that it’s barely used or mentioned.  Jesus is, but sometimes even he is taken out of biblical context.  More the ‘jesus of my life’ than the Jesus of trinity, of creation , the author and the redeemer, the biblical one, the revered one through history.
Without the Bible who is Jesus?

So coming back to the point, its noticeable that many new emerging churches have a renewed sense of enthusiasm for the bible and practices that seek to embody it. It’s as equally noticeable that ministries that seek relevancy are ignoring the bible, deeming it out of step with culture.

Maybe it happened when youth ministry turned to culture or missiology or sociology to be it’s lead. It read that young people are non book, non literacy culture, therefore books became films became soundbites became emojified.

But if the bible is irrelevant then turning it’s form into emoji isn’t changing it’s historical context, or its meaning and how it is to be interepreted.  And I’m sure my new living translation is actually written in English already, the last i checked, the language of the British culture. It’s only the form that changes not its content. It will still need the wise guide to interpret and make meaning of it such as the Ethiopian in Lukes recollection in Acts.
But if young people in youth ministry aren’t given the bible then how will they ask questions?
And what kind of guides can youth ministers be if they have limited understanding of the tools to interpret themselves.

I am so grateful for the time spent at ICC  (now sccm) doing biblical interpretation as part of a Christian youth work course. It was hard work but so worth it, to be able to bring questions to the text, to wrestle with it and to give it opportunity as Brown suggests, to communicate God back through it.
If we’re to have disciples and leaders of young people equipping them with tools to interpret, and more than that, a view of the bible that isn’t lost in the fun stuff (and god is the boring bit). However I guess if the time allocated in services to reading it vs singing vs preaching vs notices, maybe the bible has a small prominence in some churches too… youth ministry might have just followed the lead of the church…

The question is also – what can be done to rectify it? What need to change about the relevancy culture in youth ministry, that stems from an underlying desire for telling and evangelism, rather than serving the church long term in the form of ongoing biblical discipleship, in growing leaders, in transforming the world towards Shalom, part of the mysterious plan and drama that all the current scenes are part of. Without depth in the Bible- where might depth be at all, how can a young person follow the word of God if they’re not reading and studying the previous words of God for themselves or in their groups.  However, before criticising the youth group – observe the actual use of the Bible on Sundays, and at evangelical youth ministry conferences..  sometimes they could exist without the bible at all…

Stopping Culture from eating youth ministry for breakfast

I have been very lucky to have grown up as part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA), which constantly engages its younger members to not only learn about their faith, but also to develop attitudes that help them to integrate with wider society through activities such as poppy appeals, charity collections and blood donations; furthermore, they get their youngsters to organise events and deliver speeches at local, regional and national levels, which grants them key experiences to better prepare them for the world of work

Not a day goes past without an article in the Guardian regarding the religiousness of Britain, in relation to the Christian faith. The above quote is from this article, however, the article with the most publicity last week is this One. Both of them give a call for the Christian faith, not just to evangelise better, but also to become more relevant for young people.

I dont agree.

For two reasons. One is from the long term history that links to the above example. The second is more recent.

When St Patrick in 500-odd AD left the shores of England (Angles) to go to Ireland to spread the good news of Jesus, along with the story of faith, he set up and arranged a type of civilisation, that worked, that become literate, that developed technology. The gospel became a new part of life. St Patrick also realised that the local religion, that of paganism had parallels to the Christian faith, and so he adopted signs, symbols and ceremonies of paganism to the new faith of Jesus. There have been several documentaries on what St Patrick did in regard to faith and civilisation in an alien culture, check them out on iplayer.

It could be argued that St Patrick made Christianity relevant. Or that he contextualised it. Yes he did, doing so he re-appropriating what was already in the culture, building upon what was already evident. But that is not what i was wanting to focus on. The thing with St Patrick, and the incident above from the Muslim faith, is that people became immediately involved in the life of the community, in St Patricks day they built buildings, taught, learned, farmed, they established community that was participative. Its the same for the community activism of the lady in the article above.  Relevancy is nothing without involvement.

In a recent article about the business world, the phrase was used ; ‘culture eats strategy for breakfast’ , it went on to explain how the culture of an organisation will usurp any strategic drive for new performance, action or delivery. If the culture isn’t changed the strategy doesnt get past 9am in a 24 hour time frame.

In a bid for relevancy, a turn to culture has been one of the dominant players in Youth Ministry since the 1960’s. YFC’s mantra which has something to do with anchored to a rock – geared to the times epitomises it. But this isnt a bash at YFC, its just an example of an organisation in youth ministry that prides itself in maintaining a relevant position in regard to young people, there are others.   For those in the loop of relevancy, the desire to keep up leads to adopting ministries that try to keep up in a variety of forms.

Unless anyone in the church has had its head in the sand for the last 50 years. Youth Ministry has tried to do the relevant thing. Adopt, create, provide new spaces for  young people to have a fun space, a learning space, worship spaces, mission spaces. From Guitars to powerpoints, Radio broadcasts, to festivals to online communion.  Successful youth ministry might pride itself in giving young people all of these things, and sometimes these occur in a parallel or alternative universe to the church on sunday morning. As long as young people explore faith in a relevant way that’s all that matters – or does it?

As long as youth ministry is maintaining relevance to the culture. Does that mean that it attracts- and who is it attracting? and the more critical question, if it is acting relevantly but in an alternative space of the church- and often narrated as a positive alternative to church – what kind of discipleship is happening beyond attendance? And does the kind of discipleship within the alternative youth ministry to the church equip young people for a long term experience of faith?

One of the issues of youth ministry in the UK is that it is so firmly embedded in a cultural relevancy model, that it is in danger of adopting the Bible to fit the culture, and not giving young people the tools to use the Bible to transform culture, to challenge culture, and also challenge the culture of youth ministry itself, when, perish the thought, it might not always stack up. Ive written before on giving young people tools to read the bible in different ways. Instead, culture leads. undoubtedly Culture has an effect on all that is done, the fact that this is a blog post is testament to cultural advances.

If you were to make a list of the common words found at Christian youth ministry conferences over the last few years, you wouldnt be surprised at the turn to culture in the language used. Though words that tend to be lacking include participation, complex, deep, long term, family, locality, theological, and even discipleship. It would be unfair of me to suggest that youth ministry is a mile wide and an inch deep, though a turn to alternative culture as youth ministry in the form of relevancy can set its own cultural norms of learning, of equality, of discipleship and involvement by young people, and it acts as the safe space for young people away from the world. – the question is are these enough and are they enabling long term discipleship?  – where are the 1000’s of young people who attended soul survivor now? especially those who never became a ‘leader’ of a ‘ministry’?  (again not to pick on soul survivor, but it does advertise its converts on a regular basis: http://www.premierchristianity.com/Book-Reviews/Not-Ashamed-Live-Worship-from-Soul-Survivor-Momentum-2009)

The safe space model follows the church that often talks up the same safe space, and to make God very apparent in the safe space, and not apparent in the non-church space. If Healy is right¹, then God is the  Director of the ongoing Drama of redemption, he is involved already and there is less of a church/world, secular/sacred wall that is often portrayed.

The task for the church, and youth ministry is not then a turn to relevancy. It is a turn to enable young people to be disciples. Disciples who are supported to act in the world to love the world through service, to perform in the service of the church. Not just do services in the church. To be given the tools to act faithfully in the world. It is not a call to relevancy as a call to active involvement.

Yes the culture of the church will eat a different youth ministry strategy for breakfast, in the same way that culture is eating away at the church. The call is not to adapt to the consuming force of culture but transform it from within. But if the church began discipling young people for active service to transform the world, began giving them opportunities to follow the way of Jesus, and not just worship him in a spectator form where that is the extent of their involvement in world transformation.

Aspects of the church have turned to relevancy to attract. Though itll only attract those already interested. Though it seems the interest wanes as young people find a new fad to join. And join one that invests in them more than they felt previously.

Relevancy will always be out of date, or created out of the context.

Young people desire people to be interested in them for who they, for people to understand them, to listen to them, and be authentic. Its not relevancy, it never has been, it is time. Relevancy is irrelevant compared to investing in young people and their families and communities for transformative lifelong discipleship.

¹Healy, Church, World and the Christian life ( 2000)

 

 

 

 

 

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