Mark Oestricher recently challenged our use of the title Youth Pastor (“Youth Minister” for most of our readership.) He suggests that when most hear that title, that their imagination as well as our own self-image, quickly revolved to understanding it as Program Planner for Teenagers.
He is not worried so much about the title as much as how the understanding of it leads us to only be devoting our “resources of time, money, energy, focus, creativity, people and space are dominantly used to prop up a Christian-y social club for teenagers with the measuring stick of how many are coming, or how many don’t leave”, then we are likely falling short.
Recent research into what sustainable faith in teenagers really looks like delivers some critical off-centering hip-checks to the old implication of program planner. The reality is teenagers can be wonderfully engaged in our programs for years but not develop a sustainable faith. We’ve built programs that are wonderfully effective at delivering the results we’ve built them for: teenagers who appear to have an active faith as long as they’re connected to our ministry. But as soon as they’re no longer in our prescribed age-range, that faith is no longer sustainable.
What the research has revealed, among other things, is teenagers need to experience a multi-generational connection to the whole church, not only to the youth group. In fact, those teenagers who feel a meaningful connection to their church tend to hold onto their faith into their young adult years, whether or not they participated in a youth group.
What us called for, here, Marko suggests, is that our position needs to be understood as Banner Bearer for Teenagers. This is where our role is understood as a connection conductor, helping teenagers find meaningful integration into the body of Christ, not isolating them into an age-group ghetto. Our role is to speak into the broader context of the Church, not allowing them to forget about their calling to teenagers.
The whole article is worthy of your attention. How would such a shift impact your work day?