This may very well be the most essential work of youth ministry today. Surprisingly, it finds youth ministry leaders re-strategizing how they appropriate their time between ministering with young people seeking a spiritual home, and equipping and empowering adults who can provide one. From the outside, adults cannot totally turn around a culture which is decisively participatory. We can, however, in cooperation with other adult disciples within our Church, set conditions which influence pockets of culture surrounding individual kids. It is leading by example, and that is a lesson that is stated throughout the Bible, and through Jesus’ actions.
Mindful of previous generations that have contributed to The Juvenilization of American Christianity, we must be concerned about the sense of brokenness within our young people, biblical illiteracy, a lack of denominational identify, and even Spiritual Homelessness. The observation isn’t meant to be a criticism, rather a statement regarding what many people working in youth ministry are up against. Mark Yaconelli, in GrowingSouls: ExperimentsinContemplativeYouthMinistry, suggests that “A lot of youth ministry today is driven by fear and anxiety. The fear may be that the Church is losing its young people, or that the young people don’t know what to believe, or that the young people need moral values – but many youth ministries live in what Henri Nouwen has called the ‘house of fear’ and not the house of love.” Showing the amazing joy that comes from belonging to a Church, and understanding its value in your life, seems as if it would be easier to achieve if you approach the subject with positive motivation, and not wrath. It is still a difficult task, but it is one that is likely to attract young people, or at least their attentive ear.
In summary, all this means that we cannot do youth ministry based only on who young people are today. We must continually strive to do outreach with youth ministry because that is who we are call to be as disciples of Jesus, and as active and engaged members of our Church. Youth ministry is our form of service, and a gift which was given to us.
Our form of service is discipleship in the Lord and we are coming to the growing realization that our outreach must involve a wider net than one that is aimed at young people exclusively. To influence change in parts of the culture that surrounds the young people we serve, we will need many partners —many, many adult partners. And they can be found, or should be found, already surrounding the young people we serve. They are parents, other significant adults, and the greater Church community as well. To explore these relationships, we will continue to build off our imagined thoughts of the young Prodigal Son through the experiences that happened upon his return home. The lessons are so important, and they must be shared so we can begin lifting up our youth to a standard that is befitting of the Lord’s vision for us because that is the only way we can fully use the gifts he has given us in life.
It’s time to embrace the responsibility we have as adults, and make a home for the next generation; one which celebrates everyone, including: the prodigal, those who have not travelled outside their neighborhoods, and youth who have already seen far too much of the world in their lives. Let us embrace and accept the jock and the nerd, the drama queen and the homecoming queen, as well as the home-schooled kid and the latch key kid, the valedictorian who carries the sweet aroma of potential and the stinky middle schooler. We must celebrate them all…home.
For Discussion: In what ways might we set conditions which influence pockets of culture surrounding individual kids? Please comment below with your critique clarifications, and responses. <image source>
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