I recently read and wrote about Mark Oestreichers recent book Youth Ministry 3.0. After reading it and discussing it a little on the Facebook page, I was asked by a fellow youth worker what it was about. Among other things, I talked about how it outlines the way things have been done in youth ministries through three distinct eras. What came out of this conversation was a comparison the three eras and what was consistent through each.
What is the Same
It usually comes back to that word in youth ministry. I have seen ministries that I thought were incredibly awful in how they taught and even in what they taught that were made great if only for the way they related to each other. Through the years, it has always been a mark of health and vigor to be connected in relationships in a ministry. I’m not sure if I could back this up, but it seems to be a trend for youth leaders to develop a team leaders to minister with than it has been to be a solo guy in the ministry.
The basic disciplines of the faith seem to be consistently used through the years to bring people closer to God. Prayer, Bible study, missions, service and worship have all been used consistently in youth ministries through each era. There have been some changes in how they were done through the years, but they are all apparent.
What is Different
Many youth ministries in each version have depended highly on how well they entertain the teens who show up. I would love to say that this is a trend of the past, but it seems to still be used even in this era. I don’t have a problem with entertainment, mind you, but I don’t want that to be what I depend on to reach kids. A friend said it better than I could. My philosophy is “what you save them with, is what you save them to.”
Having said that, there seem to be more youth ministries that are trying to use ministry time more like a lab and less like a class. Ancient practices like Lectio Divina are showing up. Leaders are living life with teens and incorporating them into what they do to draw closer to God. I am really glad to see this more and more.
Through the years, many of us have used technology to be more effective communicators. From overheads, to projectors, to candles, we use atmosphere to create a setting teens feel safe in. Again, more and more I see ministries leaving the building, doing life together, doing more than in eras past. Though I do still see many larger ministries contained in a building, usually through large worship events, it seems to be less important where we meet.
At the same time, teaching methods have advanced. We now identify kinesthetic, visual, auditory learners. We see external and internal processors. Likewise, we teach in different ways to help teens retain messages and understand what God is saying.
In earlier days, there were fewer sub-communities in adolescent life. I remember when it was the jocks and nerds, though it was never really that simple. Today, teens have many groups that they hang out with and they are not always as closely tied to any of them. Many have several groups that they consider themselves a part of. Some of it is affinity based like sports or activities, some of it is more locations based like early teens who live near each other and have no choice but to do things together. Either way, the days of having a couple of friends consistently all the way through your school career are becoming rare.
The affect of more loose community in the church is obvious to most of us. The church, and youth ministries especially, have become just one piece in the pie of teen life. Kids may have church friends and also school friends and also social friends and not consider each of those groups compatible.
Mark is getting a lot of people asking questions about what we are to do with this knowledge. I think that is a great problem. At least there is a growing group of people wondering where we are going in youth ministry. I know that I don’t know where we are heading, but my hope is that in raising the questions we are moving together towards a more intentional future. As we ask questions and try new ideas, we are moving into more possibilities and a new way of thinking about what we do. I’m really glad to have read the book, but I am even more glad that people who have read it are moving towards a new idea in youth ministry. I can’t wait to see the next era.