the future of youth ministry, episode 2

i led a late night discussion at the national youth workers convention this past fall on “the future of youth ministry”. in preparation for that discussion, i emailed a few dozen friends with better youth ministry minds than my own, and asked them to complete the sentence, “the future of youth ministry….” about 15 of them responded (often with more than a sentence!). i’m going to post them here as a series, sometimes with a bit of commentary from myself, and sometimes merely as a reflection-prod. would love to hear your responses.

Seth Barnes (seth is the founder and executive director of adventures in missions. a brilliant thinker and entrepreneur with a heart for the broken of the world, seth is passionate about discipleship. he blogs here; but you shouldn’t read his blog unless you want to be challenged out of any speck of complacency you might hold onto.)

20 years from now, youth ministry in the US will look like youth ministry in Europe.
A few youth ministers will rediscover Jesus’ model of youth ministry and actually try it out (with 20-somethings).
The gap year experience will become an increasingly powerful tool in the youth minister’s toolbox.

my thoughts:
it’s difficult to know exactly what seth perceives youth ministry in europe to look like (maybe he’ll comment here and fill us in on his thinking); but i’m guessing that he’s referring more to youth ministry in a truly post-christian culture than he’s referring to any particular approaches to youth ministry found in europe. if that interpretation is correct, i fully agree with seth. our epoch of well-resourced churches is on the wane, and an assumed christian perspective is already gone in much of the u.s. (less so in the south, of course).

i’m very intrigued by seth’s 2nd sentence, and his inference that great youth ministry might look like a long series of praxis experiences born out in the context of small community (the 12 with jesus). of course, this implies a great deal of sacrifice on the part of both the youth worker and the disciples; and i’m skeptical (sorry) that many will be willing to go there.

as to the gap year experience (a common practice in the UK and other parts of europe where young adults take a year — often before or after college — to give themselves to a serving opportunity that often becomes a significant worldview shaper): i’m a huge fan. i wish we had more of this as a norm in the u.s.

Mark Riddle (mark is a very smart pot-stirrer who clearly has the ability to practice systemic thinking and knock people off balance into a perspective-altering space of disequilibration. mark leads ‘the riddle group‘, one of the premier youth ministry consultant organizations. and he blogs — occasionally — here.)

The greatest barriers to God’s dreams for the future of youth ministry are sitting in this room right now.

my thoughts:
like i said, mark is a pot-stirrer. my understanding of mark’s comment is that we have a natural tendency to limit what could be — particularly in the area of significant change — by our perspectives, biases and experiences. in a sense, we always ‘limit’ possible change; whereas an outsider, or someone thinking from a completely ‘other’ paradigm, can bring cross-current ideas and thinking that leap change forward, rather than tweaking and tinkering.

mark actually sat in on my late night discussion at the nashville convention, and had much more to say about this (that helped all of us in the room). i’m hoping he’ll comment here and help us all.

17 thoughts on “the future of youth ministry, episode 2”

  1. Thanks for the quote Marko. I’ll throw in a few cents later in the day. btw – my blog quietly moved to Looking forward to hearing what others have to say.

  2. I love Seth’s second sentence and , though it might be far fetched, I think it would be amazing to see. Why wait 20 years?

    Mark Riddle’s comment is (to me) a comment on the church probably more than it is a comment on youth ministry. The greatest barrier to all of God’s plans has always been us. It’s a great, humbling, reminder to those who lead.

  3. Riddle- I love you but I don’t always agree with you. But, more often than not its because we are coming from two different perspectives. I agree that for things to truly be transformed that God really has to be the one doing it. With that said I also contend that there are certain churches/communities where a paid youth person is a hindrance. They “get in the way” of the amazing ministry that can be done by the community to love teenagers and families. However there are also certain situations where there is a huge need to have someone help “shape” resources into a cohesive direction that allows for chaos to diminish and health to happen.

    I always think about Jethro’s advice from the Old Testament. Moses was trying to do everything on his home and Jethro convinced him that his leadership model was wrong (you and I agree with that) but what Jethro advocated wasn’t getting rid of professional leaders. He advocated training people to lead and giving them the size groups that they were prepared and gifted to handle.

    Here’s maybe a better way of stating what you were saying. (this may actually have been what you meant too) the biggest problem was that all of those youth leaders were in that room hearing about the “future” of youth ministry and looking inwards at each other all a bunch of “professional” youth workers and not enough of the Ecclesia there who ultimately are the ones who must care for, love and lead.

    We had an amazing volunteer Christmas dinner last night. There were parents, young adults, students of all grades who are all actively engaged in “leading” others. I was stoked and loved it but also realized that for us to get to that healthy mix it did take paid youth staff (in my context) to push it to make it happen.

    My 2 cents. Commence.

  4. Lars – good stuff. my comment has nothing to do with paid or unpaid staff. in fact, it was geared to the understanding that there would be both in the room for Marko’s conversation. This is a comment for whoever is in charge, paid or otherwise.

    Btw- I’m not against professional staffing. The churches I work with have always hired someone at the end of the process. So I agree with what you’re saying to that extent. I think there is a very important role for staff.

    so don’t hear what I’m not saying :)

  5. Late to the conversation but having followed these first two conversations about youth ministry, it struck me that the concept of contextualization is at the core. Although it has been five years since I was professionally teaching and training youth workers, I spoke often of the need for contextualization as one of the most important abilities or skills demanded of effective youth workers/ministers/pastors(this include professionals and volunteers). Further, contextualized youth ministry takes into consideration both the local and global context in arriving at the most effective ways of ‘doing’ youth ministry. It seems to me that contextualization of ministry ‘practices’ speaks both to the future of youth ministry and the ‘right way’ to do it. That is, the future is dependent upon an accurate and deep reading of the context(s) and the right way…, well there is no ‘right way’.
    Thanks for the thoughtful exchange.

  6. The idea that we are living in a more and more post Christian society is becoming a deeper reality even here in middle America Wisconsin. In talking with people inside of the church the question that is asked is, “what do people think of (insert church name here)?” The fact is though that the majority of people that I talk to that don’t go to church have no idea that (insert church name here) even exists. This would be true of the majority of churches not on the main road our town. They don’t know (insert church name here) because (insert church name here) has no impact on their daily life. (insert church name here) is not where their kids are cared for, their need for community is met or they can go to find help needed.
    A friend of mine recently commented that he has chosen to believe that none of his neighbors will ever step foot inside a church let alone his church. So with that in mind incarnational ministry has to take a real place in our lives. A quote from this article says, “a non churched, non believer, learns a great deal about Christian belief by the way I treat the checker at my local market or drive my car… It is these kinds of interactions taken together that form the category of “things Christians do” or “what it means to be a Christian””. p2
    Youth ministry must take the same way. We need to let students see our lives and the lives of our leaders being Christ to them and to others. I think an ancient rabbi once said, Let you light so shine before men that they may see your good works and praise your father in heaven. (Jesus in case you missed it.) So where does that leave youth ministry?
    I think I might be picking up what Seth is throwing down.

  7. I resonate deeply with what Mark is saying because all too often, I find myself in God’s way when He’s up to something big. And, like Paul said, it’s a humbling reminder of what my role is supposed to be.

    I’m all for gap year experiences and I think they can be tied to some pretty powerful, formative times of life changing ministry. Maybe we need to lead that charge as youth workers by suggesting it to both teens and parents.

  8. Was privileged enough to sit in on the YS discussion time as well. Loved the time and the quotes. Looking forward to seeing the responses to each.

    In response to RIddle’s quote- I think it is so very true. The biggest thing slowing down or detouring God’s plan for youth ministries are sometimes the person leading (self included). We don’t dream “God Dreams” for ourselves, our students, and our churches. If we do we don’t have the faith to really live it out and go for it God’s way. David Kinnaman recently said that we need to have visions that are God-Sized and that are about making God great. We are addicted to numbers and praise. We want everyone to look at us, hear our vision and be able to say that we are great leaders and the size of your group proves it. Shouldn’t we be looking to make our groups smaller, deeper, more God-focused so that in the end whoever is leading paid or unpaid it wouln’t matter because the focus and the vision is on God? I guess this also relates to what Lars is saying as well?

    After our conversation and this year’s YS, I am stepping back from 17 years of all of it and taking a look at what’s next for youth ministry and personally. I just feel like there are more and more days I am a barrier and less of “tunnel” :-).

  9. #1 Adventures in Missions is a top notch organization. They put together great trips, and truly send folks out to bring the Gospel to lost people

    #2 On Seth Barnes’ comment about the “Gap Year”. I work for an residential home for troubled teens named Shelterwood. The main mode of ministering to these teens is through our Doulos program that really acts as a gap year for past grad young adults, where they act as big brothers and sisters. It is a trial by fire that I’ve seen be key to the development of these folks as mature Christians and disciple makers.

  10. I resonate deeply with what Mark is saying because all too often, I find myself in God’s way when He’s up to something big. And, like Paul said, it’s a humbling reminder of what my role is supposed to be. I’m all for gap year experiences and I think they can be tied to some pretty powerful, formative times of life changing ministry. Maybe we need to lead that charge as youth workers by suggesting it to both teens and parents.

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