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 posting 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.
while the last episode, with kara powell and brad griffin’s comments, focused on intergenerational ministry, andy root and lars rood (hmm, last name similarity?) narrow that focus a bit more to parents. i have noticed that discussion about youth ministry often makes these two subjects (intergenerational ministry and parent ministry) one and the same; but they’re not. there’s some overlap, to be sure; but the intergenerational question is more focused on helping teenagers rub shoulders with the whole community of faith, while the parent question is more focused on the role of parents in the faith formation of teenagers, and understanding the family systems teenagers live in.
andy root (andrew, if you’re looking for his books and such) is the associate professor of youth and family ministry at luther seminary. andy’s first book is on the top 10 youth ministry books list of lots of thoughtful youth ministry peeps: revisiting relational youth ministry. after that, andy cranked out 3 books in the time it takes many to read 3 books (relationships unfiltered, the promise of despair, and children of divorce). in short: dude is wicked smart.
lars rood is, in my opinion, one of the next wave of youth ministry voices. the lead youth minister at highland park presbyterian church in dallas, lars is one of the very, very few practicing youth workers with a doctorate. he’s got a book coming out soon, and i expect will have much more to say to us in the years to come.
here’s what andy and lars had to say (andy mentions more than parents, but i’m grouping these two together since they both touch on that question):
In the next few decades youth ministry will need to face the following: a way to actually work with families in a very complicated familial cultural locale, a way of dealing with pluralism–being able to claim the particularity of Jesus without it sliding into rigidity, and to find a robust theological position that connects revelation (the way we understand God’s revealing presence) with our practices and strategies of day to day ministry.
I’m scared of one thing. How much we are going to have to shift things to draw parents into their faith for the first time. I think parent ministry is going to be a huge new reality of youth pastors.
here’s my 2 cents: i think there has been a LOT of talk about engaging parents and working with parents and parent ministry (and “family ministry”) in the last 10 or more years. but, other than youth workers trying to increase communication, and offering a parent event once in a while, i’ve seen very little rubber hitting the road. mostly what i see are middle aged youth workers changing their titles to “pastor of family ministries”, or something similar, as a way of sounding like they’re doing more, so they can warrant a salary on which they can survive. yeah, that’s snarky and pessimistic; but it’s what i’ve seen. i’m sure there are myriad exceptions; but they’re in the minority.
all the research out there (like christian smith’s stuff) shows us what we know, but often don’t want to admit: parents have a WAY bigger impact on their teenagers’ faith than we do. when we DO admit that, it’s usually our rationale for a student who didn’t respond to our amazing ministry efforts.
so what to do? i think lars brings up a good point: we have to engage the faith formation of parents. “but that’s not my job!” some would say. well, maybe it needs to be…