the future of youth ministry, episode 7

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.
episode 1 (searching for the right way)
episode 2 (discipleship, barriers)
episode 3 (intergenerational ministry)
episode 4 (parents)
episode 5 (re-weird-ifying christianity)
episode 6 (the system is broken)

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after a handful of episodes in this series full of strong statements and veiled threats, it’s time for a little sunshine. i’ll comment after the quote, so let’s get right to it.

kurt johnston oversees all student ministries (junior high, high school and college) at saddleback church, in orange county, california. a life-long junior high guy, kurt is a great friend and iron-sharpening-iron conversation partner for me. i’ve regularly told people that what’s truly stunning about kurt is that it would be so easy for him to have a big head or an air of condescension. after all, he oversees a youth ministry that sees 2500 teenagers and young adults come through their doors each weekend. but, while kurt is totally up for that role, in terms of skill and leadership ability, he’s one of the most humble and grounded youth workers i know. he is a constant reminder to me that “ministry success” really isn’t measured by numbers, but by the size of the youth worker’s heart.

Kurt Johnston
Youth ministry is too nuanced…too fluid…to predict its future with any level of certainty. I do not believe the youth ministry sky is falling and look forward to a bright future, in whatever shape it takes.

ok, let’s respond to little miss sunshine.

kurt has been a fair and respectful adversary with me for a few years on the broad subject of needed change in youth ministry. he struggled with youth ministry 3.0 because he saw it as overly pessimistic, even damaging (to be fair, i’m putting words in his mouth).

but here’s what i love about kurt’s quote and outlook: in the midst of my constant moaning and prophesizing and doomsdaying, i need people like kurt to remind me of what i see every wednesday night in my 8th grade guys small group. god doesn’t need us to change our thinking about youth ministry in order for it to be “more effective”. and the newest thinking and most culturally-responsive mindsets in the world don’t create life transformation in teenagers. in fact, it would be fairly easy to fault my writing and speaking as being overly convinced (even though i would never say this) that there are things we can DO to make teenagers be transformed.

god seems to dig a relational context for transformation; at least that seems to be the pattern. as a result, any jesus-y youth ministry (or adult – it doesn’t have to actually be a youth ministry) who engages teenagers can be used by god to bring about transformation.

that’s why i like kurt’s quote. i mean, i think he’s smokin’ perkiness through a crack pipe, and sounds a little too much like dorothy from wizard of oz with that “bright future” crap. but i still like his quote, and need it.

6 thoughts on “the future of youth ministry, episode 7”

  1. You know, after last week’s quote from Steve Argue, Kurt’s perspective is very much welcomed. I actually read that quote from Argue to my staff and we lamented about all the professionals who have it so figured out that they can issue challenges like that one A pastor once told me (after a parent blasted me) that anybody can criticize (even constructively) but it takes a lot more to stand up and point out what someone’s doing right and help them along. Do I think we have it all figured out? I don’t think so. Am I worried? Nope. Because God has it all figured out and he’s using good men and women to get us there. Thanks Kurt for being bold enough to say things aren’t that bad; I really appreciate it.

  2. For me, this goes back to the “hope” discussion. If you’re going to place your hope in things other than Jesus, you’d better get all those things right and perfect. If not, the future of the ministry/organization will suffer.

    The more we place our hope in Christ, the more hope we can have for our future, regardless of those other things.

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