youth ministry 3.0 is the working title of a book i’ve mostly written, which is expected to release this fall. it’s an attempt to name where and how we’re missing the mark in youth ministry, and what needs to change in order to more truly live into our calling as youth workers.
we’ve decided to open up the book a bit and solicit youth worker contributions as sidebar comments, and i’m going to use my blog for this purpose. until late april, i’ll be posting a series of snapshots from the rough draft of the manuscript. i invite lots of comments — questions, disagreements, ideas, very short stories or examples, reflections — which will be considered as additions to the book.
by posting a comment, you are giving permission for your comment, with your screen name, to be added to the print book.
so, here’s the eighteenth bit, from chapter 6:
I’ve used that word in this book a few times now. So it’s time for me to ‘fess up: I made it up. But I think it’s a good word, and we should make it part of our lexicon of Youth Ministry 3.0. Communional is the adjective form of the word communion. It implies an intentional state of being.
If I had merely written, “build community,” it would likely take us down the Youth Ministry 2.0 highly, to things like:
• Manipulatively forcing “community” onto teenagers
• Constructing new programs for community
• Assuming that hanging out together (even in a spiritual context) is the same thing as community
• Utilizing tricks of the trade to lure kids into community
Communion doesn’t occur because of well-though out programs, or slight of hand, or being in the same room. Communion is organic, unmanipulated, fluid and difficult to quantify, shared fruit (yes, it’s organic fruit! ) of consistent relationships with Christ in the mix.
A few aspects of communion:
Communion is small. I already wrote a whole section on small, so I won’t harp on it here. But it bears repeating that communion rarely, if ever, occurs in a large setting.
Communion is slow. It’s not rushed. It’s doesn’t happen overnight – in fact, it’s annoyingly patient. Communion doesn’t happen on our timetables at all, and will internally resist all forms of quantification.
Communion is simple. Not simple to “create”, but simple in it’s DNA. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t flourish with booster shots of technology .
Communion is fluid. It won’t be boxed and sold as a resource or presented as a 40-day plan. It shies away from being defined. It beautifully morphs into variant vibes, seasons and shapes.
Communion is present. It demands face time. It hungers for listening. It salivates for shared experience. It lives in the hear-and-now.
Communion is Jesus-y. It places high value on the expectation of God showing up. It notices Christ in our midst. It seeks to live out a shared experience of joining up with the redemptive work of Christ.
Youth Ministry 3.0 shares the Jesus life with your community of students, the “we’re in this together-ness” of real communion, dependant on the reality of God in your midst.
Work Toward Integration of Teenagers with the Church
Much has been written in the past decade about “Family Based Youth Ministry” (although, if I’m honest, much of this has merely been the addition of a couple events to an already program-driven approach to youth ministry). Not that understanding teenagers as part of a family system, and ministering to their parents, isn’t important – of course it is. But what I’m suggesting here is larger and broader.
The fact is, teenagers need adults in their lives. Multiple adults. But the church also needs teenagers. Blue Hairs need Kindergarteners; Teenagers need Empty Nesters; 20-somethings need Boomers. We’re all the church, like it or not (and the choice to like it is a critical one).
Isolated youth groups have done just as much harm as good. Isolation might make things easier in some ways, but the best is rarely easy.
Work to find meaningful ways for intergenerational community and relationships. Find meaningful ways for adults of all ages to be connected to the work of the youth ministry; and attempt (with noble failure a necessary part of the process) to find paths for integrating teenagers into the lives of adults in your church.
It sounds like bumper-sticker theology, but is so very true for Youth Ministry 3.0: we all need each other.
Be a missionary
One of the biggest misconceptions I had, early on in youth ministry, was that it was my role to be a buddy to teenagers. My faulty logic was that, if I succeeded in becoming one of them – a peer – I would have access to influence their lives to a greater degree. It wasn’t until I discovered I’d accomplished this that I saw the folly of my thinking. I’d forfeited my place as a mentor in order to become a pal.
Missionaries do not pretend to be one and the same as the people they are ministering among. How fake and offensive would that be? Instead, they humbly and cautiously engage with people, being ever-thoughtful and caring about cultural context, while acknowledging their own visitor status. Even the great missionary stories of the last century (Bruchko and Peace Child made a massive impression on me when I read them as a teenager), where the missionaries reached a beautiful place of being an accepted part of a tribal culture, still bore this reality: no matter how much the tribe loved, appreciated and accepted them, they were still the alien who was other.
I’ll say it again: Youth Ministry 3.0 doesn’t call for programming experts, systematizers, communication specialists, or party planners. Youth Ministry 3.0 calls for anthropologically minded missionaries, who serve teenagers with humility and grace.