youth ministry 3.0, part 6

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 sixth bit, from chapter 2:

My proposal: a question of priorities

I have a proposal, upon which the rest of this book rests. I haven’t seen this suggested elsewhere, and some might think I’m out to lunch. There isn’t – yet – research to back up this proposal; but I think the proof is in the pudding of youth culture, for anyone who keenly observes the changing lives of adolescents in general.

My proposal is: while these three adolescent tasks (identity, autonomy, and affinity) have continued to be the defining mud-wrestling pit of the adolescent experience, the prioritization of the three has shifted through the various epochs of modern youth culture.

In the earliest days of modern youth culture (post World War 2 through the 1960s), identity was at the top of the priority list for adolescence in general.

Once youth culture was widely accepted, and playing a more significant role in western culture at large (1970s through the end of the century), autonomy got upgraded into the top priority spot.

And in this new era we find ourselves in (post-millennial turn), the dominance of youth culture (a shift in which youth culture became the dominant culture of our world), affinity now takes its turn on top.

I’ll unpack this notion further in the next three chapters. But I’ll tease this point now: this is where youth ministry is failing. We adjusted to the first change in priorities (from identity to autonomy), but we’ve been slow in our response in the second change of priorities (from autonomy to affinity). Youth ministries are failing because they are built on assumptions and values and methods that are outdated for the teenagers we passionately want to serve.

16 thoughts on “youth ministry 3.0, part 6”

  1. This is what is needed: a Church for young people, which will know how to speak to their heart and enkindle, comfort, and inspire enthusiasm in it with the joy of the Gospel and the strength of the Eucharist; a Church which will know how to invite and to welcome the person who seeks a purpose for which to commit his whole existence; a Church which is not afraid to require much, after having given much; which does not fear asking from young people the effort of a noble and authentic adventure, such as that of the following of the Gospel (John Paul II, 1995 World Day of Prayer for Vocations).

  2. I get a bit nervous when we say that our transition to “affinity” is where youth ministry is failing. That’s a very broad statement that I would need to see unpacked a little more.

    I think affinity could work youth see their affinity as being connected with the church, the un-churched, friends at school, co-workers, old, young, etc.

    Does a focus on affinity cause an unnecessary focus on self?

    I think of all these verses that tell us to die to self, to decrease (so He can increase), to look to others interests rather than our own (and others), and I wonder how that fits into your idea of affinity.

    Can you explain that a little further? How do those principles play into your idea?

    Am I missing something?

  3. curtis – i think you’re making a false assumption that “affinity” is a selfish task (or, somehow more selfish than the other two — really, they’re all about self, which is a natural, god-designed, part of adolescent development). affinity is about finding where and to whom one belongs.

  4. Marko
    I think I agree with you. For a few years I’ve been struggling to get my kids to know who they are in God.

    I’m not sure I agree (or maybe I’m misunderstanding you) that they’re being all about self is god-designed, I’d say it’s fall-distorted and that we only know who we are (idnetity) and to whom we belong (affinity) if we know who God is (King among other things) and who we are in Him…for our group we stress every once in a while that if He is King and we are adopted into His family, in essence we are made prince (the manly kind) or princess in the kingdom. If we understand that, it changes everything…I don’t wallow in the mud and filth of sin…I have a duty to those around me…I have standards to live up to (who I associate with, how I act, what I say), etc. But it’s all about God and not me. I belong to Him.

    The other illustration is Paul’s slave to sin or slave to God/righteousness.

    I think the core answer for all three of those areas (identity, autonomy, affinity), though, and for all issues is simply rooting kids in the word.

  5. So context is important to how we do ministry effectively? ;-)

    Looking forward to how this keeps getting unpacked. I think it’s important that Youth Ministry 3.0 is infused with Ministry 101 regarding the pastoral nature of what we should be doing as we care for students and walk with them towards maturity (as mature as they can be, for where they are).

  6. Thanks for the clarification. I agree that they need to find out who and where they belong. Should it be the key transition point?

    I do not agree that our focus on self is God-designed. It is a result of the fall. It is a part of humanity that we need to work with and understand though.

    Maybe we spend too much time chasing an ever-changing culture.

  7. The constant tension of youth ministry in the local church seems to be the previous generation of teenagers, i.e. the ones who thrived on autonomy, cannot understand why we would attempt to stress something different. It almost feels that the autonomy that they desired has followed into their homes and now their children are like, if everyone is just an individual at home, where can I belong?

  8. hmmm. sidebar question – do you think that youthworkers need to have seen/considered YM2.0 in order to grapple comprehensively with issues/obstacles/successes & possibilities that lead to YM3.0?

    YM2.0 consistently looks easier than wrestling our way into murky 3.0 territory, so how do you stop the cycle? I keep thinking about the barren/conception/labour/birth/midwife metaphor again here because it seems that wisdom is a key component to 3.0 realities, whatever they may look like.

    less sidebar: i never had a great 2.0 experience either in or running a youth ministry. so everything has been a little experimental, but always based on who are these kids, what’s their story? Which seems like the starting point when trying to work within the tasks of identity, autonomy and affinity successfully – ultimately theirs is the story that is needing to be told not ours. I’ve got no other methodology for that than experimentation and instinctive responsiveness. Is there a better way? We’ve managed to identify the Belief, Belonging, Behaviour cycle… is there a pattern here?

  9. Marko,

    I think you are on it.

    This notion of affinity is a natural liking or longing toward the adolescent for who they are and who they are BECOMING, regardless of what we think they should become. See, the adolescent has spent his or her last 2 or 3 three years trying everything in their power to figure out who they are by asking the three questions of: 1. where in the world do I fit? 2. Who am I? 3. Do I matter?

    What if a few adults came alongside them to affirm their adolescent process. How cool would it be for an adult to assist in the adolescent journey?

    We as the youth workers are so likely to tell the adolescent what WE think they should become. Rather we as the youth worker should be affirming what they are becoming. We completely ignore the realties of who the adolescent is.

    By no means is affinity a selfish task. It is an imperative task every adolescent must go through. This task is like going to the bath rooom. It is normative for every adolescent.

    It is my belief that God uniquely designed us in our mother’s womb (psalm 139.13 and Jeremiah 1.5). And as a teenager it is imperative they discover who God created them to be with the the youth help and assistance of the youth worker. The adolescent NEEDS to discover their gifts, their strengthens, and their weaknesses. This discovery process is part of the adolscent process and task.

  10. i’ve been far more effective in ministry when i come alongside kids–let them be who they are…not try to change them into what i think they should be, or my idea of what a christ-follower is. they have enough loud voices shouting at them from all corners. maybe its time some quiet lives spoke into theirs.

  11. I recall hearing a speaker say that a generation ago, people tended to first find Jesus then find a church to belong to. Now the tread is to search for belonging then find Jesus along the way. I am extrapolating from this that youth too will look for somewhere to belong. It may be a church but it might be a gang.

    We need to provide a positive, safe, nurturing place where Jesus is offered in a loving and patient way. We need to glorify Jesus but not beat kids kids up with him.

    I see this desire for belonging to be the affinity you are describing.

  12. If I could bottle up all of the moments in my own life as a kid where a youth pastor or youth leader lived out the power of presence before my own eyes as an example of Christ’s love I’d be able to afford my cafe misto addiction. It’s sad that those in youth ministry still feel that they need to spend their “church” cash on ym methods and the latest and greatest stuff we all grabbed in the late 80’s and 90’s to help us with our ministries with students and volunteers. I can’t help but think our model for practicing the art of presence is right in the Emmaus story in Luke 24:13-35. In that when we stop and listen we actually begin to see God be God and recognize that God works even in the midst of the journey Christ calls us to walk.

  13. as a small town youth minster with 4 kids of my own i am also working as a substitute teacher in the local school system. in this context i am finding myself being asked into a position, not by the school, but by the youth, that is close enough to witness this importance of affinity in their groups. not only do they seem to have these clans as a whole at lunch, in the halls, and at school events outside of the classrooms, but they sit close and wisper to others that may not be in their groups otherwise, but still have similarities in some way. I am also seeing those kids in my youth group in varied ways. and as time passes and the more i am around them in these 2 contexts, their actions and reactions to and around me are becoming more and more similar, as are those of their friends.

  14. In Youth Ministry 3.0, it is crucial that adults and families reach out to youth and make them a part of their lives. Call it what you want — mentoring, discipleship, family groups. Marko is right in suggesting that affinity is a crucial step in adolescent development. How will the church respond? Will we entrust the youth pastor with the responsibility of being the only shepherd for our youth? Or will we share that responsibility with the congregation? It is great to give youth a “safe” place to belong in our youth ministries… but if we haven’t given them a place to belong after they graduate from high school (lets not forget Marko’s discussion of extended adolescence!), then we have failed miserably.

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