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 eighth bit, from chapter 4:
By the late 1960s, youth culture had come into its own. There was no more posing. Think: early Beatles in suits with cropped hair, 70s Beatles in psychedelic hippie clothes and long hair. Clearly a shift had taken place. Teenagers had no memory of a time when not everyone went to high school, no memory of a time when all children were expected to do whatever an adult said to do, no memory of a world without their own music and style and values and celebrities. In the minds of a 1970s teenager, youth culture had always existed.
Churches were finally waking up to the need for youth ministry in their midst, and moving beyond only a “young persons” Sunday school class. Youth Groups sprung onto the church scene, and churches started hiring youth pastors left and right . Para-church youth ministry organizations began focusing more on kids outside of church, and churches began to utilize the methods forged by those para-church youth workers in the safe and secure contexts of their church walls.
I am a child of this shift. The large church I attended in the Detroit area always had an active youth program. But it was while I was in junior high (in the early to mid-70s) that our church hired its first youth pastor, who was only responsible for high school (us poor junior highers were still stuck in a nothing-but-Sunday school system ). We still attended, as a group, the occasional Youth for Christ (or Voice of Christian Youth) rally, which was a holdover from Youth Ministry 1.0. But by the time I got to high school, these rallies had either ceased to exist, or we just stopped going to them. We didn’t need them: we had a fully functioning, large youth group that met all of our programming needs (as well as our spiritual formation needs, I suppose). We were self-contained and active, with a full assortment of retreats, camps, ski trips, bike trips, missions trips, mid-week programming, bible quizzing, teen choir, lock-ins, and everything else a great youth ministry would dream of in the 1980s.
The birth of Youth Specialties
The ministry I lead, Youth Specialties, was born at the beginning of this era. And the founders of Youth Specialties, Mike Yaconelli and Wayne Rice, played a lead role in this epochal shift. Both Mike and Wayne had been active participants in Youth Ministry 1.0, working for Youth for Christ in the San Diego area. They’d cobbled together a friendship of sorts, based on a common calling and common frustration with the church. But when they began to see the para-church organization they loved get more calcified, at the same time as churches were hiring youth pastors, both went on staff at local churches.
Just before Mike and Wayne left their para-church roles, they’d developed some (then) revolutionary approaches to youth ministry that had less to do with preaching, and more to do with creating community in a group of teenagers, interacting with them in real dialogue about real teen issues, helping teens live out the gospel within their own culture (rather than encouraging them to come out of it), and a deepening understanding of adolescent development and how it should inform everything they did in youth ministry. Mike and Wayne had written these “ideas” up as the first Campus Life manual for Youth for Christ.
Now, I have a deep respect for YFC, and am very encouraged by their current leadership. And we’ve joked about this together: but if it weren’t for what happened next, and the bull-headedness of YFC at the time, Youth Specialties wouldn’t exist. Mike and Wayne wanted to make their little collection of ideas available to other youth workers in churches, and asked YFC for the stuff they’d written. When YFC denied their request, Mike and Wayne belligerently set out to completely re-write what they’d written, making it better than before.
In 1969, Mike and Wayne handmade a hundred or so copies of this new book, which they (not so) creatively called Ideas (the “Ideas Library” continues to be an important part of Youth Specialties publishing effort to this day). Mike typed up the copy and printed them out on a mimeograph machine at his church. Wayne hand-silkscreened the covers onto store-bought binders. They took the books to an early gathering of youth workers at Forest Home Christian Conference Center (then Forest Home Camp), outside of L.A., and literally sold them out of their trunk, all of them.
That’s when these two pioneers realized there was a huge need to resource church youth workers, and Youth Specialties was born .
The Reification of Youth Culture and the response of teenagers
Let’s jump back to youth culture at large for a moment. As Americans (and Brits, and Canadians, and other countries) got used to the rising dominance of youth culture, entire industries of business sprung up to meet the demand of growing youth culture. In short, youth culture became commoditized. And that commoditization both reinforced and reified the existence of this increasingly powerful sub-culture.
And a funny thing happened: the commoditization of youth culture, I would suggest, lead to the confidence of youth culture. In a personified way, youth culture had the identity task fairly worked out. It knew who it was. And this was confirmed by both the marketers drooling for teen dollars, as well as parents and churches and just about every other adult-run organization reacting against aspects youth culture. For many adults, Youth culture was like porn: often outwardly derided, but secretly pursued. And this worked to confirm youth culture’s understanding of itself.
This is when and why the prioritization of the tasks of adolescence shifted. With a clearer sense of identity, a sense of confidence, and an undisputed place in culture, youth culture began a more earnest effort to define itself in opposition to the culture at large. This is in the very DNA of youth culture, really – it will always work to become “other” and unique, always mutate to stay counter-cultural and rebellious .
Of course, identity and affinity were still crucial tasks of adolescence, both for youth culture in general, and certainly for every single individual teenager; but the top priority – the fixation – shifted to autonomy. This makes sense, doesn’t it? If the whole nation is acknowledging youth culture, and many are clamoring for it, youth culture has to put a high priority on finding it’s uniqueness (and, in a positive way, finding it’s unique contribution) in order to maintain its newly formed, but still pliable, identity.