how would you characterize the future of youth ministry?

help me think about this.

i’m working on my closing general session talk for the national youth workers conventions (first one is in san diego, next week!). and i’ve decided to talk about youth ministry: past, present and future. i’m hoping this will be an affirmation of how the collective of youth workers have reflected culture in good ways and bad ways as we try to live out our calling with teenagers, as well as a vision-y nudge toward our collective need for change.

i’m trying to find a few words to best describe a preferred future, and would love thoughts from anyone.

i have a handful of variables i’m using to describe where we’ve been, where we are, and where i hope we can go. but i’m having trouble landing on a few important words for the future:

First question: if youth ministry past was “proclamation-driven”, and youth ministry present is “program-driven”, what’s our hopeful ‘driver’ in the future? my first thought was to say “kingdom-driven”. but that’s SO broad, and requires quite a bit of theological unpacking to be meaningful. i am considering “missionally-driven”, which also requires some unpacking (i’m not talking about taking missions trips, but about helping teenagers live into our present calling to be active participants in god’s kingdom work, here and now, with the assumption that that ‘practice’ will form a lifetime of praxisy faith that will sustain them long after they’re in youth group). ooh, maybe “praxis-driven”? ha, look at me, using all P-words. rick warren would be proud.

Second question: if youth ministry past was focused around key themes of EVANGELISM and CORRECTION, and youth ministry present is focused around key themes of DISCIPLESHIP and POSITIVE PEER GROUP, then what would be the key themes of this preferred future? a brainstorm of some of the word-themes i’m considering: COMMUNITY, MISSION, KINGDOM, JOURNEY, CALLING, HOLISTIC, FLUID. i want to be careful not to merely use buzz words, which some of these could easily be.

whatcha think?

70 thoughts on “how would you characterize the future of youth ministry?”

  1. Marko,
    Last night’s episode of Kid Nation was a perfect study of what you’re talking about. It was absolutely staggering to see the postmodern tendencies of these kids played out in such an obvious way. I blogged about it in greater detail. You should be able to link to it from here.

  2. Hmmm…
    This is a different angle, but what if you didn’t try to define where youth ministry should go in the future. What if you celebrated our diversity and the fact that even though there have been, are and will be some common themes and threads that run through us, we are all really different and no ONE vision or theology or approach to youth ministry is what we need in the future. The beauty of the kingdom (and maybe this is where ‘kingdom driven’ idea could work) is that there is such variety. In the future some youth groups will still be proclamation driven and they will be fruitful. Some will still be program driven and still be fruitful. Heck, some will even be purpose-driven and still be fruitful (couldn’t pass that one up…).

    Just my ‘not totally thought through’ thoughts on the subject.

  3. Good discussion so far…in fact, one of the most helpful I’ve heard among youth workers in sometime. Praxis-driven? Presence-driven? Whatever “P” word you put in front of driven, doesn’t work for me. Driven is such a “boomer” word…can’t stand it. I’m working on my doctoral paper now on adolescent spiritual formation and leadership development…all I can say is that what I have seen is that very few students are making the “leap” from high school to adulthood in any sort of faithful way. The statistics are downright depressing especially in light of the millions of dollars being spent of YM programs across the west. Without getting into a diatribe, I believe we will see YM going back to intentionality in relationships and a diminishing of big programs for a focus on maturation and longevity in the “game” (of faithful Christ-following through the years of life). WE have got to question seriously the long term effect on the big programs and stuff that happens in YM that teaches students more about consumerism and hype than it does about faithfulness to the Kingdom of God. I think the most effective YM in the future will be SMALL..hands on…”you live and do what I do” type of intention relationships than anything else. Unfortunately, we will have wasted alot of money on buildings, sound systems, and media presentations…we need more people who are being real, honest, filled with integrity, and hungry to live in a missional manner hanging out with kids. Oh well…that’s it for now…can’t wait to read more of the discussion!

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  4. Hmmm. I like Missional. But breaking it down even further to Being missional in Discipleship and Evangelism. I have already cut out about 40 percent of my old programming and replaced it with things that fit those two ideas. Does everything I do fit into those catagories. And yes fun non-message driven events fit into evangelism. Of course the old staple is Autheticity. Kids want this. While its over used its true. Over 15 years I have grown tired of students coming to a great big ,Fun youth group and being really involved for years and then tanking when they hit college. So I think when we are missional in youth ministry with evangelism and Discipleship Using Relationships with Adults and peers for growth and service to others, We will see much more ownership of faith. Wow what a run on sentence.Maybe thats it in a Word. Ownership.
    The need relationaships and accountability, They need training for the real world and they need opportunities and encouragement to practice and own what they believe before college age.
    How can we see true ownership in ones own personal faith and not in a parish or parents or program? Theres my 3 Ps Marko. LOL.

  5. Marko, it’s alll about people, regardless of our programs and positional papers. We need to get back to reaching kids where they are instead of expecting them to come to where we are (physically and every other way). This means building genuine friendships (not simply means-to-end relational evangelism). More than ever, students need to know that we care about them and care for them and that we will stand with them over the long haul. This isn’t new, of course, but we easily move away from young people themselves because of job promotions, responsibilities, and personal issues. Many of us move away from them because relationships take time, work, and vulnerability. Planning a killer event is much easier, and we can feel better about ourselves sooner.

    It’s all about love–let’s get back to that!

  6. Here it Marko:

    “Halo – Centered Youth Ministry”

    key words – violence, destruction, survival of the fittest, prince of peace

  7. I see the need for youth ministry to focus on community assimiliation. Students crave safe community, but they find it everywhere else other than the church. We have to teach students how to be adults in the life of the church. Can’t wait to hear ya.

  8. Marko,
    I have only been in youth ministry for a mear 7 years but what I have noticed in the ministries that I have served with is a trend that youth ministry seems to be moving towards a service driven model. I believe that when teenagers humble themselves and serve others, real relationships are formed, genuine love is expressed, the great commission is accomplished, and ultimately people experience the love of our God.
    Servanthood is something that I think we tend to experience for a week or two at a time when we go on mission trips. But what about the mission trip teenagers take everyday to the greatest mission field around, the school campus?

    As for key themes: I would suggest themes surrounding service, mission, commission, mind set, and walking examples.

    I hope this helps. I will see you in Atlanta. Any hopes we could grab a bite to eat? :-)

  9. Marko — What a great set of questions! Judging from the depth & passion of the responses here, I would say that even if you just asked these questions at the closing session, it would be pretty amazing. Speaking to a huge crowd in a very limited time doesn’t lend itself well to nuance, but I am really looking forward to what you put together.

    By the way, I linked to this post already. So take that, Technorati! :)

  10. man, this is some great conversation. great ideas.

    one thing that’s TOTALLY resonating with me is that the suffix “-driven” shouldn’t be part of our preferred future. i agree, it’s a very modern concept. after scott miller, in comment #2, said we shouldn’t be driven, we should be the driver, i started thinking, “no, i don’t think we should be driven, or drive. that’s the wrong wording for where we need to go.” then, several of you have affirmed that thinking for me.

    i’m going to try to finalize my talk on monday; so any more input you have prior to that would be greatly appreciated.

  11. words that keep coming for me in prayer on this:

    meek, surrender, patience humility, gentle.

    the image from this poem –

    1. A current, as of water or air, moving contrary to the direction of the main current, especially in a circular motion.
    2. A drift or tendency that is counter to or separate from a main current, as of opinion, tradition, or history.

    looks sorta like this:

    a poem by Mary Karr I recently found and loved.
    From her book, Sinners Welcome


    Not the bristle-bearded Igors bent
    under burlap sacks, not peasants knee-deep
    in the rice paddy muck,
    nor the serfs whose quarter-moon sickles
    make the wheat fall in waves
    they don’t get to eat. My friend the Franciscan
    nun says we misread
    that word meek in the Bible verse that blesses them.
    To understand the meek
    (she says) picture a great stallion at full gallop
    in a meadow, who–
    at his master’s voice–seizes up to a stunned
    but instant halt.
    So with the strain of holding that great power
    in check, the muscles
    along the arched neck keep eddying,
    and only the velvet ears
    prick forward, awaiting the next order.

  12. ok.. so the whole reading of the post, then the comments and then re-reading the comments to read the new stuff means my head is swimming .. but each time I’ve been thinking about the cycle of life and birth, especially as it relates to the “driven” idea.

    in the old testament scriptures we read constantly of the barren woman. i’m pretty sure that she has something important to show us today, as well as back then. in my reflections, and with the wisdom of some of the kiwi heroes of youth ministry – i think that there is a beautiful cycle of death, desperation, conception, labour and birth that ought to replace that “driven” model.

    sidenote a/ “driven” suggests a drivers seat – doh. (so far this is groundbreaking, I know) .. but there is a simply human element and agenda to a “driven” anything.

    we’re so tempted to be constantly adopting other people’s 2 year olds as our models/mandate/slogan/agenda/purpose for ministry. as much as all of the words you can put before “driven” have really great intent.. they will still boil down to something that was birthed in someone’s time and place and for someone’s season and purpose.

    I’d love to see a future in youth ministry that is all about conception and birthing. Here’s why.

    the barren woman recognises that God has the power to open and close the womb (at the end of the day, God is the author of our ministries, the ultimate shepherd – we do the best we can and he holds it in his hand).

    the barren woman goes through a period of desolation and desperation (the end of ministry as we’ve done, the challenging of our current thinking, recognising that what we’ve been isn’t what we desire to become).

    desperation leads to the knees before God – and then God hears and opens the womb. There’s this beautiful moment of conception that I just love. A unique child with unique DNA is crafted together in a unique womb from the genetic material of it’s parents (community, culture, environment, theology, praxis).

    there’s also gestation (times of growth & nurture, investment in the key foundations).

    there’s labour. (hard yards of bringing something into being – requiring perseverance, strength, stamina, faith. there’s also a lot of the unknown involved in the labour process for a barren woman… it’s uncharted territory).

    Birth. When something that has been living and connected with the umbilical cord emerges and takes it’s own breath (real culture change, lives impacted, effectual reality).

    and Life. with a unique DNA that goes on to create more life, interacting with lots of other life forms.

    yup – I really like the idea of future youth ministry being about birthing our own stuff. cos it requires us to be really desperate before God about the conception, recognising our own barrenness.. that what we currently have isn’t what we want in a future youth ministry. it’s going to mean we have to think better, with more applied theology, more cultural awareness and understanding rather than relevance. it gets me excited about the kind of people that can do youth ministry like this..


  13. I am honestly afraid that the future of youth ministry will simply be profession-driven. So many of us have been given the opportunity to do this full-time now that it has become in many circles a professional and respectable career. While that’s great I fear that youth ministry may lose it’s heart if we are not careful. Many of us have become experts in rallying support and resources, running large events, recruiting and organizing volunteers, balancing budgets and taking students on incredibly efficient and well organized mission trips. My fear is that as we strive to perfect our profession and our programs will we lose our hearts? Will connecting with students become second to making hotel reservations and placing t-shirt orders?

    Youth ministry is supposed to be about walking with and assisting students as they discover and build a relationship with the same God we are deeply in love with. We must not forget this!

    My hope is that the future of youth ministry will be grace-driven. My dream is to see youth ministry, as a whole, model for the western church what it is to be radically inclusive and accepting of everyone into our communities. That our message and focus of discipleship will be teaching students to see and know God’s grace.

  14. Marko — To echo your thoughts about dropping the “driven/driver” terminology, maybe “centered” is a better descriptor — the emphasis on being, rather than doing. And, the emphasis on the core, rather than on the boundaries (i.e., defining who is “in” or “out”)… just some sketchy thoughts… I can’t wait to hear the final results…

  15. I’m with the “presence-driven” people, except that I think it should be “presence-centered.” It implies that we are aware of God’s presence, participating in His dreams for the world and also being present to each other – something that is often lacking in the high energy culture. “Driven” sounds forced though, where as “centered” is more intentional and focused.

    As for the key themes, I think SEEKING. Seeking applies to the personal journey of faith, the journey we take together, truth, justice, belonging, etc.

  16. Marko – good thoughts. My vote is for you to spread that message of the Kingdom. That’s what Jesus was about – that’s what the church has forgotten – that’s what youth ministry kids (lots of them from several generations) have never heard and we’re bearing the fruit in the church today. Smith’s “theraputic, moralistic, deism” – no understanding of the Kingdom. The lack of a faith integrated into all of life – no understanding of or embracing the Kingdom. While all of this has been happening there’s been a group of folks who have been banging the Kingdom message home for years – much of it falling on deaf ears, sadly. When I was in college – back in the, ah, mid to late 70s – I hear Campolo and Skinner speak at the Jubilee Conference (consecutive years) about the message of the Kingdom. It hit me hard and has stayed with me since, shaping – I hope – my life and ministry. So if you’re tallying votes, add one for “Kingdom”. See you in SD.

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