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.
part 1 (searching for the right way)
part 2 (discipleship, barriers)
part 3 (intergenerational ministry)
part 4 (parents)
part 5 (re-weird-ifying christianity)
holy cow, steve argue comes out swingin’ and gets in three or four punches before anyone even realized the bell rung. dude.
but if we all dodge to the left for a brief second, we can see that steve – another of the most brilliant minds in youth ministry; a guy who could out-intelligent me with his eyes closed and one arm tied behind his back – offers up some significant fodder for consideration.
steve has a serious youth min pedigree, with a buncha cool roles. currently, he’s on staff at mars hill bible church in grand rapids (where rob bell is the teaching pastor), where he oversees birth through emerging adults; he’s an adjunct professor of youth ministry at grand rapids theological seminary, and a phd student at michigan state. he writes regularly for slant 33 and other publications. and he might just have the coolest hair of any middle-aged youth worker out there.
i’m choosing to leave the swear word in his quote, hoping your church email filter will let it slip through. after all, it kinda seems the appropriate word, and is close to one used by the good ol’ apostle paul:
Hey church, adolescents are NOT leaving you. You are perpetually leaving them. Stop using statistical bullshit to project blame. Repent.
Unless you’re willing to let adolescents mess with your own life, you have no business messing with their lives.
Most churches are not worthy of youth pastors. Youth pastors, stop giving yourself to organizations that use you to better “market” their church to families; that expect you to “produce” programs; and that exploit you because they know it’s hard to leave the kids you love. Walk away. Don’t take the job, because if you do, you’re wrecking it for all of us. Raise the bar. Boycott churches unworthy of youth pastors. Amen.
let’s unpack this a bit.
first, steve addresses churches. he pokes, in a very un-zuckerburgian manner, at the raft of studies we all quote these days about the high percentage of post-high school teenagers leaving the church. he suggests we rethink who’s leaving whom, with the inference that the church has “left” teenagers long before the physical absence of those emerging adults. church embody this “leaving”, according to steve, by viewing youth ministry primarily in utilitarian terms — as a means of attracting families (with a between-the-lines inference to donors).
just when we think steve is leading the charge for all of us youth workers, he spins around and stares us down: stop perpetuating this messed-up system by finding job security in churches with this mindset.
oof. that one stings a little. and i think it stings because there’s at least some truth in it.
this all feels very yaconelli-esque to me: it finds harmonic resonance with “getting fired for the glory of god” and “run for your soul.” it gets me excited and pumping my fist in the air.
i know so many youth workers for whom this is so complex. i like (really, i do!) steve’s black-and-white battle cry. and i’ve often found that it’s in that kind of hyperbole that we find the courage to take the baby steps we need. after all, jesus didn’t literally mean we should pluck out our eye or chop off our hand. so what’s the deeper meaning — the implied meaning, for your context — of what steve is yelping for us to see?