youth ministry 3.0, part 12

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 twelfth bit, from chapter 5:

What should Youth Ministry 3.0 look like?

If Youth Ministry 1.0 allowed culture to inform its language and topics; and if Youth Ministry 2.0 allowed culture to inform its methods and measurements of success; Youth Ministry 3.0 needs to allow culture to inform contextualization.

Once again, like good missionaries, youth workers need to be contextual specialists. Party planners, programming experts, youth preaching obsessers, growth and measurement gurus, and lowest common denominator systemitizers are no longer needed. What we need are cultural anthropologists with a relational passion.

Do you see how this frees us? Now, our passion and calling to connect teenagers with Jesus gets contextualized – in a sense, as the gospel always has – giving us permission to stop copying the neat youth ministry across the country (or even across town), and to be present with the teenagers God has placed in our midst.

That skill set, that outlook, that passion, will get us to kids. It will put us on that stairwell to the splintered youth culture underground.

But then what? Youth ministries need to do more than get to the stairwell, right? Our calling still involves helping teenagers move to a place of Jesus-y transformation, an alignment with the Kingdom of God, an affinity with the body of Christ.

This stairwell, however, is where we discern our key themes. Instead of the evangelism and correction themes of Youth Ministry 1.0, or the discipleship and creating a positive peer group themes of Youth Ministry 2.0, we need to embrace the key themes of Communion and Mission.

Communion. I really struggled to choose words for these key themes in Youth Ministry 2.0. So I described what I was thinking on my blog, and asked youth workers to help me find words. My friend and leading Catholic youth ministry expert, D. Scott Miller, suggested this word, and I instantly knew it captured what I was thinking.

For teenagers, who are desperate to define their identities through the means of affinity, we need to help them experience true community. True community isn’t a once-a-week highly programmed youth group meetings. True community might take place in the context of a small group; but the practice and programming of small groups does not ensure true community. True community is life-on-life, whole life, eating together, sharing journeys, working through difficulties, wrestling with praxis (theology in practice), accountability, safety, openness, serving side-by-side, cultivating shared passion and holy discontent, mutuality, and a host of other variables. True community is not a program. It is not something people sign up for. It is not something we force on people.

But “community” in and of itself didn’t seem to completely capture the need. I knew there was some aspect missing. Communion provides that. Communion is true community with Christ in the mix. Communion is both the essence and the action of a Christ community.

Many Youth Ministry 2.0 practitioners would assent to this notion, and contend that they are, and have been, striving for this theme. For most, I would push back in disagreement. First, communion, as I’ve described it, has been a secondary goal, at best, in most youth ministries. And second, as I’ve stated a couple times already, it’s not the kind of communion I’m talking about if it’s a program.

Mission. The words “mission” and “missional” have become buzzwords in the past few years. I’m concerned that they’re becoming faddish; which would be a great loss, as they are so massively pregnant with truth, value and scriptural integrity.

Frost and Hirsch, in their watershed book, The Shaping of Things to Come, define missional this way:


For our purposes here, let’s describe missional as joining up with the mission of God in the world . Mission, in this context, is not about having a purpose statement or mission statement. It is not about being purposeful (though that’s not a bad thing), or purpose-driven. And I am definitely not using mission to describe starting a program of missions. Mission, in this context, starts with the assumption that God is already actively working on earth, bringing out God’s redemptive, restorative work, bringing the transformation of all creation. A missional ministry seeks to discern, observe and identify things and people close to the heart of God, where God is already at work, and joins up with the work of God already in progress.

Combine these two themes – communion and mission – and you have a youth ministry that could be described as communion on mission. A Christ-infused true community seeking to engage the world in the redemptive work-in-progress of God. Wow! I get goose bumps just writing this! Can you see how this provides meaning and direction to all three adolescent tasks?

“My identity is a follower of Jesus Christ, framed in real community with others who have a synergistic shared passion for the work of God in the world.”

“My uniqueness (autonomy) is found both in the uniqueness of my own story, as well as the unique ways in which my contextualized community seeks to live out our faith, together, and for others.”

“My affinity is with these people, for these people, with Christ, and for the active work of God in the world.”

Oh, now we’re getting somewhere!

If Youth Ministry 1.0 was “proclamation-driven”, and Youth Ministry 2.0 was “program-driven”, what do we hope for in Youth Ministry 3.0? As I wrote earlier, the “drivers” for Youth Ministry 1.0 and 2.0 came to me quickly. But I really struggled with this one. I considered “missionally-driven”, but discarded that when I landed on mission as one of the key themes. I considered “communally-driven”, but discarded that when I landed on communion as one of the key themes. For weeks I was stumped. I had ideas floating around in my head, values and words and notions and vibes. But none of them was right. All of them had the scent of Youth Ministry 2.0 thinking wafting around them.

So I went to the youth ministry collective, once again, through my blog. I received a wonderful swarm of suggestions, based on the glob of fodder I’d provided for consideration. But a few people wrote responses that cut across the grain . They provided a track for my thinking to run down.

Whereas Youth Ministry 1.0 was proclamation-driven, and Youth Ministry 2.0 was program-driven, Youth Ministry 3.0 needs to be… not-driven. It’s time to do away with being driven, or driving. That metaphoric language might work for herds of cattle, but doesn’t work for a fluid, missional community.

Instead, let’s say: present. Present to the work of God in our lives and in the world. Present to the moment, and not only living for a day when we leave a horrible world. Present to one another – those experiencing communion with us, and those not yet; even present to those who will never be in our community. Present to life in the way of Jesus .

On one hand, I’d like to choose the whole Bible as the “theme verse” for Youth Ministry 3.0, as the very notion of picking a theme verse is a bit reflective of the mechanistic, systematic, programmatic approaches of Youth Ministry 2.0 and the church in general over the last 50 years. But I’ll play along with the framework I started with. But I need two verses this time (humor me)

From Acts 2:44-46a:

“All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts….”

There’s the communion part. And for the mission part, Jesus’ words from John 17:18:

“As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.”

13 thoughts on “youth ministry 3.0, part 12”

  1. Community and communion have to come from spending time with youth, and that not just during a service. Go bowling with them; go see a movie; do something that allows you to just “hang out” with them and spend time with them. By doing so, you will build relationship with them, and they will feel comfortable coming to you with the serious issues of their lives, allowing you to help them come to communion with Christ.

    (BTW, I’ve been loving what I’ve been reading so far!)

  2. present = reality of now

    One of the things youth workers are really good at is looking back (hind sight is always 20/20) and recognizing where God has worked. We are also really goo at make long term plans and trying to project where God is going to work in and through our event and/or leaders. What we are not good at doing is taking the time to recognize God in the reality of now. We hardly ever look to see what God might be doing today.

    When was the last time you heard a youth worker clearly explain to a youth that it “is Christ in you”? (Colossians 1:27)

    How do we explain the reality of God now to youth?

  3. I love the word Communion used here. . . its a call to a Sacramental life and life as sacrament! Good Stuff!

  4. Marko, I wonder about this. I agree that youth culture is diverse and fragmented in many ways. We aren’t looking at 3-5 groups that all want to be like the “in” group. I also agree that we need to place the gospel in a context that they can relate to.

    How that happens, I’m not sure and I write this to say that I hope it is coming in the book. I have tried many styles of youth ministry and I haven’t seen much fruit from bait and switch types (not what you are suggesting, I know), but I have a group that is so diverse, now, that anthropology is not only impossible but probably irrelevant to them.

    Having said that, I tried several things that I thought would be big hits that turned into big flops. Most of the affinity and cultural application have met with horrid results. My wife lucked onto a gem though and maybe this is where you are going.

    She was fed up with her group of girls that she meets with. They were noncommittal, rude and sometimes just plain apathetic. She met with them and asked them why they came and mostly got the parental pressure card. She asked them what they wanted and here is the kick in the gut. They didn’t want a community (they already had one), they didn’t want fun (very affluent community with plenty of that). What they wanted was someone to teach then the Bible. Scary that they didn’t think they were getting that.

    This is probably unusual for most youth ministries out there, but I have had amazing success recently in an unprepared, open the Bible, and start reading youth night (We do some lectio divina too). No games, no band, no contextualization, just read the Bible and talk to me about what it says. I don’t know where that puts my kids in the rest of the country, but it is where we are at, to my amazement.

    I love the communion idea here, btw.

  5. I must say that when I heard this at YS ALT and even reading it again today, it puts into words what I have been struggling with since I became a full time youth minister two years ago.

    So first let me say thank you.

    Since YS I was able to finish our new youth ministry vision called INSIDE OUT. The simple idea that we are to “love first always.” Love God with everything we’ve got, and love our neighbors as ourselves.

    Through this, we have acctually cut out every major program that we did each year, and the only thing we still do is youth group each Sunday night.

    From here, we are building this communion with our group and Christ, and then seeing where God wants us to work in His world.

    It has been a great thing and still at the very start, but we have already helped with a high school’s prom by providing dresses for those who could not afford them, hair makeup and nails on the day of, and a three course meal.

    We are also renevating a room in a near by motel where families live 6 in a room that is 20’X15′.
    Our room is going to be a free afterschool program for the kids that live there.

    It is so exciteing to see kids when they get this idea of Missional Communion. They think that they want something else, but when they experience this they know this is IT!

  6. I think youth ministry is shifting, and right now, I think that shift is becoming a prophetic call to the larger church. If Pete Ward is right and youth ministry has colonized the church, then we can fully expect youth ministry 3.0 to transition into church 3.0. So, by the very nature of youth ministry, in order to be on the front edge of culture (which is where adolescents are), it must be constantly renewing itself and re-contextulaizing itself.
    Perhaps youth ministry serves a greater purpose than only ministry to youth? Perhaps it prophetically ministers to the whole church?

  7. I am worried about the use of communion and missional. Even though I agree with the ideas and they are applicable and relevant, those words mean to many things to to many people. They are truely “buzzwords” and the fact that you have to frame them so carefully means that this cannot easily be taught to others without doing the same thing. I understand that language can box us in without some context but if I were to sit down with volunteers and tell them that our vision was to be about communion and to be missional, they would roll their eyes at me. Then if I went through the process of giving them the distinct definition that you have given them here, they would get it. Why not come up with some different words to identify these themes and leave behind the baggage of the words communion and missional.

  8. It is unfortunate that the term ‘communion’ so easily brings to mind Holy Communion and ‘missional’ – going to another state for a weekend to bless others. But i have to say that they really are so apt
    (a) ‘Communion’ being the relationship between Christians – supporting, encouraging and building up one another in every aspect of our lives and being real and genuine with one another.
    (b) ‘Missional’ being our 24/7 purpose for being here on earth irrespective of whether that purpose is living out our great passion for the youth or whether it is simply just being a great, loving, encouraging spouse and enjoying God.

    All in all, it’ll build a lifestyle that doesn’t just do church (programs, cell groups, etc.), but lives our church (everything that they do is church – missional). And it isn’t actually church-centered but God-centered.

    I’ve been planning to just hang out with a few guys in my group (minus any program) and just commune i.e. talk about real life, the things they go through, the joys, the pain, encourage one another, have some laughs, pray, share experiences, talk about what the bible says. And I was actually planning to come up with a cool name for this thing we were going to do like ‘Kommunion’ or ‘Hangingz Out’. But now, i think i’ll just call it ‘Hey, let’s meet up this friday night for dinner at my place’. The intention is that ‘meeting up’ will not only become synonymous with being together and having great times and laughs but also talking about God, encouraging one another, praying for one another, dicussing Bible questions. Eventually, there will be no disconnect between hanging out and youth group and everytime we hang out, we’ll actually be having ‘youth group’.

    Anyway, I’ll definitely go slower on the programs, cool names, discipleship workbooks, events and get more into just ‘meeting up’.

    Thanks Mark for the awesome insights here!

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