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.”