youth ministry 3.0, part 18

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 eighteenth bit, from chapter 6:

Be communional

I’ve used that word in this book a few times now. So it’s time for me to ‘fess up: I made it up. But I think it’s a good word, and we should make it part of our lexicon of Youth Ministry 3.0. Communional is the adjective form of the word communion. It implies an intentional state of being.

If I had merely written, “build community,” it would likely take us down the Youth Ministry 2.0 highly, to things like:
• Manipulatively forcing “community” onto teenagers
• Constructing new programs for community
• Assuming that hanging out together (even in a spiritual context) is the same thing as community
• Utilizing tricks of the trade to lure kids into community

Communion doesn’t occur because of well-though out programs, or slight of hand, or being in the same room. Communion is organic, unmanipulated, fluid and difficult to quantify, shared fruit (yes, it’s organic fruit! ) of consistent relationships with Christ in the mix.

A few aspects of communion:

Communion is small. I already wrote a whole section on small, so I won’t harp on it here. But it bears repeating that communion rarely, if ever, occurs in a large setting.

Communion is slow. It’s not rushed. It’s doesn’t happen overnight – in fact, it’s annoyingly patient. Communion doesn’t happen on our timetables at all, and will internally resist all forms of quantification.

Communion is simple. Not simple to “create”, but simple in it’s DNA. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t flourish with booster shots of technology .

Communion is fluid. It won’t be boxed and sold as a resource or presented as a 40-day plan. It shies away from being defined. It beautifully morphs into variant vibes, seasons and shapes.

Communion is present. It demands face time. It hungers for listening. It salivates for shared experience. It lives in the hear-and-now.

Communion is Jesus-y. It places high value on the expectation of God showing up. It notices Christ in our midst. It seeks to live out a shared experience of joining up with the redemptive work of Christ.

Youth Ministry 3.0 shares the Jesus life with your community of students, the “we’re in this together-ness” of real communion, dependant on the reality of God in your midst.

Work Toward Integration of Teenagers with the Church

Much has been written in the past decade about “Family Based Youth Ministry” (although, if I’m honest, much of this has merely been the addition of a couple events to an already program-driven approach to youth ministry). Not that understanding teenagers as part of a family system, and ministering to their parents, isn’t important – of course it is. But what I’m suggesting here is larger and broader.

The fact is, teenagers need adults in their lives. Multiple adults. But the church also needs teenagers. Blue Hairs need Kindergarteners; Teenagers need Empty Nesters; 20-somethings need Boomers. We’re all the church, like it or not (and the choice to like it is a critical one).

Isolated youth groups have done just as much harm as good. Isolation might make things easier in some ways, but the best is rarely easy.

Work to find meaningful ways for intergenerational community and relationships. Find meaningful ways for adults of all ages to be connected to the work of the youth ministry; and attempt (with noble failure a necessary part of the process) to find paths for integrating teenagers into the lives of adults in your church.

It sounds like bumper-sticker theology, but is so very true for Youth Ministry 3.0: we all need each other.

Be a missionary

One of the biggest misconceptions I had, early on in youth ministry, was that it was my role to be a buddy to teenagers. My faulty logic was that, if I succeeded in becoming one of them – a peer – I would have access to influence their lives to a greater degree. It wasn’t until I discovered I’d accomplished this that I saw the folly of my thinking. I’d forfeited my place as a mentor in order to become a pal.

Missionaries do not pretend to be one and the same as the people they are ministering among. How fake and offensive would that be? Instead, they humbly and cautiously engage with people, being ever-thoughtful and caring about cultural context, while acknowledging their own visitor status. Even the great missionary stories of the last century (Bruchko and Peace Child made a massive impression on me when I read them as a teenager), where the missionaries reached a beautiful place of being an accepted part of a tribal culture, still bore this reality: no matter how much the tribe loved, appreciated and accepted them, they were still the alien who was other.

I’ll say it again: Youth Ministry 3.0 doesn’t call for programming experts, systematizers, communication specialists, or party planners. Youth Ministry 3.0 calls for anthropologically minded missionaries, who serve teenagers with humility and grace.

8 thoughts on “youth ministry 3.0, part 18”

  1. Marko
    Just a few comments:
    Communion is small, but demands a larger perspective. One who experiences “communion” senses their connection with the larger body of Christ assembles as Church as well as the Christ hungry in Africa or Christ oppressed in Tibet.
    Communion is slow, simple, fluid . . . In other words, good luck programming the Spirit working in others. As a matter of fact, why try? You risk only getting in the way.
    Communion is present. So look around, where are your adult volunteers? Can you possibly ever have enough? Don’t they need / deserve better training for face time, listening, and shared experience? Seriously, Mr. Lone Ranger, sir, if you are the end-all and be-all of adult presence to young people in your church; you are not ready for the future, kemosabe. We need an adult Church with a missional mindset with teenagers and we need teenagers with a missional mindset within the Church.
    Communion is Jesus-y. Come to think of it, it was the Jesus-y stuff which was the reason that I got into youth ministry in the first place.
    Great series / book, Marko!!! Excitedly anticipation the future!!!

  2. Oh your writings are just too true. I attend a Christian univeristy that stresses “community” and what is the result. Lots and lots of programming. Also, I work with a youth ministry in which 80% of the students attend a private Christian high school. What happens there? Tons and tons of programming and requirements, all for the sake of community. Frustrated school administrators (at both the college and the high school) say, “if everyone would just do our programs and have the right attitude about it….”

  3. Programs are like Linus’ blanket. They can be a source of security — at the end of the night, regardless of students’ behavior or comprehension level, we can feel secure in our ministry because we stuck to the program, and ‘God’s word will never return void!’

    Moving away from programs often means moving away from what we have conjured up to be a sense of security. But when we do become less programmed and more insecure, we begin to discover where we should really be finding our security.

    True security is found in things that last — primarily relationships with others in the church. The really neat thing is that we have the opportunity to discover security (and intimacy, unconditional love, and a whole host of others) alongside our youth, our leaders, and ideally, church-goers from every generation you mentioned.

  4. Having an established relationship with them allows you to speak truth into their lives that they may not enjoy hearing but they trust you because they know you have their best interest in mind. Building and showing that love for them allows you to help them and administer the wounds of a friend.

    I’m not all about the rebuke but when community happens well (in church and the youth ministry) it’s just part of what it means to love one another.

  5. I wonder if the inauthentic community that so many experience due to the result of trying to program community comes from a real lack of depth in the current minister. Instead of spending time pouring over contemplative material (Scriptures, books, anything that feeds the soul), the minister is spending the time trying to program the next big event, do it’s paperwork, organize the drivers, send the emails, where it actually robs the minister of his ‘job’ as minister and through this process becomes poor so that when it is time to have true community, there is nothing left to share…..

  6. Glad you mentioned FBYM and the better name for it which is church-based youth ministry. I’ve been doing church-based youth ministry for 8 years now (19 years in youth ministry 2.0) and am seeing much in what you are trying to portray here.

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