Youth ministry changes almost weekly. Different kids show up to each event, sometimes new kids join, old kids leave, etc. With such a flexible ministry it is sometimes hard to effectively plan to far ahead. Today we reflect and think on…..
“Where is youth ministry headed?”
Rev. Molly Brummett is a graduate of Carson Newman University (’10) and Wake Forest University School of Divinity (’13). She has served as Minister of Youth and Community at Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, NC since July 2013. Molly loves strong coffee, frolicking outside, dancing in the streets, good poetry, hearty laughter and embodied radical hospitality. Getting to do life with her youthies brings her great joy.
“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes [God’s self]} known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually.”– F. Buechner
Though perhaps inadequate to answer this question because I’m often self-conscious as a youth minister because I don’t fit the “stereotype” many persons have in their heads. I don’t play the guitar with lots of hip Christian music. I’m not crazy cool and funny. I’m not athletic. I don’t like tons of “bells and whistles with bright lights.” Instead, I love hymn sings. I’m more awkward than cool. I’m a master power walker. I believe in contemplative prayer practices, and I am not sure this question, “Where is Youth Ministry headed?” can necessarily be answered with broad strokes. Yet, I have learned that both the stereotypical youth minister and the youth minister that looks a bit more like me all wrestle with where youth ministry is headed.
I don’t know about you, but I often find this question intertwines with the pressure of programs and the desire for more engaged youth. Therefore, I wrestle constantly as the youth ministry competes with sports practices, dance recitals, vacation homes, date nights, band practices, Advanced Placement exams, and homework. I grapple with how my young people might encounter and know God more fully yet faith formation is often not prioritized like x, y, or z.
I do a lot of wrestling, but I also tell, hear, and remember lots of stories. As I’m drawn into the story, I remember countless times of places, faces, and people who have touched me by hearing, sharing, and being apart of stories. Somewhere in my wrestling, I realized it’s story that gives me hope.
I’m comforted by the age old story of Good News come down in the form of a babe with a radical love that changed everything. I’m drawn into the stories of youth retreats where we see youth scattered throughout beach houses, mountain homes, church floors, and rolling fields where they share pieces of their story—braving vulnerability. I recall storied nights in the Knollwood youth building where youth spread out with partners to share their joys, struggles, doubts and hopes.
Might it be as simple, or as hard, as youth ministry being the space and time when youth, and adults who walk alongside them, know that they always have space to share their story? What might it look like if we did not stress as much over our programs and numbers, cut out some of our bells, whistles and gimmicks of youth ministry and shifted to more conversations over froyo, frequent shaped space for vulnerability, and creating places where people can be fully known and fully loved to the best of our ability as our top priority?
Our numbers may not increase and we may not have the coolest “Sunday Night Youth Group” in town, but in the words of Fredrick Buechner, God will be known. Isn’t that enough for “Where youth ministry is headed?”
Chris Cherry is an ordained minister who received his Masters of Divinity from McAfee School of Theology. He enjoys foosball and skittles, but doesn’t particularly care for static electricity. He is currently serving as Minister to Students at St Andrews Baptist Church in Columbia, SC.
This question reminds me of losing my keys and then being asked, “Where did you last have your keys?” If I knew where they were last, I’d go get them. If we could know exactly where youth ministry was headed, we’d go there immediately.
That said, this is an important question. We need to learn from the past, and we need to look to the future. This year, I am working in my seventh year of student ministry. So basically, I have enough experience now to know I will never be able to predict the future with any real accuracy. So, while this post is far from a prescripted plan, there are a couple of things we can look to for a good idea of what might be down the road.
First, we need to look at what we already have that’s working. In general, we cultivate a welcoming and accepting environment that offers significant substance to youth. We know all of our youth by name. We have the ability to see them play baseball, dance, or exhibit their art. We know what stresses them, what questions they’re asking, and what it takes to make them laugh. When we think about the future, we think about them first, not the backbone of a program or budget numbers. This is our foundation for the future.
Moving forward, I recently found a resource that compiles some quotes from leaders in the academic side of youth ministry on where they think youth ministry is headed. I’ve pulled a few of the quotes (you can see all of them by following the link at the end of this post).
Kara Powell I think the future of youth ministry is one in which the age-segregation that has dominated the church ends and we move toward the type of intergenerational community and integration God intends. We‘re seeing in our research how important intergenerational community and relationships are to Sticky Faith.
Brad Griffin The future of youth ministry must move toward more intergenerational connectedness, more valuing of and partnering with parents, and less programming fluff.
Andy Root In the next few decades youth ministry will need to face the following: a way to actually work with families in a very complicated familial cultural locale, a way of dealing with pluralism–being able to claim the particularity of Jesus without it sliding into rigidity, and to find a robust theological position that connects revelation (the way we understand God‘s revealing presence) with our practices and strategies of day to day ministry.
Kenda Creasy Dean So I think in the future, youth ministry will try to re-weird-ify Christianity, highlighting Jesus‘ radical actions and peculiar self-giving love, in an effort to resist the American church‘s habit of trying to tame the gospel into a middle class bedtime story. If Christianity is dangerous, then we need to act like it. Teenagers aren‘t afraid of risk, but they want to know that Jesus is worth it. Young people are going to demand that we, the church, be who we say we are–people who obviously follow Jesus, which makes us “weird” in a culture based on self-actualization and self-fulfillment–or they‘re just not going to bother with us at all.
These leaders in the academic side of youth ministry highlight two main ideas that we need to consider when answering this question about the future.
First, the boundaries that used to define youth ministry are fading. More and more, we’re seeing an investment in the whole family. Ministering to, with, and alongside youth means doing the same with their parents, grandparents, siblings, and more. What does a family ministry look like at your church? How can you get the entire family more involved with what their teenagers are learning and experiencing?
Second, the future of youth ministry is about embracing their natural ability to take risks. Adults can learn from youth. Christianity is not a religion of comfort. Jesus doesn’t say take up your TV remote and follow me when it’s convenient. As Christians, we’re called to be radical, to step out on faith, to stand up for others, and to love well. Youth know this. Youth ministry should be teaching and embodying this idea.
I’m no expert, and I’d be lying if I said the youth ministry at my church was great at these things already, but I read these quotes (and more) and I believe them. Youth ministry is no longer about having the biggest programs, the best trips, the coolest basement space, or the flashiest sales pitch. Youth ministry, and the church as a whole, is about disciples of Jesus finding ways to love God and to love each other in a way that connects each of our passions with God’s passions already at work in the world. This is risky work done by all generations together.
Where do you think youth ministry is headed?
Here is the link to the resource with quotes about the future of youth ministry: