A couple of weeks ago I was talking to a couple of potential youth pastors/parents. For different reasons both were praying/contemplating starting youth groups in their homes. They had reached out to me to ask my opinion on the “way it should be set up.” “We’ve never done anything like this before, so we could use some guidance.” they asked. However, as we chatted it got me thinking about the unwritten “formula” that equals a “good” youth program:
- Games (Boys need more intense time of play.)
- Fun (The sillier the better.)
- Food (Some would contend pizza is a must.)
- Bible teaching (Usually involving one person standing in front of a group of students, telling them something about Jesus/the Bible/Christian living they can apply to their lives.)
- Small groups/Object lessons/Videos optional
I got to thinking about how many of the “norms” of youth ministry often fail in my group of primarily urban/unchurched students. The “funny videos,” usually flop. They don’t tweet and only a handful use Facebook. Boxed curriculum usually needs to be rewritten, and silly games don’t fly. The reason why for all of these is a post all on its own.
My own three children hunger for something different. In the past year they have visited numerous churches and youth programming. When asked, “How was it?” They have told me, “It was fun, but I didn’t learn anything.” “I was hoping some of the hard questions would get answered.” “I really wish they didn’t just talk at me.” “We didn’t even open our Bibles.”
It’s not the formula is “bad” I just wonder if it’s working anymore?
I spoke with a youth pastor yesterday whose church just went through a year long readjustment process. They took a step back and realized they were offering programming, but didn’t feel like people were being transformed in Christ. The big question they asked was: Are we meeting the people in OUR community at the core of THEIR need? Isn’t this the way Jesus approached ministry as well? Take a look at the Gospels. He never performed the same miracle in the same way twice. People were healed with a word, a touch, and mud just to name a few. Lazarus was “healed” by dying first.
Why is it then when it comes to youth ministry we keep holding onto a formulaic model? (Yours might be different from above. However, if I asked what your youth min looks like would you describe a program? Honestly,I probably would.) I wonder if like Christ, if like my friend we might be willing to admit what isn’t working and start over. The danger of course is you will then come along and try to reproduce the “thing” that works for me. Thus we will create a new formula.
However, I think we have to adopt the same question I heard yesterday, read it carefully:
“What will meet the needs of the people in My community, that I AM serving?”
It could start with asking the people what they need. For my friend’s church this has meant major renovations in their attitudes, approach and even their building. They have gone into the community with the purpose of offering service. On way is to offer a good clean down (including gum scraping) at the local schools. Realizing VBS wasn’t meeting the needs of their community truly, they instead decided to offer three consecutive family evenings in the park. He admitted that this was way more work than anything else they have ever done. He also told me it was way more worth it as relationships are being built.
Now hear me, if the program and the “way” of youth ministry is working for your group, don’t change. I am not suggesting you need to scrap VBS. What I’m asking is will we stop making generalizations and genuinely take the time to see what the youth, the families, the people God has put in our path really need?
What are you doing in your group to challenge the formula?