In the five or so years I’ve been pursuing student ministries as vocational ministry, I’ve had some great experiences to be a part of a number of church-based and para-church youth ministries. And through these experiences, I’ve begun noticing patterns in these ministries that have caused me to wrestle with one question over the past few months:
If teenagers, being so full of energy, passion and creativity, are the heart of our ministries, why is that our ministries to them are not marked by a similar passion and creativity? Or, to put it in a simpler, more focused way: Why is it that youth ministry is often just a form of “mini-church”?
Here’s what I mean. Let’s consider the typical order of service for your average Sunday morning service in your average American church, compared to the typical big-group youth ministry service at that same church:
Now, I’m sure there are exceptions to this paradigm, but none that I have encountered yet in my experiences and reading on student ministries. So I return to my question: Why do our youth ministries just look like “mini-church,” or “church-made-cooler because we play games and the youth pastor isn’t as boring as the senior pastor”?
Perhaps we just lack the time and desire to come up with a different paradigm for our services. After all, they’ve worked for the past ten years of youth ministry. Or maybe it’s the risk of the new, the risk of trying something different and failing. It’s easier to maintain the status quo than to launch out into new territory. Or maybe, we’ve bought into the idea that this is the “right way” to do youth ministry. All that creative, passion stuff is for the artsy, wishy-washy types anyways, right?
My concern with this reality is that in merely duplicating the typical approach to ministry that is modeled in our church services, we are failing our students and failing Christ as we seek to demonstrate to our students what a life in pursuit of Him looks like. The current model suggests that the extent of our spiritual lives together is to sing and listen to a guy talk for a few minutes, focusing on these “spiritual aspects” of our lives while indirectly communicating that anything that doesn’t fit into this model isn’t as important. So those students who have a passion and skill for art or poetry or parkour or beatboxing or writing are left to pursue those passions at home or school. But what would happen if we opened ourselves up to these creative gifts, if we encouraged and fostered and embraced the creative spirit that is within our students rather than ignoring it? This approach necessitates a different way of thinking about how we structure our ministries.
In the next few posts, I want to address three reasons why this current model is failing, and in the process suggest a few ways that we can begin to shift our paradigm on what “youth ministry services” should look like:
- We are not empowering students and volunteers to have a stake in shaping the ministry.
- We are crippling our students in their integration into the church as a whole.
- We are neglecting the creativity and passion of our students.
In the meantime, here’s a question: Have you seen/experienced/led a youth ministry that differed significantly from the model described above? How was it different? What did it look like in action?