Starting a new job has given me a chance to reflect on and solidify my ideas about what it is that I am trying to do/facilitate as a youth minister. I have come up with 4 key goals that I am trying to move students toward:
Revolution is a very useful word to me in youth ministry. I can mean a complete turn around, which is an obvious goal when it comes to some students. But, even more than that, we are trying to inspire these students to be revolutionaries: to buck the world's systems, to stubbornly live lives of love in the face of a world that says power, control, money, and the like are the things that matter. We want them to follow in the footsteps of Jesus (the most radical rebel the world has ever seen) in turning the world right side up. Our ministry will not JUST be about "getting kids into Heaven" or (worse yet) "keeping kids out of Hell." While the afterlife is a reality (and an incredible one at that), it simply isn't the point. We want to inspire revolutionaries who, even at a young age, radically pursue God's dream for the world.
2. Authentic Faith
Inherited faith, whether from a youth minister or your parents, is in a word: "useless". In our ministry, we desire to foster an atmosphere that produces real and vibrant faith. We believe that this can be accomplished not by providing easy answers, but by wrestling with good questions. Truth isn't afraid of questions (even when answers aren't forthcoming). Therefore, we will challenge ideas (even good ones). We will deconstruct things that are false (even from our own tradition). We will claim truth wherever we find it and whoever says it because "All truth is God's truth. There is no other kind." (note: we are not referring to things that just claim to be true, but rather to things that actually are.) We will not attempt to construct a belief IN God out of our beliefs ABOUT God. Instead, we choose to believe that God IS. Once that is established, we have some ideas about Him. Even if those ideas prove to be mistaken (because how can someone with a 3 1/2 lb. brain ever claim to fully comprehend God?), God still IS. We will wrestle with scripture, even the parts that make us uncomfortable (for that discomfort is where you grow). We will not attempt to explain everything so that it all makes sense. We walk by faith, and not by sight.
We believe that Jesus in not simply the means by which you get to Heaven after you die. We believe that He actually knows what He's talking about. We believe that He is the wisest and best person who ever lived (who else would God be as a person?) and is the expert on all things related to living. We desire to inspire students to become apprentices of Jesus. We want them to follow Him in His way of life. We want them to try to be the people that Jesus would be if He were them. We don't believe that Christianity is all about knowing and agreeing with the right information. We don't believe that judgment day will involve a standardized test. We belief that God will ask "What did you do with what I gave you?" There is no better answer than "I followed Jesus".
I just don't think the term "fellowship" really communicates what we are supposed to reach for. The Hebrew concept of Shalom seems to get at it a little better. The best way to define shalom in English would be "peace" or "harmony". It is a two way, complimentary relationship, and we will try to inspire students to seek it in 3 ways:
-Shalom with God.
We want students to seek a life that is in harmony and peace with God. We want them to live in a two-way interactive relationship with the Father that adores them and wants to bless them and bless the world through them
-Shalom with people
We want students to pursue a life that is in harmony and peace with those around them, both in the church and outside of it. We want them to reflect the unity and love that exists between the members of the Trinity in their own faith community. We want them to reflect love and grace to the world around them. We want them to live lives worthy of the respect of whomever they come in contact with.
-Shalom with creation
This is the charge that God gave to Adam and Eve in the garden. I can't find anywhere in scripture where He changed his mind about it. God created the beautiful world around us. What a slap in the face it must be to Him when we abuse it.
The breaking of Shalom in any of these 3 areas is sin.
For better or worse, this is what I think youth ministry is all about. It is what I pursue and what I feel called by God to do. With His help, may it be so.