Monday, January 26, 2009

Reflections On Leaving Youth Ministry 2

Effective Youth Ministry will work with the desired end result in mind. This sounds very intuitive and one might wonder who could possibly disagree with such a notion. The truth is, that most of us would...if not with our words, then in practice.

There is an extraordinary temptation in professional youth ministry to cater to the pressures of the moment and the perceived needs of those we work with (parents included). These pressures combined with our culture's pervasive consumerism subtly but surely lures us towards an "attractional" model of youth ministry. We build youth ministry around that will draw a that center around the dynamic personality of our youth with lots of bells and that serve as exciting and interesting alternatives to what "the world" is offering. This is precisely our downfall. We instill a version of "faith" that is dependent on the constant flow of these activities, events, personalities, "bells" and "whistles". In short, it is unsustainable by its very nature. It isn't true to the complexities of life. It doesn't prepare them for the isolation they may face or the painful questions they WILL face. It doesn't challenge them to be more than they are, or call them to something greater than themselves. Instead, it markets one more product (albeit a religious product) for them to consume. Of course it fails for the vast majority of them when they graduate and the personality (youth minister) of the is gone, the activities/programs are gone, and they are left with "just church".

What would it look like to develop intentional ways of cultivating a sustainable faith? How can we design approaches that begin with such an end in mind? I have some ideas and opinions about what that could look like, but they would be limited to my context and experience. These questions are yours to answer, but I'll argue that if you are going to "do" youth ministry, they are questions you must wrestle with if your ministry is to be in any sense "effective".
(to be continued)


Blair J. Andress said...

A student ministry that is based not on a mere attractional model is definitely needed. I think that for student ministry to truly be effective, it must be more of a family ministry where you are working with families to raise up believers. It's not about lock-ins, games nights, etc.... it's about discipling students to be followers of Christ.

Adam said...

Though everyone has a "choice", and I don't mean this in a hyper-deterministic way, the stats suggest that there is no factor that is a greater predictor of whether or not a student will have faith as an adult than the sincerity that they perceive in their parents' faith. Unfortunately, I think the systems that are in place in many churches resist the integration and active involvement of parents. Perhaps more unfortunately in many cases it is not the youth minister or the students who offer the most resistance to is the parents.

-Lane said...

Adam, I'm a good friend of Jason Bybee's, and he urged me to come and read over your blog. I am so in the same boat as your right now. I feel like our current model of youth ministry is rather flawed, and the rates at which teenagers leave is rather alarming.

I feel very passionately about the idea that our teenagers end up basing their relationship with Christ on a youth minister, a youth group, or youth events, and when those things are gone, they realize that their relationship with Christ was shallow, undeveloped, and feel it might be too late.

I'd love to talk with you further on this. You can email me at so we can discuss further.

Don Z said...

I jumped to your blog from your request for The Shack Discussion Guide. I did my time as a YM some years back and not much has really changed. Recently I have been wondering if we are startign off on the wrong foot to begin with. We are marketing heaven and forgivness purchased with a decision and ignoring the real foundation of the Christian Life...a relationship with God. We preach against sin when it was taken care of on the cross and virtually ignore the real issue of a living relationship here and now. I am attempting to write a new salvation presentation model that covers forgivness but emphasizes the need for a growing relationship. If you are interested, I will send you a sample for your consideration.

Adam said...

I actually do think that's a very large part of the problem...and was considering posting something on the subject as a part of this series or on the new blog I'm launching. We've reduced the gospel to a point-of-sale transaction concerning the afterlife. Beyond the astounding lack of effectiveness and staying power of this approach, the major problem is that it is in no way Biblical. I can't find an example of it ever being presented this way. If you get a chance, go back in the archives of my blog and read the first post in my "narrative gospel" series for one attempt I made at the kind of engagement you suggest (the subsequent post unpack it). I would love to see what you are putting together.
P.S. Have you seen the movie "Lord Save Us From Your Followers"?

The Metzes said...

I've been wrestling with the current paradigm in youth ministry since before I was after it. It was the topic of my graduate thesis - there's some boring reading while you are hanging out in the Lipscomb Bible office :-)

I find your choice of using the word "unsustainable" interesting. Have you seen Mark DeVries latest release on youth ministry? Sustainable Youth Ministry.

In all my reading and study on youth ministry philosophy, I've never been able to stray far from DeVries family-based approach. That continues to drive my methodology. I think much in youth ministry recently has also been a helpful corrective (prayer-based youth ministry, Jesus-focused youth ministry, all that), but for me, it will always come back to the family unit. We have traditionally done a fair job of creating an alternative Christian peer environment - but, as you state, it's not sustainable.

Israel's familial Shema focus, I believe, should be at the heart of our attempts at youth ministry.

I have been exploring various writing projects in this area since graduate school. The very topic you are tackling in these posts has been a big focus of my exploration. If you are interested in potentially working together on something like that, give me a shout.