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)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reflections on Leaving Youth Ministry 1

So, I know I'm late with these promised blog posts, but I honestly haven't been slacking on it. In actuality, I've already written two posts...and deleted both of them. The first post was frankly too emotional and dealt with frustrations that I had apparently not even processed yet (they sort of came to the surface as I wrote). After I finished it, I re-read it and asked Dana to read it. She confirmed what I was already thinking: it was very therapeutic for me, but frankly wouldn't be helpful to anyone else. In my second attempt, I tried to write a "What your youth minister wishes you knew" post. It really just didn't work.

So here's the thing...youth ministry is in trouble. For all the attention and resources devoted to youth ministry, the "retention" stats are abysmal. Roughly 75% of teens abandon their faith between high school graduation and College. (oddly enough, smaller churches with no organized youth ministry tend to have roughly a 75% retention rate) Those stats are actually pretty well known. Many people aren't aware of the fact that youth ministers are also burning out at an alarming rate.

I could lob out criticism about all of the problems in our current approach to youth ministry. However, I think it would be more helpful to simply propose some ideas about potential ways forward. Watch for my totally subjective thoughts on this next week.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reflections on Leaving Youth Ministry: Introduction

I am currently working as a preaching minister, though I was a youth minister for roughly 10 years. When I first got into youth ministry (which is another story altogether), I passionately refuted any suggestions that youth ministry was some sort of a "stepping stone" to becoming a preacher. I sincerely believed that I would do youth ministry forever. While I still disagree with a perspective that relegates youth ministry to a mere rung on the ministry "success ladder", after 10 years I felt a pull towards preaching that eventually led to my career move last May. I loved youth ministry and still have a deep and abiding respect for anyone who sincerely engages in the Spiritual formation of teenagers. However, I am now roughly 7 months removed that particular vocation, and I'd like to offer a few admittedly subjective observations about the current state of youth ministry, for whatever they are worth. Over the next several days, I'll present a series of posts along these lines. If you think I'm wrong on any of these observations, you may very well be right, and I have no particular interest a debate (though you should feel free to comment, and I'm always up for dialogue). I'll post the first observation soon.

Note: I had originally thought I would not post anything new on this blog after this series is completed. However, I have since reconsidered, and decided to keep this blog as a place to write about my life and family. I will also be launching a new blog that will focus on theology, and I'm planning on inviting several other bloggers who resonate with a "Post-Restorationist" ideology to come on as co-authors. I'll post a link to the new site at the end of this series.