I’d be curious to know though, who do you think is to blame for youth ministry’s dependency on youth pastors? Culture? Students? Parents? the Church? Ourselves? All of the above?
Difficult to tell… because i think at times all of them are true at one point…
Of course, this is a question worth asking. If we don’t realize how we get ourselves in these messes in the first place, then we’re apt to repeat them.
One clarification though: I want to make a distinction between dependence upon youth pastors and youth ministries. Evan asked why I think we are so dependent upon youth pastors when my post was meant to be more of an indictment upon the general practice of youth ministry today. Maybe I wasn’t clear. So, I’ll give this a two-part response.
Being highly dependent upon a youth pastor (or multiple paid youth ministry staff) is a huge issue. I’ve been at my current youth ministry position for six months now, and one of my goals for the next year or so is to gradually make the ministry less me-dependent. Right now, I’m wearing way too many hats. So, I know how easy it is to fall into a position where we are expected to do it all.
What is at fault for creating this typical dependency? Lots of things.
But before I expound some of them, a rant is in order. I would argue that adolescence is the most crucial time in a person’s whole life in regard to the amount of influence it will have on the rest of life. Patterns, behaviors, and habits are formed in adolescence that will last a lifetime (or the effects of them will, i.e. pregnancy). And to whom do we entrust these tender teenagers during this immensely crucial time? The person on the church staff with the least amount of ministry experience (oftentimes none… oh wait, do summer internships count?), least amount of wisdom (because they are young), and least amount of education (if they even have any theological/ministry training). And then this person, who is oftentimes still in the waning stages of adolescence, gets thrown into a room full of 12-18 year olds, and the church and their parents say “Good luck. Make sure they don’t ruin their (or our) lives in the next seven years.” Talk about a screwed up conception of ministry. Rant complete.
So, who’s at fault for creating this dependence? Everyone, plain and simple. Youth pastors, even though most of us have read and read about how we need to quit the lone ranger bit, still structure things so they are running all of the show. The church is not a community of brothers and sisters, but a collection of individuals who come to “get fed”. They view the church as a distributor of religious goods and services, which necessitates them hiring a professional religious goods and services dispenser for the niche market of teenagers (boy, ecclesiology is showing up all over the place). Other adults in the church are afraid of teenagers, so they hire someone crazy enough to work exclusively with them. Most pastors are busy being a lone ranger for the rest of the congregation, so they don’t have time to really invest into the crazy world of teenagers. And since they are lone rangers, they expect us to be, too.
Simply, everyone is at fault for creating a dependence upon youth pastors.
However, that still doesn’t address the issue I was hoping to get at with the previous post. Lets say we have a ministry that is going well without a youth minister. We’ve got plenty of volunteers and students to fill all the roles we need of teaching, planning, coordinating, executing, etc. The ministry goes on retreats, mission trips, and has Sunday school, small groups, a worship service, etc. It looks like a typical youth group, but without a youth pastor. Are we out of the woods?
Not in my opinion. I still see that model as “outsourcing” youth ministry to certain people within the congregation because the rest of the congregation doesn’t want to have to deal with it. There can still be little to no assimilation into the wider body even without a youth pastor. The idea of having a completely separate operating arena for those 12-18 years old still rubs me the wrong way. Now, I acknowledge that some time is probably needed for teenagers to throw pies in each others’ faces without the participation of the senior citizens’ group. However, we have, for the most part, cut off the youth of our church from the rest of the congregation.
The problem is, that’s how the rest of the church functions as well. We’ve got all these little niche ministries that operate independent of each other. The only time we interact with people outside of our clique is for the mandatory 5-minute hand-shaking time during a Sunday morning service.
We’ve gotten this model from the wider culture at large. Our church structures draw from the wells of corporate America and the public education system more than from a biblical, confessional, live-giving, forgiving community of fallen but redeemed people. And for me, it all goes back to ecclesiology as the root of the problem. We must rethink the way we as a community live out, embody, and incarnate a gospel life. Even if we take all the dependency of youth pastors out of our ministries, I believe we are still a long ways away from a biblical way of living-in-relationship.
Ok , we’re all at fault. We have a weak ecclesiology. But how’d we get here? How do we address the situation? My first guess at this is that we need to liberate our imaginations. I haven’t read much of Walter Brueggemann or any of Stanley Hauerwas, but I believe these two authors, among others, can help us regain our imagination. We all are currently so captivated by the culture at large, and also our Christian culture, that we no longer have the ability to let our minds truly hear the words of scripture and envision a community that is submissive to its call upon our lives. Most of us are simply incapable. We must pray for God to liberate our imaginations from the captivity of American culture.
Only when we have ears to hear can we start to put things aright.