- Neo-Youth Ministry Series Introduction
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 1: “Youth”
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 2: “Ministry”
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 3: The Youth Minister
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 4: The Youth Minister as Theologian
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 5: The Youth Minister as Pastor
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 6: Youth Minister as Spiritual Director
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 7: The Youth Minister as Prophet
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 8: The Youth Minister as Youth Advocate
- Neo-Youth Ministry Part 9: The Youth Minister as Interpreter and Synthesizer
- Neo-Youth Ministry Methods: Education and Teaching
- Neo-Youth Ministry Methods: The End of Bait and Switch
- Neo-Youth Ministry Methods: Local and Contextual
My good friend Noah recently recounted a phone conversation he had with an Acquire the Fire representative. I had a similar conversation not too long ago. Now, my problem is not necessarily with Acquire the Fire, but I am quite skeptical of the big-event circuit in American youth ministry. Here’s the typical recipe:
- Large stadium (anywhere from 3,000-60,000 people)
- “National speakers” (whatever that means)
- The “hottest” Christian bands (if DCB isn’t on the docket, don’t even bother)
- Maybe some dramas or comedians (or both)
- Extremely expensive A/V systems, lights, lasers, smoke machines, etc.
Events like this bother me for a few reasons:
- The first problem is that for whatever reason these events tend to become normative for the Christian life. Students who go to events like this think that the Christian life is the most real, most alive, most vibrant at events like these. Faithfulness to God is associated with emotional highs and feel-goodyness. We are left thinking that God is not present in homework, chores, friendship squabbles, and other stuff of “real life.” (By the way, Eugene Peterson has been instrumental in helping me develop a theology of the everyday. You must read him. Everything he has written. No joke. I’m working my way through his stuff.)
- Because of the above, I am worried that these events are put on by organizations that must turn a profit in order to stay alive. When normalcy is determined by a group of people who must make X amount of dollars to sustain themselves, I get nervous. (I’ll take this point to say that churches are a little different in that they (should) rely on gifts, not selling things, to sustain themselves. However, I do believe that most churches operate at much too narrow of margins.)
- These events are divorced from local contexts. Identical events happen in Texas, California, Florida, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere.
- In my experience, these events appeal to the emotions, but not the passions, of teenagers. Teenagers are extremely passionate people, and we should be tapping into that passion. But passion is different than emotion. Emotions tend to be the end. People think the emotion is real. Passion tends to spur action and impact. (This isn’t very well thought out, but I’m leaving it in.)
- You shouldn’t have to pay $400 to get “recharged” once a year. I remember going on a certain trip every summer that was quite expensive, but my friends and I looked forward to it because it was where we got recharged every year. But recently I have been thinking about practicing sustainable faith. If our faith is based off of one yearly event, we aren’t sustaining ourselves throughout the year. There is something missing in much of our ministries when we and our students aren’t practicing the kind of faith that can sustain them in their everyday lives.
- Many of these events are quite repetitive in nature. They don’t change much from year to year and have almost identical messages. I know of one specific “national” youth event has been saying the same thing for the past 10 years.
- They all claim to change your youth group’s lives. If they really did, they would work themselves out of a job.
- These events create Christian celebrities. There is no need for Christian celebrities. Period. Yes, there are certain people whose wisdom and discernment can change the landscape of Christianity, but that is because they have been gifted by God, not because they are just “really cool.”
Instead of “outsourcing” our big events to organizations that don’t know us, our kids, our churches, and all the rest, we should strive to make our ministries local and contextual. My favorite way of going about this for “big events” is retreats. I think retreats planned by people in our churches are great ways to connect at a deeper level with our kids. You also get to spend a lot more time with your kids at a retreat than at a large event where your behind is stuck in a chair all day.
This might be a good time to make a disclaimer that I’ve probably made somewhere during this Neo-Youth Ministry Series: in no way am I questioning the purity of motivation of people who do the kinds of things that I tend to disagree with in this series. I believe most people love Jesus deeply and are trying to do what they can to follow him. I simply think that pure motivation isn’t enough. We aren’t given the scriptures for motivation, but for obedience (among other things).
Local. Contextual. Yeah, your kids might not get butterflies in their stomachs from being so close to the stage that David Crowder was spitting on them, but I think that’s a good thing.
Jeff Greathouse says
You are sooo right when you say, “They all claim to change your youth group’s lives. If they really did, they would work themselves out of a job.”
Well said, as usual. Did i telll you that the ATF guy called me back to see if I had made a decision….(funny)
Brit Windel says
made some great points as usual mr. cleaver. and you know i agree with you on your thoughts. but it does lead me to think about our culture today. we make the statements of what would Calvin and luther do if they had internet today. or even a computer or typewriter. imagine how much more they could have written. we live in a time where we have the ability for mass(ive) worship and mass communication that in those days not so much. i really enjoy big worship gatherings for the since that i’m working with family that i may never meet again. now this is a since that i have fostered and grown into that i know most teenagers don’t process as of yet or may never will…(i know your not saying that Big events are totally awful) but i would say if done well (which is the key) and with a purpose (beyond the sustaining) and to have a proper ethos of why (which is something that needs to be addressed ei, promote a new cd and book line via louie g. and chris t.) these events can be very beneficial in showing our teenagers a different scope of worship and message.
i think you also raise a great thought about Christian celebrities which is very scary. you should come over here to the Uk…there are no celebrities and they don’t know ours…its nice..kinda until you talk about a worship leader and a song and they are like what whose that. i guess i said all that to say i agree with you but want to play the advocate and say that in our society of mass media and global pursuit where does local fit into our current progression’s of global domination and pursuit’s
Heath Stoner says
Good morning! I am the Director of the Dallas Acquire The Fire. Is there a time that I can give you a call and talk to you? I want to hear some more of your thoughts on youth ministry and what you are currently doing with your students. I would just enjoy talking to you and potentially bouncing ideas off of each other.
God Bless you and your students,
Heath Stoner says
Good morning! I am the Director of the Dallas Acquire the Fire. I was reading over your thoughts and would love to discuss what you are currently doing with your youth ministry and your students. I would really enjoy discussing your ideas and how I may be able to assist you at all. Please let me know, at your leisure, if and when I may give you a call so we can talk.
God Bless You and Your Students,
Brit Windel says
Absolutely. My office line at church is 972-291-7902.
I thank you, sir. i am looking for the methods of doing youth ministry and how to begin youth ministry etc. Hope you will be giving me these answers and methods as well.
God bless you in abundance!
yours in Christ,
Wesley Menke says
I heartily recommend to you the ELCA Youth Gathering in 2012 in New Orleans. It’s invaluable for youth and adults to connect to the larger expression of the church and to be engaged in service and justice work in one of the most awesome cities in the U.S. It’s worth all of the ups and downs that go along with smoke machines and laser beams!