So, my post a couple of weeks ago may have been a bit on the negative side. I talked about the doom and gloom of youth ministry and how if it didn’t change, it would simply die. If anyone happened to read the post, they probably would have thought I was a pretty stark pessimist.
Well, maybe I am. I don’t think my assesment was unfair. Statistically and anecdotally, youth ministry seems to be a failure.
However, what I didn’t point out about the doom and gloom of the current status of ministry is that it should offer us an enormous ammount of freedom in our ministries.
Because youth ministry, as it is practiced right now, is a failure, we should have the freedom to listen intently to the spirit of God and try new, different, radical things within our ministry. Why? Because it can’t get any worse. If we trudge along and follow “tried and true” methods of ministry, we are destined to fail. But if we actually have faith in God to direct our ministries, and implement change as he guides, then we might actually succeed. For those who read my other post, you know my definition of success isn’t about having kids super-involved or bursting at the seams. Success is simply being faithful to what God has called us to, which should in turn produce life-long faith in those who we invest our time into.
What a blessing! We are doomed to failure if we do not change the way we approach youth ministry, therefore change is all but mandatory. Ahh, but there is always a rub. Parents do not want faithfulness. Church boards do not want faithfulness. Pastors may not even want faithfulness. Usually the rest of the church wants safety. They want conformity. They want kids to have good manners. They do not want the Gospel for their teenagers, they just want them to live the American dream and go to college and not get pregnant or addicted to drugs. And thus, they are happy to keep things status quo. Which creates a tension between what we as youth ministers feel that we are called to do and what adults in the congregation expect for us.
Isn’t it obvious what is going on here? The problem with youth ministry is not with youth. It’s not with youth ministers. It’s not even with adults or leadership or pastors. The problem is an inherently ecclessiological problem. A theological problem (seems like someone posted on the importance of theology in ministry).
We should have the freedom within our ministries to pursue God’s radical, life-altering gospel, but we do not because others in the church are content with failure. Why? Because we’ve missed the point of the Gospel. We don’t understand the purpose of the church in living a gospel life.
So, this post has taken an unexpected turn. I expected to write mostly about the “freedom of failure”. About how we should be free to try new things because we can’t do any worse than we already are. But they can get worse. Parents will probably get mad that their son or daughter wants to serve others after graduating high school rather than going to college. Parents will think there’s not “enough” on the calendar. Some kids might complain things are boring. And so families leave the church, stop tithing, and the youth ministry is “in trouble”. When our definition of failure is more about how many people leave the church rather than about how we have been unwilling to trust that God will be faithful, we are in trouble.
I couldn’t write the post I wanted to. Instead, I am faced with the reality that we have a screwed up ecclesiology that flows out of a distrust of the call of Christ, which is an inherently theological problem. We are not free to follow the dangerous call of Christ.
Not yet, at least. Bonhoeffer would be sick to his stomach about the grace we offer to our churches. It is time for an awakening to the radical and subversive call of Christ. Without that, our churches will never grant us the freedom of failure.