Searching for the Rosetta Stone of Youth Ministry

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The Rosetta Stone was an archaeological find that rocked the world of studying Ancient Egypt to it’s very foundations. It enabled us to understand all the funny little pictures that adorned the walls of tombs and buildings from a very long time ago. It enabled us to bridge a huge gap in understanding a whole culture and history of Egypt. It took us from a place of just looking at something, to really understanding what it represented…

Lets face it… we have probably ALL been in a position where we feel like we are speaking a different language from our churches regarding the heart we have for Youth Ministry and how it NEEDS to be operating in today’s cultural climate… There are times when the work we do (and the way we do it) is not appreciated, or even worse, isn’t VALUED by the people that expect us to grow and stretch our young people.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was some ancient scroll or tablet that could act as a translation tool for our churches to really and conclusively “GET” us? And actually, if I am really honest, for us to UNDERSTAND THEM!? (Let he is without sin cast the first stone?)

I had a chat to a good friend who was one of my key youth leaders at my church during my time as Youth Pastor there… He has now gone on to become the Young Adults Pastor and I am hugely proud of him (and the High-school Youth Pastor who was also one of my talented leaders)… We were reflecting on some of the ways that we have been “doing-church” recently and it was all good stuff…

One of the things that came to my mind was the response of the Church (in general) to the disillusionment of Baby Boomers with organised Religion. Churches sanitised themselves and established big white boxes with comfy seats, no imagery or elaborate stained-glass windows. They have replaced them with big sound-systems, nice marketing and great programmes… My generation is more marked by a desire to have a cause to fight for, or a team to be on… so if our churches expect young people to flock to a programme, then their expectations of Youth Ministry are going to cause sore points and un-met expectations…

My desire has always been to align the vision of the Youth Ministry with the vision of our Church. The vision can be the same, but the methods and strategies that enable us to pursue the vision SHOULD be different. Something that has stayed with me very strongly from the Training DVD that accompanies The Quest DVD series is a statement of challenge from Lakita Garth. She basically outlines what a church would expect of any missionaries that it was sending overseas – they would need to know the Language, the customs, what offends the people they are going to work with and what helps them understand truth… she then contrasts this with the expectations that we have with Youth Ministry in today’s world… we employ Youth Pastors and expect them to generate big flashy numbers from big events and programmes we run and ALSO create DISCIPLES that establish a life-long faith. A recent statement that I heard at NYWC in the States was “What you win them WITH, is what you win them TO”. If ever there was a motivation to develop a strongly relational, intentional and cutting edge ministry that didn’t win people to an event with lots of lights and guitars, but introduced them to a messy, chaotic, rewarding and challenging life lived out with their Creator – then this is it!

The challenge is therefore not to get churches to understand US, but how can we work with the people in our church to love the people God has called us to love, in our own culturally relevant way. Running one service that meets the needs of everyone is nigh on impossible – so what should church look like!? What can we do to build bridges that work WITH the staff in other ministries rather than compartmentalising ourselves into our little passions!? And more than all of this – how can we model UNITY to the community that we are based in… there is a hugely rewarding challenge for us in presenting the Love of God to the world around us through the act of Loving each other in our churches.

Some possible action points to break the cycle of misunderstanding:

  • Sit and chat with staff about WHY you each do your ministry the way you do… Share stories of how things have really gone well, or share lessons about when things have been tough…
  • Ask your staff how you and your Young people might help out with their ministries – working together on things can really break down barriers!
  • Always be over-prepared for events and ministries – do your homework, make sure you can easily and readily give an account for why you are doing what you are doing, the way you are doing it. If you don’t have to make things up on the spot – you will always appear professional and win over your CEO Pastor! 🙂
  • Find opportunities to break down barriers between ministries. A Children’s ministry with no relationship with a Middle-school ministry is a tragedy… A middle-school ministry with no relationship to the High-school ministry is also a tragedy and so-on and so-forth! We need to have a WHOLE-LIFE approach to ministry as churches. Holistic is a buzz-word… but it is a buzz-word with a lot of merit!
  • Try not to run your ministry as a para-church organization – take opportunities to integrate the things you are doing with the life of the church. I remember running a series with my 11-13yos in my first pastoral role called “Why Church” and we looked at different things that happen in churches and why we do them – and did FIELD TRIPS to the service to see them all happening… it was awesome seeing them watch a baptism and not be all weirded out by it… we don’t want to create people in our churches that aren’t ok with mixing in the general congregation!
  • Seek service opportunities for other ministries – we’re all in this together is the slogan of the Sallies here in NZ at the moment and I think that it captures SO much of what I would love for church to be in our communities! Imagine your Youth Ministry having a night collecting cans of food door-to-door for the foodbank… Imagine them making toys to hand out to Operation Christmas Child… sponsoring a Child through organizations like World Vision and Tear Fund… So many opportunities to teach your young people things, whilst helping other critical ministries in the life of the church – teaching them that church is a PEOPLE TO BE, rather than a place to go!

I look forward to hearing your ideas, thoughts and reflections!!!

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