Our churches are not called to have a youth ministry, but to be a youth ministry.
While I’m not one of those folks who’s ready to abolish youth ministry across the board, I do share some of their basic premises. In many cases Youth Ministries have become disconnected from the Body of Christ in a way that has fostered, at least in my estimation, some unhealthy circumstances in western evangelical circles.
The reaction to this however, usually includes an amalgamation of youth into the larger church in a way that overlooks the fundamental cultural differences which exist between generations; said differences being why youth ministry exists in the first place. I am in favor of rethinking our ministries to students and how we can connect them to other generations. I’m totally in favor of rediscovering what it means for the church to be family, rather than just subsets. What I am not in favor of though, is moving forward in any of these endeavors without addressing the original problem; the generational cultural gap.
To suggest that our churches should be a youth ministry rather than just have one, is merely to suggest that the discipleship and maturation of young people must be owned corporately by the larger church. Youth ministry should still be a “thing” in our culture, though it will inevitably look different if we take this seriously. For many churches this probably means different things as different people have varying levels of cross-cultural and/or cross-generational competencies.
Here are three things that I’m willing to offer as guiding truths in this discussion:
- We must be guided by a genuine concern for their discipleship and spiritual well being, rather than just a concern for our institution(s). Ask yourself this question- do you want your students either failing spiritually or thriving spiritually apart from the Body? How we answer that question could be very telling.
- However, we are also naturally and correctly concerned for the institution. So we need to remember and communicate that when students are maturing, this adds to the maturity of the Body. If our young people are not growing as an integrated part of the church, there are natural consequences for the overall spiritual vitality of our communities.
- No matter what level our competencies, the church (we) must learn to engage across these generational and cultural lines. At some point we need to not only put in effort, but we must do so with the intention of creating something that will meet the needs of all generations.