Issues in Youth Ministry: Grant English

Issues in Youth Ministry: Grant English

  • What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is struggling with today?

Senior Pastors. [insert rim shot here]

Thank you, I’ll be in town all week.

Seriously, there’s a couple of ways you could answer this question. The truth is the issues facing teenagers hasn’t changed in 50 years – heck, maybe even 1500 years. Identity issues, sexuality issues, authority issues, and vocation/purpose issues. Everything you name is an outcropping of one of those issues. Rewind the tape to any era – they will be waiting for you there.

What has changed is the context in which those issues are dealt with. For the longest time, the corporate church wanted their students to sit down and shut up therein gave rise to para-church organizations who said, “Take your stuffy suits and songs and…”, well, I can’t repeat the rest of it but you get the picture. The “church” was paralyzed when facing a changing culture and how to deal with it. The people who could have helped lead through that were NOT allowed to, left and did it anyway.

[tag]Campus Crusade[/tag], [tag]Young Life[/tag], [tag]Youth Specialties[/tag], FCA, YFC, and others can point to a date in the 60’s when they started. Coincidence? I think not.

Over the years, the “youth pastor” came into position on most church staffs and there has been a resurgence of sorts in reaching the student culture (not without its mishaps).

But I think we are at another crossroads of sorts in student ministry. This generation is facing the same issues but in a much more intense, aggressive, combative, pluralistic context. I’ve posted on this before but this generation tends to value…

global issues over national issues,
community over isolation,
authenticity over polish,
interaction over performance,
risk over caution,
questions more than answers (thanks Marko at Youth Specialties),
experiential over observation,
impact over incubation.

Here’s the rub, VOLUME 1
Each value statement stands in conflict with how we’ve done student ministry over the last 50 years. Most of us are hired to run polished, high performance, event driven, right answer, isolation from adult world, “safe” kinds of ministry. We don’t want to release students for impact because they’re young and need time to “incubate” before they can serve.

  • In what ways does youth ministry need to change?

Create a student ministry environment where these values can be embraced and then start reproducing other spiritual leaders to do the same.

Here’s the rub, VOLUME 2
That’s probably going to mean a relational, small group kind of ministry. Most churches (potentially) have 2 huge obstacles at this point.

Obstacle 1: Slow return on investment. Relational-driven is more work and less to show…at first. It’s possible to fill the calendar and do all the events – and that’s work, but it’s nothing compared to putting teenagers in church of life groups/small group bible study. You have so much relationally intensive work, groundwork, and training/discipleship to do. There is more work in protecting and guarding that kind of vision, casting that kind of vision so that the entire body gets what we’re doing. It’s intensive, up-close, slow work.

Obstacle 2: New Wine/Old Wineskin. I’ve got a buddy who was asked to resign because his bosses didn’t feel like they “were on the same page.” Allow me to translate, they have this new building and about to build another and they want it filled. It’s not about releasing student leaders to impact their campus, it’s about building buildings and filling them. It’s understandable on one hand – spent millions of dollars on a new building, want to get the most out of it.

The problem is it completely stands in conflict with the values of this generation of students. A church that spends millions of dollars on a building is offensive to a mid-20 year old and younger who thinks more should be done about the AIDS problem in Africa.

“Let me get this straight – we NEED a 35 million dollar building when the one we have is fine and thousands are dying in Africa because they can’t get clean water?”

And I say this directly to hired, paid student workers – know your role. If you are the hireling to implement the plan of your senior leaders – then that’s what you are and do it. If they completely disagree with how you’re doing things, either change or find another job, but don’t split the church so that you can be “right.”

Do your deal, follow Jesus, create this environment in the student ministry IF YOU CAN. If you can’t – shut up and leave and find a place where you can if it’s that important to you.

As much as I believe this is how to do ministry, splitting a church does more damage than good. Both the new wine and the old wineskin is ruined.

And for some reason, Jesus saw value in preserving both. So should we.

  • Grant English is a dad, youth pastor and “distracted tour guide” for the spiritually misfit. Find out more about him, his family and his ministry at the G sides.

[Read previous authors and posts in this series, “Issues in youth ministry.”]

[tags]Grant English[/tags]

Posted on November 26, 2006

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