A faith that will last: A call to ancient-future youth ministry

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It is values driven and data supported. It is life-changing and both church-sustained and church-sustaining.

Click the link then tell me what you think…

Building Faith That Will Last: January 5 Edition of The Living Church Magazine

Are priests killing the church?

Crap

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A response to Kate Murphy and Episcopal Café.

The average Episcopal Church has a Sunday worship attendance of 64 people.[1] With congregations that tiny, money is certainly a challenge. How can we maximize our meager resources for mission? Well, the most expensive line item in most church budgets is clergy. Our normative form of worship since the 1979 prayer book is the Eucharist, and that necessitates a priest.  A bargain basement full-time priest, with medical, retirement, office expenses & mission share, costs a church in the neighborhood of $80,000 per year. Think about the opportunity that presents: We can solve our financial limitations today! All we have to do is fire those expensive clergy. We could generate more than half a billion dollars per year for the work of the kingdom with this one simple solution![2] And besides being expensive, paid clergy are unscriptural. And let’s be honest, many clergy follow outdated ministry models that have been statistically proven to harm future attendance. What we need is to dump all of these clergy – they are millstones sinking our church’s future. It is time to ask the hard question: “Are priests killing the church?

Ridiculous? Obviously. We would never leave adults without a dedicated leader except in dire circumstance. And when that does happen expectations are lowered in a hurry. Not that a church cannot do better without clergy than with an ineffective clergy, we all know those exceptions. We also know that unled things don’t do well. Why then would we make that case for youth ministry?

Yet, this is precisely the theory making the rounds: that “youth ministry is killing the church.” According to the argument, youth ministry is expensive, unscriptural and unhelpful. This reappeared recently on Episcopal Café (goo.gl/TN9Q1A) in the form of a three-year old Christian Century post by Kate Murphy (goo.gl/9sJP0l). In defense of pastor Murphy’s article, I agree with the substance of it: segregating youth is a bad idea. I even have made the case that there might be data that seems to indicate that Rev. Murphy is right (goo.gl/gzXI5g). What I do not agree with the title of the article and the direction that conversation inevitably leads: “If age appropriate ghettoizing is bad, then ALL age appropriate grouping is bad, therefore we do not need to budget sacrificially for staff expertise to pass on the faith to young people.”

Lets take a look at the three common objections to youth ministry:

First, “a youth minister is expensive.” Yes. A youth minister is expensive. The issue, though, isn’t how much a youth minister costs, but do they present a good return on the church’s investment? Here is a case: I have a friend who made $85,000 a year as a youth pastor. Does that seem shockingly large? It might help to know that he built a program in his new church plant that started with him knocking on several thousand doors before their first service to 425 students per week. His big salary equated to $200 per year, per student. Compare that to a clergy salary of $60,000 per annum as the staff person for 150 parishioners (I am told the common church staffing pattern is a staff person for every 150-200 people in attendance). That means the average clergy person in the upper limit/most financially efficient scenario still has annual cost of $400 per parishioner. My friend cost 1/2 as much as an effective clergy. He was a bargain! Is your youth director giving a good return for the investment? Over time is the youth director growing the number of youth and the spiritual depth of the youth involved? That may sound mercenary, but it is a question that every organization, including the church, has to ask about every staff person.

The second argument is making the rounds in conservative circles: “youth ministry is unscriptural” (goo.gl/zgQVR5). This one is a bit of a face-palm. What Jesus did with the disciples was exactly what good youth ministry is supposed to do: A group of teen-agers with a mentor doing life together…hanging out around the fire discussing God, asking dumb questions, and being stirred with the ridiculous idea that God wants to use them to change the world. The twelve got three years of life-on-life youth ministry, also known as “discipleship.” The argument that a ministry involving large groups, small groups, and leadership development is without biblical precedence is, well, goofy.

The third argument is that youth ministry is “unhelpful” because segregating students from the adults drives them outside the church as grown ups. I make that argument myself in more than one blog post (see below). Segregation does not just fail to help students build an affiliation with the church, it also fails to give them a sense of being a member of Christ’s body engaged in God’s mission. But why stop with segregation, the status quo in youth ministry has many other issues: It is often alarmingly aligned with our culture. It often appears as if students are numbers to validate the leader’s ministry. Too often we truncate the Scriptures. Too often we are weak in our modeling of prayer, service to the world and evangelism. But none of that means that we should leave our young people unled. The answer to doing the wrong thing in the church is not to do nothing. It is to do the right thing. The idea that ineffective youth ministry models and ineffective youth ministers are a reason to eliminate youth ministry is akin to suggesting that because some priests are ineffective and follow ineffective ministry models we should eliminate priests.

The answer to doing ‘bad’ ministry with a group is not to do NO ministry with that group.

It is the idea that youth ministry should be “dumped” that is “unhelpful.” What might actually be helpful would be to note that none of the 100 fastest growing churches are contemplating getting rid of paid youth ministers or age-appropriate youth ministry (goo.gl/XPkH55). I understand financial realities in small churches. I lead a church plant. But to say that our children are not a staffing priority at the time in life when 8 out of 10 who make a decision to follow Christ are doing so is to hand them an invitation to the church down the street that will prioritize evangelism and discipleship to them (goo.gl/Tmofjt). Is it time to dump youth ministry? No way. Is it time to re-envision it? Absolutely. I may be a loud critic of the youth ministry status quo. But I really, with all that is within me, want people equipping parents, evangelizing the young, discipling students, and building the next generation of Christian leaders.

Don’t you?

The Rev. Matt Marino, Canon for Youth and Young Adults, Diocese of Arizona

Posts exploring a better way to do youth ministry…

Why are young people leaving the church?

Young Adults and the Church: Will the Mainline benefit from Evangelical Dissatisfaction?

David Kinnaman is wrong: How the church really lost the millennials & what we can do to keep the next generation. 

Is the way we are doing youth ministry emptying the church?

Tickled! (An article in The Living Church Magazine, Sept. 2013)

Life After “Cool Church”? A New Vision for Youth Ministry, Part 1.

Life After “Cool Church?” A New Vision for Youth Ministry, Part 2.

Memo to Senior Pastors: What to do about these Youth?

What’s so uncool about cool churches?


[2] Assuming the 6667 parishes and missions who filed 2012 parochial reports at $80,000 per church = $533,360,000

 

Is it time to dump youth ministry?

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Part of “You don’t seriously think…” a format for answering reader’s questions.

Brian commented with a critique of youth ministry made popular by Philip LeClerc and his movie “Divided.” I should say from the outset that Brian is not a reactionary. He is a thoughtful and articulate man in training for the pastorate who is passionate about creating lifelong Christians. I chose his critique specifically because it is a good example of the questions youth ministers increasingly have to answer about our purpose and practices…

Brian writes, “I appreciated your article, (“Cool Church“) but the big elephant in the room has not been addressed. Can we find anything in SCRIPTURE that supports YOUTH MINISTRY and YOUTH PASTORS? I know it is a big money-making business (Youth Curriculum etc), but when did this age segregation start? How did the puritans and reformers “do” church? It may surprise many of your readers that G. Stanley Hall and Darwin were the apostles of youth ministry. What ever happened to following the apostle Peter and the apostle Paul? Youth ministry? Maybe we should look at it again through the lens of Scripture.”

Hi Brian,

Yes, I have heard the argument that it is time to dump youth ministry. I would like to start with the financial motive critique: You do realize that someone is making a pretty good living pitching the idea that youth ministry is unbiblical, don’t you? I have never met a youth minister who can afford to make a movie, but I have known more than a few who became senior pastors as much to feed their families as out of a sense of divine call. No youth pastors are featured on “The Preachers of L.A.

Regular readers of The Gospel Side know that I am a vocal (some say rabid) critic of many common youth ministry practices. Often youth ministers have been trained in and uncritically embrace ministry models that create significant long-term problems when their students reach adulthood. That being said, what Jesus and the disciples were doing is exactly what youth ministry should do: A grouping of teen-agers with their mentor doing life together…hanging out around the fire discussing God, asking dumb questions, and being stirred with the ridiculous idea that God wants to use them to change the world. The twelve got three years of life-on-life youth ministry, also known as “discipleship.”

“what Jesus and the disciples were doing is exactly what youth ministry should do: A grouping of teen-agers with their mentor doing life together…hanging out around the fire discussing God, asking dumb questions, and being stirred with the ridiculous idea that God wants to use them to change the world.”

LeClerc’s assertion that the “G. Stanley Hall and Charles Darwin were the apostles of youth ministry” is just plain wrong. They weren’t. Jesus Christ himself hand-picked twelve young men to turn his work over to when he was gone. That model was imitated by Barnabas with Paul. And then by Paul with Timothy. They did have a higher bar than much of today’s youth ministry: Jesus’ idea of youth ministry was youth who DO ministry. He entered their world, then brought them along with him into his. He took them along on his significant moments – the transfiguration comes to mind. He taught them how to pray and expected them to stay awake and pray with him while he prayed. He sent them out on preaching and healing tours.

None of this is to say that youth ministry is without its problems. Much youth ministry is alarmingly aligned with our culture. Too many youth leaders seem overly concerned with being “cool.” Too many come across as fearful of rejection and terrified of growing up. And when we are driven by fears, we avoid inconvenient truth and fail to challenge students, producing malformed disciples. Youth ministry faces other problems as well: lack of integration with the larger church, truncated teaching of the Scriptures, weak modeling of prayer and serving and evangelism. Often we see students having very little sense of being part of the community – of being a member of Christ’s body engaged in God’s mission. All to often appear to view students as discrete receivers of individual salvation: A number to be counted, not for their benefit but to self-validate the leader’s ministries. But none of that means that we should leave young people unled.

So is youth ministry Scriptural? It is true we don’t have a job titled “youth minister.” But we don’t have one titled “music minister” either. No one is advocating we get rid of them. We don’t find “custodian” either, but none of us wants our church’s potties a mess. For that matter, they didn’t have toilets in the NT. Maybe we should save a few bucks on plumbing? Sorry to be snarky, but when we only do what Scripture explicitly states, we run into some real limitations.

In summary, the idea that youth ministry is unbiblical just does not hold water. Is it time to dump youth ministry? No way. Is it time to re-envision it? Absolutely. I am an irritating critic of the youth ministry status quo. But I really, with all that is within me, want people equipping parents, evangelizing the young, discipling students, and building the next generation of Christian leaders.

Don’t you?

 

Parent Privilege: The youth worker/parent relationship

Joel Joa and family at his baptism

Joel Joa and family at his baptism

Snark MeterrealMID.003The one thing I wish someone had helped me with when I was young in youth ministry: Relationships with parents. Like many young adults, I was a bit intimidated by parents. After all they had 10 to 20 years on me. In truth, I didn’t think about parents very often-mostly when one was upset because we didn’t return from an event on time. If someone had asked, I might have described the youth ministry as a sort of stand-alone program. But mostly no one did ask, as the rest of the church saw us as a stand-alone program as well. Our calendar was full and parents and their concerns were not really part of the classic youth ministry model. The disconnection from parents is even more pronounced if you are working in a parachurch organization, or if the student rather than the parent is the connecting point to the church.

Becoming a parent caused me to see through new eyes, though. For the first time I took seriously the scriptural call to the family to be the front line in the spiritual formation of children (Deut. 6, Ps. 78). It is parents who are tasked with the responsibility to “train up a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6). The Scriptures are supposed to be taught to our children in the home (Deut. 6) in order “that generations to come might know…and put their confidence in God” (Ps. 78:5-7). Youth ministry does NOT exist to replace parents. Or be smarter, cooler or more spiritual than them either. Youth ministry exists to come alongside of parents in their God-given role in the spiritual formation of children. This is true whether the parent is a follower of Christ or not.

Here are four things I wish someone had told me to do:

1. Pray for parents: Learn parent’s names. Keep a list and pray for them weekly.

2. Connect with parents: Meet a parent a week for coffee. Let them know that you support them. There are three things that I would love to hear from my kid’s youth leader: 1. “Your children are the most important thing in the world to you, and I want you to know that I take this responsibility and your trust seriously.” 2. “You have a great kid! I really appreciate______ about them.”  3. “It must be fantastic to be a parent on a good day and nearly impossible on a bad one. How can I pray for you?”

3. Resource parents: This one might take a bit of budget and involve other folks on the church staff-which is a good thing.

  • Ask your parents what sort of help would be “helpful” help.
  • See if there is a seminar or class they are interested in that your church could host.
  • Let them know what you are teaching and doing in the youth program. A monthly email might be a good way to do this.
  • Read a couple of parenting magazines and include “tips from experts” in your email. (But make sure the “tips” are not manipulatively aimed at something a particular parent is doing that you are frustrated with.)

4. Support parents: Adolescence is a time when kids are distancing themselves from their ‘rents. This is a developmental necessity. However, if a teen’s only alternative sources of relationships and information are their peers and the media, our young people will be in real trouble. That is why one core task of a youthworker is to be the trusted Christian adult who will say what the parents say but simply not be the parent when they say it. When you earn the right to be heard, use part of that capital to help kids understand where their parents are coming from. Our job is to not to replace parents, but to point their kids to Christ and be a dependable adult Christian leader in their life.

Someday you will most likely have kids. Be the leader you would want someone to be for your children. You can choose to see parents as a pain. Or you can choose to see them as a privilege. Parents are neither a curse nor a necessary evil: They are God’s means to bless their kids…and you too, if you cultivate your relationship with them.

Blessings to you, fellow youth workers, as you seek to impact not just students but partner with their entire family for the extension of God’s Kingdom.

Matt+

Tickled!

Imagine my surprise to find out that my article made the cover of one of my two favorite magazines! If you haven’t read The Living Church it is chock full of interesting and deep stuff. The article is information-rich and offers another view on the young adult exodus from the church not common in the literature. The narrative didn’t make it through the editorial process, so it could be more entertaining, but the ideas have challenged my views and ministry practices.

(FYI, my other favorites are The Atlantic,  This Old Boat and the new Immerse Journal.)Surprise.001

 

http://www.scribd.com/doc/164325436/Renewing-Youth

Liturgy, when artfully done, is powerful and engages young people.

Many people write and say, “I hear you talk about liturgy, but that can’t possibly work with young people.” Here is the 45 second promo video for students to use to invite their friends to camp next summer. We are advertising the three things Christian camping is all about: fun, friends, and God. I am posting it for the last 10 seconds when you can briefly see that liturgy, when artfully done and culturally contextualized, is powerful enough for the young adults who make the video to say “that has to be in.” Lots of camp experiences don’t make the cut. What does make the cut tells you what is important to the 20-22 yr olds making the video.

If you look closely, the video, shot from this summer’s footage, you can see great camp fun, our gifted and godly young leaders, some first-rate proclaimers of the Gospel and a few of the many ways for kids to experience God, from the ancient to modern. The music is just as diverse as the spiritual offerings: Hip Hop/Chant/Hillsong/Black Gospel/Spanish/Taize/Hymns.

Our goal is to raise up a faithful Christian generation that is leading the church and changing the world.

A couple of things about our camp:

1. Our program is a combination of Young Life style energy with a strong emphasis on community building and contemplative and liturgical space all built around a framework of daily immersion in the Bible.

2. About 2/3 of our counselors were teenage converts, the other 1/3 grew up in the church. More than half are non-Anglo.

3. Over the last six years, every youth pastor who has brought students has said, “This wasn’t just the most powerful experience of God my students have ever had, it’s the most powerful experience of God <strong>I</strong> have ever had!

4. We know this works, because I am a numbers geek. We gather data and chart longitudinally on all of the 15 or so different spiritual experiences students engage in during the week.

We are very excited about the way we have blended the best of ancient and modern, catholic worship and protestant theology, fun and depth, community and individual experience. After 30 years of youth ministry and more than 30,000 campers I can honestly say that this is the most unique thing I have seen in camping.

btw, If you are interested in bringing students or observing, contact me.