Are priests killing the church?

Crap

Snark MeterHIGH.001

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 And let’s be honest, many clergy follow outdated ministry models that have been statistically proven to harm future attendance.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

 

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Youth Ministry after “Cool Church”: Sample Youth Teaching on Genesis 1 & 2

Youth leaders always want to know what theory looks like in practice. Here is an example of one component of a youth group meeting: the teaching time…

Our church plant has a small youth group (usually about 25 students) with 6 very committed young adult volunteer leaders. They recently began a semester of working through the Old Testament.

For Genesis 1 and 2, instead of a sermon or video, the group was divided into two groups by gender. In one room the boy group read Genesis 1 together several times. In the other the girls read Genesis 2. Each group took notes and discussed what the text said and emphasized for the hearers. Then they outlined the chapter. The leaders gave guidance in the form of questions to take the students back to the text when they started reading into it. On a large poster board with colorful markers, each group drew a graphical/artistic representation of their chapter. Then they came back together and the students taught their chapter to the other group from their poster. Having students teaching one another engaged students in the learning process in a way that was wonderful. By the end, each group knew the contents of both chapters.

Then one of the leaders did a wrap-up to help students get the “big picture” and think theologically about their lives – a 7 minute mini-message on “Have you noticed that the first two verses of Genesis One say exactly the same thing your biology teacher taught you?” After reading Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, the leader gave a message that went like this:

Did you notice that both Christians, who think God is the author of life and truth, and scientists, who observe life, have the same version of what happened in the very beginning of the universe? Does that surprise you? More subtle though is the enormous difference between the two narratives. Science, not as a discipline but as an “ism” (called materialism) follows a very different narrative. BTW, We are not anti-science here, but materialism is a philosophy of life that what you see explains everything that is. When you know what materialism teaches you might choose to reject it.  For the materialist, time and chance explain everything. For the Christian, the hand of a loving Creator is the ultimate explanation. For the materialist, because they believe only in time and chance, all of life is an accident. For the materialist, you might be “unique,” but you are a unique accident.

On the other hand, for the Christian, all of life is a gift. Life was made on purpose, with a high and holy purpose. So, in the Christian narrative, you matter. What you do matters. What you don’t do matters. Everyone around you matters to God too.

Think of the difference the narrative you believe about your life makes: Can you see how what you do with your life gets shaped by the narrative you believe about who you are? What choices do you make with your life when life has no purpose? (Discussion)

How does it change your choices if you are absolutely convinced that you and everyone else was created on purpose, with a purpose? (Discussion)

If the materialist story is true, nothing you do matters. You don’t matter. If the Christian story is true then everything you do either spreads our Creator’s beauty and redeeming love or shuts it down.

Which narrative do you see being played out around you? What might life look like if everyone you know, new God’s love for them in Christ? You see, both the Christian and the materialist see the same events, they just interpret them differently.

Which narrative would you rather follow with your life? Thinking about what you said in our said in our discussion, why is it important that your friends know “the hope that is within you”?

As a result of the teaching time students left with the ability to tell us what Genesis 1 & 2 actually says…and what it doesn’t say. They learned something about exegesis: letting the text, rather than other’s ideas of the text speak. And more, they left with a powerful doctrine of Creation and can tell you why that doctrine is important. They went to small groups and prayed passionately that God would help them stay clear on who they are and whose they are…and that they would have boldness to share with their friends the Good News of God’s love in Christ-because of how desperately their friends need a different narrative on which to base their life.