What makes youth ministry, ministry?

H/T to John for being a great dad and spending time with his daughter and sharing with us her perspective on youth ministry.

Having spent nearly 10 years in youth ministry full-time, I often feel regrets that I didn't do enough. There was (and still is) a lot of pressure on youth ministers to be the guru / expert / superstar / show-off / almost-messiah like leader of teens. But who does that come from? Not usually from teenagers, at least not those who are living real life and who are figuring out that being a teen is a crash course on the rest of life.

As the lead pastor for a church launch, I get the "opportunity" to set the tone for a whole church, including the youth ministry. I have the opportunity to reflect on my experience but also question what we did and what we will be doing in a new church.

I've found the readings at RETHINKING YOUTH MINISTRY to be refreshing. I've also run across some good thoughts at Youth Specialties (though they are also quite the "big box store" version of youth ministry too). But today I found there an article written by Mike Yaconelli where Mike writes the following...

Youth ministry is a good idea. But there's a better idea...

Youth group is good.

But there's a better good.

It's called church.

Not youth church, or contemporary church, or postmodern church. Just plain, boring, ordinary church. Yes, that's right. Church. The place where people who don't know each other get to know each other; where people who normally don't associate with each other, associate; where people who are different learn how to be one.

Mostly, church is the place where we can grow old together. And it turns out that growing old together is still the best way to bring lasting results with students. Growing old together is where we teach (and learn from) each other what discipleship means in the everyday world.
(Click for full article)

If teens aren't butting up against conflict and issues of life, how can we call it ministry? If they aren't dealing with adults and being given the opportunity to fail and experience grace, how can it be ministry? Is it about the number at UMYF, the Edge, Oasis, Harbor, Impact, Zone, (insert cool hip name)? Is it cell groups, youth bands, mission trips, retreats, DNow? What makes youth ministry, ministry?

What I guess I'm really asking is what makes church, church? Because if those confirmed, convicted, transformed and baptized young people aren't involved in the life of the church, are we really the Church?

I am still wrestling with this and I imagine I will be for some time. It isn't just that I want to see a youth ministry at Nexus UMC, I want to see teenage Jesus-followers and disciples at Nexus UMC.


May I Ask: How are teens INVOLVED in your church or organization?

May I Suggest: Inquire about teenager involvement with leaders. If they aren't involved, advocate for some teen input and support the teenagers involved.

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