An enjoyable part of working within the #youthmin world is connecting with other youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners from across the globe. For a number of years I’ve been following a guy called James in the UK. He regularly blogs about youth work and ministry from a British perspective. I often find his posts helpful, and it really is just him vomiting his thoughts onto the page (or screen as it may be).
As it happens, James and I are reading the same book at the same time. Andrew Root’s latest work, “Faith Formation In A Secular Age: Responding To The Church’s Obsession With Youthfulness”. Yesterday, James had a few reflections on the beginnings of the book and I found it useful to engage with. You can read it here. In this post I’d simply like to engage with what he has written and add my two cents too.
Basically, James asks the question, after reading a chapter or two of the book, “Has the church embraced youthfulness – but given up on young people?”
James then outlines a few thoughts on how the church in the UK has been focussed on young people, and a lot of the time only young people, perhaps to the neglect of other generations. But, one of the key lines in this reflection from James is, “…I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.”
This is a key comment.
It is a key issue the church battles with today, and one that youth pastors and other church leaders know, feel, write about, and talk about a lot.
The first part of Andrew Root’s book is a fascinating look into the rise of youth culture in society, particularly American culture, and the effect this has had on our thinking. His contention, better argued than I will articulate here, is that the West, since the 1960’s, has had an obsession with ‘youth’, which filters into everything we see around us. So much so that whenever we think of something to do with ‘youth’ we believe it is authentic and cool. That which is authentic is generally that which is young, yip, and youthful.
In our churches we’ve seen this occur over the last 40-50 years through the strong rise in the youth ministry movement. Prior to the 1960’s, and the beginnings of student and youth orientated para-church organisations, the sole youth pastor within a local church community was not even a thing. Now, almost every church’s second staff appointment would be a youth pastor. To look after the ‘young people’ of course.
Furthermore, there has been a sharp rise in considering ‘youthfulness’ as being the epitome of church and church life. For a church to be authentic, happening, and growing, it needs to have the vibe that it is young, cool, and hip. When you look around Christendom currently, this sort of vibe is especially evident.
James talks about how many of the youth workers and pastors in his region have been given the flick because of financial restraints and the like. He talks about the decrease in specialist youth workers in his region regularly, it seems to be a major concern.
But this got me thinking about how many churches I know who have full-time youth and young adult pastors. Generally, it is only the ones who are large, perhaps with a Sunday morning attendance of 250+, that can afford such an expense. I am also aware that there are plenty of smaller churches who seek to employ a youth pastor (or similar) but can only afford to days per week at the most.
My questions is, is the church of the future willing to work together in order to pay someone a full-time wage but have their youth work cross local church boundaries?
In other words, would two or three smaller churches in a particular area be willing to pay for one person to cover youth ministry in their region?
I think this would be an interesting experiment for local churches to grapple with.
This would provide someone with full employment, paid through two or more churches, while giving broader scope for the churches than their own little patch. Some might call it kingdom thinking I suppose.
And this links back to the key comment James was making when he said, “…I imagine that in the UK the drive to attract young people has less to do with authenticity, and more to do with survival.”
Rather than actually think about survival (which I understand is a massive issue when the finances are barely paying the overheads), wouldn’t it be better to think more strategically and out-of-the-box in regard to youth ministry? When we’re solely thinking in terms of survival, looking to ‘attract young people’, then we’ve lost the plot.
What we need is a vision that understands the realities of what it is to work in faith-based youth ministry, but have that aligned with a larger vision of God being at work through his people, the Church. And, along the way it would be worth experimenting and working together with other churches for the spread of the gospel and work of his kingdom.