Thursday, April 12, 2012

Youth Ministry Smack Down!

I am no longer a youth pastor.  I am just an old guy with some opinions. I think there are some issues that need to addressed in a ministry that I love so much.  So take this for what it is worth...


On Tuesday of this week the following post- Don't Look Behind the Curtain (since taken down by Mark) appeared on the blog of my Twitter follower Mark Ashby.  Much of what follows makes more sense if you read his post first.  Mark is not someone I know outside of the Internet.  I enjoy reading his blog.  I follow his tweets.  He wrote a guest post for this blog for my Encounters With God series last Spring.  I find him to be a fine fellow and a dedicated youth worker.  So when he tweeted to a number of youth ministry folk (and apparently a few old geezers, because I got one) that he had a new blog post about student ministry, I went to check it out.  I was not alone.  And the resulting tumult has had me wanting to respond to a few things.  So today the old man speaks out...


There are really 2 parts of Mark's post I want to focus on.  The first concerns his calling out of Youth Specialties and in particular its most prominent faces, Mark Matlock and Doug Fields.  If you know me at all, then you know the impact that YS had on my ministry.  You also know that I have been away from student ministry for over 5 years now.  I still love the ministry and I still love youth pastors, but I am no longer an insider.  The YS that I knew and loved- the YS of Wayne, Yac, Tic and Marko- is gone.  Whether or not this new version of my old favorite is abandoning its support of youth pastors, as Mark Ashby's post claims, I do not know.  I do not know Mark Matlock at all, and only heard him speak once.  But I do know this- Doug Fields and Jim Burns, two of the names mentioned in his post, are people who changed the face of youth ministry for many of us old timers.  In fact, without Jim's Advanced Youth Ministry seminar at the 1982 NYWC and Doug's Purpose Driven Youth Ministry book, my ministry would have turned out to be a very different beast.  And in the comments of M.A.'s post there is a resounding endorsement of Mark Matlock from Jim Hancock, a veteran youth worker for whom I have the utmost respect.  I guess my bottom line is that I see nothing to be gained by calling out people who for so long have been so committed to the worldwide youth ministry family.  Question them?  Fine.  But Mark wrote with such passion and frustration that it came across as personal anger, and that is regrettable.  Partly because I know these men have hearts for God and for students, and partly because it detracts from where I think the real smack down belongs.


Mark is upset that the new YS seems to promote a Family Ministry model over traditional models of youth ministry.  Again, I do not know if this accurate.  But here is what I do know.  Over the past 5 years I have seen a number of churches in my area reorganize their student ministries so that there is less focus on separate events for youth and more focus on family time.  It has become fashionable to say that youth ministry as I knew it was a failed experiment, because so many students would leave the church when their youth group days were done.  It is in vogue to say that too much of youth ministry revolved around "fellowship and other unimportant things" (their words, not mine!).  There is much more emphasis now on theology (which can be good) and much less emphasis on being the Acts 2:42 church (which is NOT!).  I have read in several places talk of ministry to students having "turned a corner" in the past decade.  All of this may be true.  But let me tell you what I see, not only as someone with 28 years of experience as a youth pastor, but as the father of a 16 year old.  I see churches turning to "family ministry" at a time when the family is often a disaster.  I cannot- CANNOT- imagine how we plan to reach the lost and hurting students in our world if we are counting on their families for help. Their families are often the problem!  I see churches moving the primary youth program away from Sunday (when kids actually have some free time) to Wednesday nights to give families more time together.  Guess what?  The kids who need youth groups the most are not home on Sunday nights playing Monopoly with the fam.  They need us to be there for them!  I see churches cutting youth ministry staff to save money, and turning programs over to pastoral staff who neither understand nor love teenagers.  I see more and more ministry that is blind to the needs of unchurched (a politically incorrect phrase these days I am sure) youth and focused on pleasing "church families."  The pizza parties, fun trips and crazy events that have become the Darth Vaders of youth ministry in the last few years were often the portals through which students in the community entered the church.  We have closed those doors in many places.  And despite all of these "corrections" in the models of youth ministry that I knew, students are still leaving the church in droves when they graduate high school.  All of these things make me go hmmm...  Maybe it wasn't a failure of youth ministry to prepare students for life in the church- maybe it is the "adult church" that is failing to keep them.


Every day- every single day- I hear from former students living all over the country who tell me how important our youth ministries were in making them the people they are today.  I hear stories of them returning to their faith because of experiences 20 years ago. They want to have reunions.  None of that is because of my talent as a youth pastor.  It is because the basic original idea of student ministry - loving kids in the name of Jesus and teaching them how to love one another in His name- WORKS!!!  It is not about models of ministry, or whose books we buy, or which of the 10,000 YM conventions we go to.  It is now, and always has been, all about Jesus!  So if Mark's post makes us all go a little medieval on each other and gets us to talk about the "Battle of the Corporate Stars" currently taking place in youth work, then I say thanks.  Next time leave our heroes out of it.  But it is a discussion we need to have.  Blessings to all!


Because of Jesus,



11 comments:

  1. Anonymous4/12/2012

    PREACH!!!!!

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  2. Dude my whole thing is why do we have to throw the baby out with the bath water? If you want your kid to have family time, fine have family time but don't penalize the kids that don't come from the most ideal family situation. Furthermore, it's these same parents that have no problem digging into family time for sports, gymnastics, girl scouts/boy scouts, drama, and any other manner of activity but Youth Group is a no go? I don't get it.

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    1. Great points, Jen. And you are so right about youth group gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list by many of the same parents clamoring for more family time. I don't get it either! Thanks so much, oh great bob!

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  3. Carl, Thank you for writing this. It was way more eloquent than I EVER could have written. I have deleted the post because of all the back lash and the verbal assaults that I took on calling people out. I basically was a talking head and got nothing accomplished. I thank you for writing this and saying what I tried to say. I have a lot of maturation to go through and a long way to get there.

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  4. I am glad this in some way represented what you were trying to say, Mark. I was afraid people would miss you valid concerns by never seeing past the names you mentioned. Blessings to you and your ministry!

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  5. I wrote an apology letter to them both and wrote an apolgy blog about it. Go to www.markashbyblog.com and check it out. I think it better gets what I was trying to say.

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  6. youth today want laughs and answers to tough questions our free SPREAD THE WORD TALK WITH THE LORD program inspires daily talks catch they need your help with first question our blog helps g hubbard po box 2232 ponte vedra fl 32004 http://talkwiththelord.blogspot.com/

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  7. Being a teacher and a youth leader of a small church that has had it's knocks, I probably have a unique perspective. What I expressed over at Mark's blog, I will say again here. Some kids need to repair a family relationship and more family time might do that. Others need to know Jesus loves them and family time won't do that. Know your youth and go from there. If you don't know your youth, then you will never accomplish everything that is possible.

    It may not be easy with larger groups, but this year I have taught about 360 students. If you asked me about any of them, I could tell you where they are spiritually and what their family is like. Does that make me special and some kind of Super Amazing Youth Leader Teacher Hero? No. I'm just saying a little knowledge goes a long way and even in large groups that is possible.

    I could be way off and totally misrepresenting teacher and youth leaders both. I hope not. Sorry if I am.

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  8. I think you are dead on, Andrea. I have said it before and I will say it again, when it comes to ministry RELATIONSHIPS are job #1. Thanks for the reminder!

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  9. Hello, I have been working in youth ministry (primarily with Jr. Highers) for about 27 years. I started doing this when I was 20 years old, so you can do the math and you'll see that I am getting old. I still have a strong call to work with these students and work as a small group leader of Jr.High boys. It took many years of doing this to learn, but as Andrea and CJ stated, it is about building relationships. If we are going to affect a student's life and help them grow closer to Christ, it's going to be in a close relationship. A real (kids can spot a fake a mile away) relationship in which they feel like they can share their thoughts and feelings with their leader; and sometimes the small group. Wayne Rice said, "Students gravitate toward the oldest person who takes them seriously". We as youth leaders need to remember this. We need to be real and we need to take the student(s) seriously. When we build this relationship with them, we can then teach them what they need to know for life, from the Bible primarily, but also our own experience as relates to right and wrong choices. Students will accept this teaching more readily from a youth worker/minister than from their own parents. When a student reaches 10 to 12 years old they begin to look to outside sources (other than parents) to help develop their own unique identity. This is why they will take another adult's advice over their own parent's advice/correction; even if the message is the same. This seeking of outside sources to develop their identity can last into their late teens and maybe even 20’s.
    It is “all about Jesus”! If we look to Jesus’ example, we will see that he used relationships built in a small group setting to disciple his followers. He then told us to “go make disciples”.
    All that being said, there is a place for youth ministries to be working with parents, and yes we should be encouraging families to spend time together, but I don’t think canceling what we have will necessarily foster that family time. I am a strong believer in having a good relationship with my students’ parents. That relationship really helps me minister to their son. I think that it is possible to bring more “family ministry” into what we already have, without throwing out the whole thing.
    Just my thoughts,
    DJM

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    1. As my many Quaker friends might say, "This friend speaks my mind." And by the way- I did the math and you are still not old! Not by my standards. Thanks for stopping by!

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