I spent some time this afternoon thinking about our youth ministry programming over the past year. I had read this blog entitled “Do you keep pushing youth ministry buttons that don’t work?” and it got me thinking about our youth ministry program.
Having been one of Kenda Creasy Dean’s students at Princeton Theological Seminary, one question that will forever be stuck in the back of my mind when planning youth ministry programming is “What is the theological foundation for _______?” Before going to seminary, I probably planned a bunch of stuff with my previous youth group for no real good reason. It may have been because I just thought there were certain activities I “had” to do at youth group. Or maybe there were just things that we’d always done that I needed to keep doing. But I didn’t really think very theologically about what I was doing.
So, whether it’s a blessing or a curse, now that question is forever with me. And that’s very much the focus behind the post I read on Rethinking Youth Ministry today. Are you doing things in youth ministry “just because?” Are you planning events that don’t have any theological basis or don’t connect to your vision or mission?
So I did what the article suggested and made a list of all the activities in the past year. Luckily, our church spent about a year coming up with our Core Values Statement, so we do have something that all ministries in our church can measure their programming up against. Our Core Values Statement is, “Centered in Jesus Christ, we grow in faith, celebrate community, and serve others with love.” After going through our activities and seeing which part of the Core Values they were accomplishing, I found out that 13 activities were about celebrating community, 6 were about growing in faith and 3 were about serving others with love. (Now, it might help to explain that an “activity” could have been a one time event like a mission trip, or it could have been a regular weekly activity like Sunday School or youth group).
I’m not really sure how I feel about those numbers. But I’m guessing that they reflect a pretty average breakdown for many churches today. Our church’s youth programming relies heavily on fellowship activities: events or gatherings that are fun, focused on community building and just about getting these kids together. Now, that’s not inherently a bad thing. There is certainly theological support for building community and creating safe places for youth to gather together and feel free to truly be themselves.
But is that really where the focus should be? Or should our primary goal in youth ministry to be getting youth to be in service to others and the world, and to help them develop and grow their faith? Now, I know it isn’t quite fair to completely separate these things. Clearly, youth missions are very important for many people because it is a chance for youth to serve others, and so often their faith is also grown at the same time.
What do you think about your youth ministry? If you were to do a breakdown of your activities, how would it end up looking? Would you be happy with the results? Do you feel like you’re focusing on the right areas?