I attended seminars on lectio divina, body prayer, the stations of the cross, praying with art, creative reading of scripture, creative worship, etc. and I experienced some of the most intensely intimate and meaningful moments of personal prayer and worship that I have ever experienced. In learning about these Christian practices, old and new, I began to wonder if most youth ministries simply didn't get it.
Looking around the exhibit hall and listening to most of the speakers, I got the feeling that - for most youth pastors - youth ministry is an exercise in creating a Christian alternative to almost every "secular" reality imaginable - from music to food, from video games to clothing. Even more, I began to realize that the most common ways of doing youth ministry aren't really all that good at creating obedient disciples of Christ.
What's more, youth ministries (and churches) have a bad habit of trying to do way too many things at once. Combine all these factors and, most of the time, the end result of many (if not most) youth work is a program-laden pseudo ministry of little substance run by thoroughly burned out youth ministers and volunteers.
Over the past few years, I have had the unique opportunity to serve in many different church contexts in a variety of roles and my own youth ministry experience coupled with my feelings above have me toying with the idea of cultivating a "minimalist" outlook in youth ministry. In my experience, churches and ministries are most effective when they are able to do one or two things with real passion, care and effectiveness.
In my own ministry, this is fleshed out by the fact that the primary work of our youth ministry can be summarized as follows: eat, play, read and pray.
The only "program" that exists in our youth ministry is a Sunday night meeting in which we eat, play, read and pray together. That's it. Of course, there is preparation that goes into this meeting and, of course, we "mix it up" from time to time. But, in the end, this is really what the regular youth ministry of our church looks like. But in our local setting our goals are very, very simple: eat together, play together, and creatively read scripture and pray together.
I have yet to find another way of doing youth ministry that is more effective at helping young people to grow into disciples of Jesus Christ. In many ways, I think so much of what passes for youth "ministry" in our American culture ends up simply making young people more busy than they would be if we weren't around. What's more, I think that the way youth ministry is done in our culture places very little faith in God's ability to speak to young people through prayer and through the Scriptures. In a very real way, youth ministry in our culture is quite "faith-less" because it assumes that personal and communal prayer and scripture reading isn't enough. If I can get young people to spend a few hours each week engaging creatively in individual and communal reading of scripture and prayer then I feel like I'm doing what God has called me to do.
What about evangelism? What about service? What about social justice? Of course we engage in these vital practices of the church - but only after we've eaten, played, read and prayed together. Maybe I'm naive, but I really do believe that these activities are truly the church's best hope for creating disciples of Christ who not only know what it means to be a Christian but who are willing to follow Christ with their lives.
What do you think? What's missing here? I'd love to hear from you!