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June 23, 2005



You are moving in the direction of my own intuitions about youth ministry (and, by extension, ministry in the church as a whole). Two thoughts which (hopefully) might extend the conversation:

First, the church youth group (up through high school) in the parish where I first became a Christian was pretty mediocre. I was baptised at age 16, started out great guns, and by the time I was 18 or so I wanted to chuck it all and move on to something more sophisticated. What happened to change that was that I became a member of a college-age group at church that challenged me personally and also questioned the culture around me. At that same time, I became involved in an InterVarsity group at university, which also challenged me to grow in my spiritual practices, as well as intellectually. I suppose in some way I owe these two groups my life, as I would not be who I am today without them. They respected me enough as a person to engage me and to challenge me. They were not afraid to interact with me or ask hard questions or lead me somewhere new (with the inevitable give-and-take that such leading involves). They also cared deeply about me, and were willing to tell the truth, even when that was hard. They gave me something solid, and worth wrestling with. So you can see which side I weigh in on, based on my experience.

My second thought is this: a few members of those groups found it difficult to find their places in the church following these formative experiences, because they seemed to speak a different language and operate at a different level of intensity than the other adult members, who had been formed in more traditional ways. All of which is to say that when we look at youth ministry -- or baptismal formation -- there can sometimes be a disconnect between more intentional, challenging, holistic means of formation and the larger body that we are ingrafting these people into. And I don't have a simple answer for how to redress this tension, although it seems important to do so.



Wow, there's a lot of different threads of thought in there... I'll try and comment on some of them.

I think one of the reasons that churches want to entertain rather than disciple, is because leaders are mostly pretty insecure about what they believe themselves. Most youth leaders are not theologically trained, even a tiny bit... normally the qualification is "you're an 'older youth'" or "you're a parent of someone in the youthgroup".

Even those who are "trained youth workers" are not necessarily theologically trained... most of the qualifications would be suitable for use in a non-church group too.

We don't want to teach our kids too much deep theology because they will rock the boat. Teach them too much, and they will be equipped to challenge the system, and, secretly, we all believe the system is flawed. This is probably more rife in the types of churches that aren't very flexible doctrinally. There's a whole underlying theology in a lot of our more evangelical churches that we don't really like, and don't really want to tell the kids about in case they don't like it, because they're "not grown up enough to just accept it."

Like PSA, or maybe Unconditional Election or whatever. None of us really like it, and so we don't like talking about it. And for those of us who disagree with it properly, rather than accepting it, there's always a danger of annoying the boss.

On the secular/ Christian divide, I only ever hear it brought u[p in a derogitary way. Steve makes some interesting observations here about this... the seeming demonising of "secular activities" by church folk. A lot of leaders will whine about how noone comes to the 25 weekly prayer meetings, and part of me thinks "yeah, we have a life." It is frowned upon to be on the pub quiz team, or to do badminton twice a week, or to learn T'ai Chi, or do anything that isn't a church activity.

And so the people who want to have a life outside church will keep it a little quiet. They won't talk about it unless they're asked, because they don't want to feel everyone's looking down on them for being "of the world" or whatever.

And I think that is why we have this barrier between secular and sacred. It is implicitly taught to us that we should spend all our time in the church. Which is remarkably silly, given that we are supposed to be very much "in the world", but there you go.

I'd love to see our young people really grappling with theology, but I think there would be a lot of frowns if they grappled "too much." People need to be able to grapple without feeling condemned. If you ask a lot of leaders a difficult question, you will likely get a pre-packaged answer and a few proof-texts to boot. If you are still not sure, you're seen to be a trouble maker, and a bit of a wayward, dodgey Christian.


Good post, I hear your concerns and share some of your grievances. I have a youth group that can barely read or write and who all fail at school, so trying to teach them anything is a nightmare. I'd be interested to gather more of your thoughts on the subject.


Great post Andy I resonate with it a lot.
A couple of thoughts spring to mind.
(1) I'm only too aware of the limits of my influence on the young people in my "care". I see some of them for 2 perhaps 3 hours a week, others less. So I'm all for helping parents and others (including the young people themselves) in the believing community be empowered and encouraged to disciple their young people, help young people narrate their lives theologically. The problem with this is that these are the very people who just want an entertainer who will "keep" their kids by putting on lots of stuff for them. The other issue is how many youth workers get the opportunity to input into the "adult programme", thus start this process?
(2) the other problem is that church leaderships don't seem to see the incompatibility of bringing kids up on a "lets entertain you" format but keep "church" as lets bore you to death!
Change is needed on “both sides” and trial blazers are needed who are strong enough to hold out for what’s good / right and not just what’s popular.

andy goodliff

Thanks for all the great comments - I'll jump back into conversation at this point.

Most of us have recognised that the tension between youth work and the wider church and how they go hand in hand. Brodie, I'm in the fortunate position where I can input into leadership (they let me come on their away-day!) and I think I'm a valued contributer, although that does not mean I get everything I want my way. Its a step by step process.

Sven - you're comment about young people who struggle academically is one I"m hearing loud and clear. I'm an unashamed academic, who enjoys theological debate, and so often I can be too high-level (its just I think others are often too low-level!). I think its important to develop practices, rather than theology theory. As I train as an RE teacher the questions of how you differentiate and teach young people who struggle with the basics of reading and writing frequently come up. So I'm beginning to think what impact that has on youth work. A question are we interested in young people's spiritual development or a more wholistic development?

Ash - I want to say that for the christian there is no sacred/seculare divide. The Christian sees the world in terms on new creation and old creation - bi-focally. The Christian is 'in christ' and so not 'in adam'. As Stanley Hauerwas says, I don't particularly care where young people go and what they do, as long as they go as Christians (so Col 3:17).

Brodie - I hear you in terms of lack of time we spend with them, that's why its important that time is not spent entertaining but discipling! I also want to say that discipleship does not = no fun. I'm just aware that I often have great "banter" relationships with young people, but that's all it is, it does not go beyond that. What about young people as apprentices, who we are teaching the craft of christianity, which includes homework and parent consultations!!!!!


Yeah, liking the post and discussion!
This line is where I'm thinking about stuff: "Most of us have recognised that the tension between youth work and the wider church and how they go hand in hand". If youth suff is really going to work we have to drag the church with us somehow. Or to put it the other way - make youthwork more church (avoiding becoming "churchy" in the trad. sense)

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