This isn't a youth ministry blog, per se, but over the years I have had the bulk of my ministry experiences within the crucible of children and youth ministries, working diligently to teach, exhort, rebuke, correct, and train children in the way of Jesus as revealed in the Bible. The work has always been tough, and also fun. It has been fun to be around the young, listening to their questions, playing their games, reading together and striving to understand the Scripture and what God might be saying. I've never felt called specifically to youth or children's ministry, but I have been incredibly blessed as I have pursued my calling among youth and children. I don't think you have to be called to those areas to be engaged in ministry in those areas; oftentimes our dismissals of these opportunities to be around children and youth have much more to do with our insecurities and our preferences than they do our abilities and our proclivities for guiding others in the way of the Kingdom. Many of my greatest insights have come in conversation with a teenager or a two year old. I've received more grace from the young than from any other segment of the church.
Over the years, I have noticed that one of the challenges currently facing children's and youth ministries is the lack of a common language for following Jesus, and thus the establishment of a commonly understood faith. Oftentimes our youth ministries are driven by a hype and happenstance, marketing married to therapeutic or avoidance strategies for common teenage ills. We speak to youth and children in terms of revolution, in order to stir zeal and build excitement about the faith. We legitimize this by saying that if we do not do this, then other cultural forces will, and the assumption is that we will then lose. We then speak to adults with well formulated principles that will help us live "good lives," which commonly reflects middle-class sensibilities, and the epitome of what might be called the American way of life. In one sector, we want people who will turn the world upside down. In another, we want people who will settle in as good Christians, be nice, etc. No wonder the young, who hang with us, feel as though they are aliens when they reach maturity. Classic bait and switch.
How might this be overcome? Is it possible to have a consistent, clear, and unified approach to being a disciple of Jesus that can transcend the categories of age?
Some of you reading this will reply that the answer here is undeniably yes. I'm working on a way to bring this to bear on our ministry. I'm exploring a way to talk about Kingdom and Christ and the Bible and the whole lot in a way that children and parents can talk to and with one another about their journeys as Christians, finding continuity and dreaming together of what a common vision might be as they live their life together as a small outpost of Kingdom living. Rather than fostering division and layering our discourse, I'm trying to imagine what it would be like for us to minister to parents and their children together, so that they might have common ground, while all the while recognizing developmental and life stage difficulties that will continue to keep them distinct.
Do you know of anyone who is doing this well?