Teaching the Bible in Confirmation Class

My congregation uses the wonderful Here We Stand confirmation ministry curriculum from Augsburg Fortress Publishers.  Though no curriculum is perfect, I like Here We Stand (HWS) because it is intelligent, engaging, and flexible.  I've used it with a large group of kids in a church that made great use of technology and enjoyed the silliness of the skits, and I've used it with a smaller group of learners in a church that had a much more traditional mode of teaching.  Yet HWS works for both.

I also like HWS because it is flexible.  Inevitably, many teachers – pastors and lay leaders alike – shape the lesson to include their own insights, experiences, or emphases.  Sometimes we do this to the benefit of the ministry, and other times to its detriment.  (My rule of thumb: trust the curriculum editors and writers – they're not perfect, but they're not dim-burning bulbs, either.  More on using curriculum, perhaps, in a future post.)  The core leader material is available as a downloadable .rtf document – completely editable.  Whenever I teach, I download the whole lesson and then edit away – cutting out what I don't want, keeping what I want, tweaking what I want to tweak.  It is marvelous.

One of the ways that I am editing the curriculum this year – besides my inevitable tweaking of the lessons that I'm assigned to teach – is that we are not going to go through the Bible portion of the curriculum in a straight forward, Old Testament to New Testament movement (as is suggested in their 2-year Scope and Sequence).  Instead, we will be reviewing Biblical content this year on a thematic basis, bouncing between Old Testament lessons, New Testament lessons, and Small Catechism lessons (which, of course, reflect Biblical themes and contain lots of Biblical content), hoping to show the unity of the Testaments in the process.  Our units are as follows:

  1. Introduction to the Bible (2 sessions)
  2. Creation and New Creation (4 sessions – 3 OT, 1 NT)
  3. Chosen by God, Promised by God (7 sessions – 3OT, 2NT, 2 SC)
  4. Way to Live (3 sessions – 1OT, 2 SC)
  5. Heroes of the Bible (12 sessions – 8OT, 4NT)
  6. Poetry of Faith (2 sessions – 1OT, 1 self-written lesson)
  7. Hope for the Future (1 session – 1NT)

To see which lessons we will use in each unit, download and view the Confirmation Calendar using the following link:
Download Confirmation Calendar.

After two weeks of introduction, my intention with the second and third units is to teach two broad and central Biblical themes that reach across the Testaments.  The following two units will help us reflect on the life of faith, especially through the diverse lives and experiences of various biblical heroes.  The Poetry of Faith unit is too short, but it will seek to connect the creative expression of faith in song and prayer with the creative juices of our young people.  We end with a hopeful look at the promise of the resurrection.  I hope my learners will see common themes connecting the Old and New Testaments, and come to view the Bible and our faith tradition as an integrated whole rather than as the sum of several distinct parts. 

Significantly, perhaps, our students will not directly study either the birth or crucifixion of our Lord.  I'm trusting that

  • our students will have learned these stories previously in worship and Sunday School;
  • they have reflected (or will reflect) on these stories in the Catechism year of our two-year Confirmation program; and
  • through their participation in the life of the church – it's liturgy and fellowship ministries – they are making meaning out of these stories.

Surely we could benefit from teaching the nativity and crucifixion stories, but there are other less familiar topics that I'd really like to address.  Even if the nativity or resurrection isn't the central lesson for a given lesson, my learners will have opportunity to reflect on these central stories through the topics that we'll cover in class and through participation in other ministry settings.

Also, the lesson outline is Old Testament heavy (16 OT, 8NT, 4SC, 3 "other").  I believe that our children (and our church, in general) are much more familiar with the New Testament than they are with the Old Testament, and that many view the Old Testament as if it were some sort of a wrathful bogeyman (many, quite unintentionally, fall into a Marcionite heresy).  My hope is, by teaching the Bible with a strong emphasis on the Old Testament, that our learners will see the whole Bible as an integrated book of faith showing us a way of life and giving us hope for the world.

Besides a Sunday School-style "Learning Faith" class during which these lessons are shared, our program also includes a Sunday evening "Living Faith" program.  The "Living Faith" portion of the ministry consists of of three units of five consecutive Sunday evenings (one unit each in the fall, winter, and spring) where learners will gain some experience in a hands-on, "Living Faith" activity – worship leadership in the fall unit, planning and executing a service project in the winter unit, and practicing spiritual disciplines in the spring unit.  More on the "Living Faith" unit, perhaps, in a future post.

Relational for a Reason?

My mind-bending immersion in the theology and practice of youth ministry took a wicked turn this morning.  To recap, on Thursday and Friday I was in a two-day course at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza on the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study.  This study identified 44 "faith assets" of congregations noted for nurturing mature faith in young people.  I was blown away by this study, impressed by its talk of the practices (assets) of exemplary youth ministry congregations.  I had some critiques, but overall I was extremely impressed.

But then I heard Andy Root, professor of youth ministry at Luther Seminary (and former neighbor and colleague of my wife's in Princeton Theological Seminary's PhD program) speak about "relational ministry."  In a 60-minute tour de force taking us on a tour of the history of Christian Education, youth ministry, Christian theology and the structure of family systems, Andy described how relationships in youth ministry had become means to an end of getting youth to do something – to come to church, to make moral decisions, to choose God.  Relationships in this old paradigm of relational youth ministry are functional, intended to get the youth to do something.  But no matter how commendable such goals might be, forming relationships for the purpose of getting somebody to do something is manipulative.  As Andy said, "you can't be in relationship with someone you're trying to fix."

Stop right there.  At this moment my head popped – the sound of a paradigm shifting (again – there's been lots of that happening this weekend).  Whereas on Thursday and Friday I was learning about the characteristics of youth ministry designed to nurture mature faith in the lives of young people, I heard from Andy that it is unethical to get into a relationship designed to influence the behavior of the other.  Ministry is not about influencing people to do X, Y or Z.  And though I'm not going to equate the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study's paradigm of ministry assets that nurture (influence?) faith in the lives of young people with Andy Root's critiques of relationships intended to influence people to do something, I suddenly felt a conflict between these two paradigms – if not a direct conflict, perhaps an indirect.  On the one hand is ministry whose goal is to achieve something in young people – mature faith.  On the other hand is ministry of relationships whose goal is to be with and be faithful to the other.

Relationships are not a means.  They are the beginning and the end and the ministry itself.  Ministry is not about getting kids to do something, but being with them wherever they are.

And so I asked Andy to finish this sentence: The goal of youth ministry is ______.  Andy's reply, "The goal of youth ministry is to encounter the action of God."

This was a one-hour workshop, and I'm not entirely sure how it all works.  But I'm fascinated and intrigued by a dramatically different paradigm than that which I saw earlier in the weekend.  In fact, some of what I heard from Andy today sounded much like the ministry of accompaniment model that some missionaries use, and like the ministry of companionship that I was trained in while serving as a resident hospital chaplain.

Next step: read Andy's book, Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a strategy of influence to a theology of incarnation.

I have a day and a half remaining here at the Extravaganza.  It'll be fine with me if I don't undergo any more paradigm shifts.  Two in one weekend is enough for me.

Paradigms and Theological Language of Youth Ministry

Argh.

I'm being challenged by what I've learned during a two-day course on the Exemplary Youth Ministry Study at the beginning of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza.  I've been bowled over by a new paradigm of youth ministry – from program-centered to formation-focused, from event-based to outcome-oriented (see yesterday's post).  This is a youth ministry model that begins by articulating what kind of outcomes it wants, what kind of faith it wants to form in young people.  It is a radically different approach to youth ministry than the "traditional" (or, if not traditional, the de facto) model of loading up with programs and hoping that kids have fun, get something out of it, or at least stay out of trouble.  Because of this wonderfully overwhelming experience, I'm loving this conference.  Indeed, the remainder of this conference could be lousy (but I'm sure it wont be) and it will still have been worthwhile.

However …

However, I find myself wresting with two theological issues that are embedded in this paradigm of youth ministry.  For one, the operative definition of "church" in this workshop had much more to do with faith formation than it did with Word and Sacrament.  Indeed, Word and Sacrament were discussed as essential parts of that process of faith formation.  But for a guy who has Article Seven of the Augsburg Confession ringing in his ears, it is hard to hear church defined in ways that don't explicitly or primarily name Word and Sacrament as central.

The church is the assembly of saints in which the gospel is taught purely and the sacraments are administered rightly.

– From Article Seven of the Augsburg Confession

Once we shift to defining church as the place of faith formation, we can speak of any place of faith formation as being "church."  "Families, homes are church," I heard at this workshop, and I've seen in Faith Inkubators materials and elsewhere.  Though I don't discount in any way the vocation of the family and the centrality of homelife in the process of faith formation, I do not view the home as a "church."  Why not?  There simply ain't no Word and Sacrament happening in the homes.  There's prayer, Bible reading, thanksgiving, admonition, comfort, forgiveness … there's lots of great faith-stuff that happens (or could happen) in the home.  But the home is not church.  The home has its own God's-blessed vocation of providing roof and food, love and nurture, and yes, Christian formation.  There's no need to saddle the home with the responsibilities and tasks of the church, too!

Church is different, it seems to me.  The primary calling of church is not to provide shelter or food or clothing or basic rearing.  Church is that unique gathering of God's people around Word and Sacrament, that broad community of people called in faith to be the Body of Christ, fed and nourished by God's promised presence in water, wine, bread and simple spoken words.  What I fear is that when we start speaking of the family or the home as church, its not too far a leap to ask, "Who needs the congregation?  We have church at home!"  The leaders of today's workshop went to some lengths to emphasize that the home does not trump the congregation.  But the language used surely can take us in that direction.

The other theological problem I'm wrestling with is this tendency to put descriptors before the word "faith."  Throughout this workshop we spoke of "mature faith," "vital faith," and "vibrant faith," among others.  I get nervous when we start putting adjectives before the word "faith,"
– whatever happened to faith alone? – for I fear that in so doing we put more stock in the adjective than we
do in the faith itself.  That is, if we're striving for a "vital" faith, we
risk devaluing someone's faith that might otherwise be sincere or
deeply-held simply because it lacks what we call "vitality."

Certainly, I know what they're talking about.  I have no interest in arguing against the importance of homelife in faith formation, or of denying that there is a certain level of "maturity" or "vitality" in the ways that some people practice their faith.  I accept their study findings and their proposals for ministry. 

But to use their findings and proposals I would need to use slightly differently language.  I would not refer to family as a "church," but would instead lift up the blessed and holy vocation of the family in its own right.  When speaking of faith I would avoid using adjectives to describe faith, but would instead describe ways that their faith take on flesh in Christian living, in patterns of Christian practice.  Such simple semantic changes might avoid some of the theological problems I noted above … but I need to put more thought into this.

I'm looking forward to continuing to learn in the next three days.  The learning next will be different – no intensive multi-day courses, but instead a series of workshops on everything from postmodernism to integrating community service into youth ministry; from the ELCA's ecology to understanding relational ministry.  It should be fun.

Youth Ministry: Producing Programs or Nurturing Faith?

Yesterday I wrote about some of the anxieties I was feeling in advance of the ELCA Youth Ministry Network Extravaganza.  I was bracing myself for the possibility that I would find at this conference a mess of bad theology and dangerous personality-driven ministry practices.  My fears were based on what I head experienced ten years ago, when I was working full-time in youth ministry.

Boy was I wrong.

Today I attended the first part of a two-day intensive course examining the Exemplary Youth Ministry (EYM) Study, a Lily-funded study that examined the ministry practices of churches that had nurtured a mature Christian faith in young people.  That is, rather than examine a youth ministry in terms of numbers – numbers of kids or numbers of events – this study looked at the practices of congregations which successfully help youth grow in faith and affirmatively claim their Christian identity.  Some of the nine qualities of this "mature Christian faith" in young people include:

  • seeks spiritual growth
  • practices faith
  • makes Christian faith a way of life
  • reaches out to others

Studying 131 congregations identified as nurturing mature faith in young people (from 7 denominations, of various sizes and demographics), the EYM articulated 44 "Faith Assets" that describe the ministries of these congregations.  The "Faith Assets" are organized into four parts: Congregational Faith and Qualities, Youth Ministry Qualities, Family/Household Faith, and Leadership.

Some of the 44 "Faith Assets" of congregations with exemplary youth ministries include:

  • Focus on Discipleship – the congregation is committed to knowing and following Jesus Christ.
  • Encourages Support Groups – the congregation engages members in study, conversation, and prayer about faith in daily life
  • Participate in the Congregation – youth are engaged in a wide spectrum of congregational relationships and practices
  • Develops Quality Relationships – youth ministry develops authentic relationships among youth and adults, establishing an environment of presence and life engagement
  • Promotes Family Faith Practices – parents engage youth and the whole family in conversations, prayer, bible reading, and service that nurture faith and life.
  • Mentors Faith Life – the youth minister assists adult leaders and youth in their faith life both one-on-one and in groups.

Well, you get the idea.  No mention of how many youth are involved, or how many monthly programs are offered.  Instead, the ministries of these congregations have an outcomes-based model that sets certain faith goals and then seeks to develop practices and programs that help achieve those goals.  There are no programs for the programs' sake.

For example: rather than have a Sunday School program because "churches always have had Sunday School" (which, actually, they didn't), churches should articulate what they want the faith and Christian life of their young people to look like, and then build programs to meet those goals.

In the above example, you can swap out "Sunday School" and replace it with "Confirmation Ministry," "Vacation Bible School," "Youth Group," or any other main-stay ministry program in your congregation.  After going through this process of setting faith goals and then articulating programs and practices to achieve those goals, your congregation might still have a Sunday School or a Youth Group … but it will do so much more intentionally, having more than a "we've always had a Sunday School" reason for doing the ministry.

The basic concept behind this study's findings shouldn't be a great surprise.  When I was a youth director many years ago, my pastor worked with parents and youth to articulate what we wanted confirmed youth to "look like" – that is, we articulated what youth will have experienced, learned, done, etc. by the time they were confirmed.  In many respects, this is just common sense!  However, what the EYM did was to take my pastor's common sense approach to ministry and flesh it out, study it, and articulate what a mature Christian faith looks like in a young person, and what the congregations that nurture such young people look like.

I'm very impressed with this study, and I'm looking forward to spending tomorrow looking at it in greater depth.  I'm not entirely uncritical, but I'm suspending my critical questions for now.  I simply want to learn more about this study on its own terms before I launch into a series of challenges.  (For sure, describing Christians by what they "do" or what "qualities" they have can easily send us on a slippery slope of formulaic and works-based Christianity, and might easily undermine the promises given to us in baptism.  I'm not sure that these problems are evident in this study, but the potential remains.)

I took five pages of written notes, and also scribbled on some handouts – and that was just in four hours.  Tomorrow we go from 8am – 5pm … a long day of note-taking, for sure, but I can't wait.  I'm terribly excited to learn more, and to begin wondering what all this means for my congregation.

Anxious & Excited to Explore Youth Ministry

In about 12 hours I'll be at the ELCA Youth Ministry Network's Extravaganza, an annual gathering of Lutheran youth workers.  It will be my first time at the Extravaganza, and I'm looking forward to it. 

Most significantly, I'm looking forward to immersing myself in the youth ministry conversations that are taking place today – it's theology, practice, and structure.  You see, it's been about ten years since I attended a youth ministry conference … and almost as long since I've even been the primary person responsible for a congregation's youth ministry.  And so I'm quite excited about this conference, and the potential for learning that it represents for me.

But I'll also admit that I'm a bit anxious …

In the past I haven't been terribly impressed with the theology or depth of youth ministry resources.  In the past I've noted that much of the youth ministry conversation had a generally oppositional stance toward things "traditional," perhaps assuming that the kids of today shared the same anti-institutional angst that kids of the 1960's and 1970's did (I don't think they do). 

In the past I've read about practices of a so-called "relational youth ministry" that invite the youth worker to be cool and crazy so as to get the attention of the kids, and then "duck" while pointing them to Christ.  This "hey, look at me – no, I mean, look at Jesus" way of doing youth ministry seems to be a disaster waiting to happen.

In the past I've heard a generally anti-intellectual tone in youth ministry circles, wherein adults assume that kids don't want to talk theology or that they are unable to handle theology.  I've heard youth workers dismiss whole parts of the Bible (such as the Old Testament, Revelation, or anything that isn't warm and fuzzy, such as 1 Corinthians 13 or Jeremiah 1:4-9) as irrelevant or "not what we believe anymore."

But that was the past … and perhaps my past experiences of the theology and practice of youth ministry are not exemplary of where the field was ten years ago.  And perhaps my view of what I did and experienced in youth ministry ten years ago is skewed by my perspective as a 35 year-old curmudgeon.  Perhaps.  But either way, I certainly look forward to a better experience this time around.

I hope things have changed.  In fact, I think they have.  Since I was a youth worker, the Lilly Foundation has funded all kinds of exciting research and seminary-based programs in youth ministry.  Since I was a youth worker, scholars such as Kenda Creasy Dean have published widely and shaped the field, and a new crop of scholars – including my old neighbor at Princeton Theological Seminary (where my wife did her PhD), Andy Root – have made an impact on the field.  Since I was a youth worker the field seems to have changed and matured … and so have I.

I'm looking forward to this conference.  I have lots to learn.  And even if I'm critical of some of the theology, and even if I find some of the practices to be troublesome, I have no doubt that there is plenty I can learn by spending time in learning and in prayer, in worship and in fellowship with a few hundred people dedicated to Christian ministry with young people.

Please keep everyone at the Extravaganza – including this curmudgeon – in your thoughts and prayers this weekend.

Cooperative Youth Ministry

This weekend my congregation participated in a Confirmation Ministry retreat with two other congregations (the two other congregations are both about three miles from my congregation, and about five miles from each other – we're all very close!).  Combined we had 15 children and four adults (three of whom are pastors) on the trip.  Bringing three small groups together to form a larger group was a great experience – in fact, by the end of the weekend it was hard to tell which kids were from which churches, for they were mixing and mingling together so well!

The pastors wondered out loud if we should consider having a cooperative youth ministry for the next program year (ie, school year).  Working independently we each have some struggles with gaining a "critical mass" of kids for events or activities … but by joining together we increase the numbers of both kids and adults, we share planning responsibilities, and gain from the insights, traditions, youth, and leaders of each congregation.  It seems like a win-win-win situation.

We're taking this idea back to our congregations to gain some feedback, and we plan to meet in a few months to look a little deeper at what a three-congregation cooperative youth ministry might look like.

I'd welcome any insight from youth, youth workers, or pastors who have been or are currently part of a multi-congregation cooperative youth ministry.  Surely this kind of a ministry has all kinds of potential pitfalls – how well do the leaders communicate?  How compatible are the traditions, pieties, and theologies of each congregation?  How do the different school schedules impact youth ministry event scheduling?  How does a multi-congregation cooperative youth ministry nurture the relationship that youth have with their home congregation?

Surely many questions and challenges await us in the coming months and years … yet I feel that there are numerous opportunities and blessings just waiting to be claimed.  I truly believe that this weekend was not simply a wonderful one-time event, but the beginning to a shared ministry that will nurture the faith of our young people and open our congregations to the gifts and joys of ministry with youth and families.

Is Youth Ministry Leadership Dominated by Men?

Years ago I was a youth director, and now as an associate pastor I am getting back into the youth ministry groove.  As I've begun to review the resources, associations, conferences, and organizations dedicated to youth ministry, I'm struck by how many of them are headlined by men.  Admittedly, I'm just beginning to get re-acquainted with the literature and resources available for youth ministry.  My observations are hardly thorough or scientific.  Yet apart from Kenda Creasy Dean, I'm not seeing many women in the crowd.  Am I just looking in the wrong places?  Is my church just not on the right mailing lists?

If you have any youth ministry resources, organizations, associations, conferences, or literature to suggest – particularly those written or led by women – please share here.  Thanks.

After the Children’s Bible, what?

I love children's Bibles, particularly the Augsburg Fortress Spark Story Bible and the American Bible Society's Read and Learn Bible.  Children's Bibles put the stories of faith into words and pictures in a way that makes them accessible to children, allowing children to grow familiar with Noah and Moses, Jesus and the disciples, and the God whose love is shared through these figures.0806670495h

One of the great things about a children's Bible is that you can open it up at bedtime or story time, to any page, and can't go wrong.  The stories have been selected and presented in a way that will make sense to our children and (perhaps just as importantly) to the adult who is reading with them.

But what happens in 3rd or 4th grade, when the child is presented with a NIV or NRSV Bible?  Even if it is a "youth" Bible, complete with notes and charts and pictures geared toward the upper elementary age level, it is fundamentally different than the children's Bible in that it contains the whole Biblical text.  You can't open the Spark Story Bible and find a long passage from Numbers detailing how the Israelites are organized through their wilderness journey, but you can in the NIV.  You can't open the Read and Learn Bible and find a story detailing God's vengeance, but you can in the NRSV.  That is, what children (and the adults who read to them) learn with a children's Bible is that you can pick up the Bible and read it, and it will generally make sense, because the stories have been pre-selected.  In a full-translation Bible that is just not the case.

And besides the story-selection that takes place within the pages of a children's Bible, the stories themselves are presented in accessible language and with engaging illustrations.  But even the better "youth" Bibles are still full of pages that have nothing but columns of black text – something you don't even see in their textbooks at school!  The NRSV Bible is written at an 8th or 9th grade reading level … and we give it to 3rd graders?  But it is more than an issue of translation or graphical presentation.  Do we really expect our 3rd graders to be able to deal with Judges 19

Is the answer perhaps to create a story Bible that, like the children's Bible, is a selection of Bible stories engagingly presented in paraphrase and with illustrations?  Such a Bible (or, better put, a book of Bible stories) would include a wider selection of stories than the children's Bible, a selection that reflects the abilities of upper elementary youth to comprehend and engage the Biblical account.

And finally, when we present Bibles to our mid/upper elementary children, do we give them and their parents a way to read the Bible?  Do we help them find the passages and stories that are age-appropriate, or give them tools to work through some of the tougher passages?

These are some of the questions I'm wrestling with as I think about the faith formation of children and families, and the importance of making faith-exploration accessible in the home.  Even our most dedicated children and families will miss several Sundays per year of worship and Sunday school, ministries which at most offer about 100 contact hours per year (in comparison, our children get 100 contact hours at school every 2.5 weeks).  Because Sunday morning cannot be the only opportunity for intentional faith formation, we need to not only create ministries of fellowship and formation outside of Sunday morning, but also place in the hands of our parents and children resources they can use during the week to nurture faith and grow into the promises of the Gospel.

Acolytes … What good are they?

I need your input: what do acolytes do at your church?  I'm thinking about tweaking the acolyte role at my congregation, and I want your input.

I ask this because, in general, I think that most of our churches do a disservice to children by subjecting them to and limiting them to roles of candle-lighter and perhaps offering-plate-carrier.  That is, I think we're setting a pretty low bar of expectation when we ask our middle school kids to light a few candles and carry an offering plate fifteen feet.  In their schools they're doing work that is largely much more engaging and of a higher caliber than that which they do in our churches.  No wonder kids get bored …

[These are tasks that are arguably unnecessary, too.  Ever since humans learned how to harness the power of electricity and use it to illumine light bulbs candles really haven't been necessary … except to make the sanctuary look "churchy," since our image of church is stuck somewhere in the medieval era.  As for the offering plates … most of our acolytes simply carry the offering plates about fifteen feet, from the communion rail to a side table.  Of course, the whole act of bringing the offering forward is not without question, as the act of carrying plates to the altar can suggest that we're giving our offerings to God or that we're making some sort of sacrifice at the altar … which we're not.]

Surely acolyting is not the only ministry for our children in our churches, and worship is not the only arena for our young people to participate.  Hopefully in education and youth ministries our young people are challenged to explore faith and life and ethics and Scripture and theology in ways that will help them grow in and claim as their own this gift of faith, and the church as their own community of faith.  Set within a broad and rich youth ministry, perhaps giving kids very simple tasks to do in worship is fine … but I'm not so sure.

Nonetheless, I wonder:
  • how necessary is the acolyte role at all?
  • how can young people be meaningfully involved in the (very public, very visible) worship life of the church by serving as lectors, crucifers, ushers, communion assistants, even assisting minsiters (for older kids, likely, and with some training – I first served as an assisting minister in ninth grade)?
  • if we keep the acolyte role, does it necessarily need to be limited to children?  Especially if the other roles are opened up to children, surely an adult could be an acolyte, and a young person could be a crucifer or a lector …

Finally, I hear all too often a common complaint/comment about children in church: kids don't know how to worship and/or serve as a worship leader.  To which I respond: that's because we don't teach them or train them how.  I've seen way too many acolyte trainings that are done on-the-fly or, if a training session is offered, the training is often not repeated, refreshed, or reviewed.  So if we tell kids once, several months (or years) earlier, how to do something, or if we "teach" them at a rushed pace five minutes before the worship service, and they don't remember how to do it, who is to blame?  The complaining adults who didn't take the time to train the youth, that's who.

My rant is over.  You've got my perspective.  Now, rip it to shreds and/or offer alternative perspectives.  Thanks.

Asking Youth Ministry Questions

On Sunday I'm gathering with members of my congregation to talk about the future of youth ministry here.  We currently have a vibrant Confirmation Class that meets on Sunday mornings, and a group of 15 youth and 5 adults just returned all pumped up from a weekend youth gathering sponsored by the synod.  We currently don't have much programming for youth outside of the Sunday morning experience, but I expect that to change . . .

Our conversation this Sunday will be made up mostly of adults, as the youth will be in Confirmation Class that morning.  We'll hear from the youth, and other adults, in future meetings.  After asking people to share their own experiences of youth ministry – as a youth, as a parent, as a volunteer here or at other congregations – I'll go through a few simple questions to guide our conversation:
  • Why have a youth ministry?  
  • What shall we offer/do in our youth ministry?
  • What assumptions about our youth do we bring to this ministry?
  • What assumptions about our adults do we bring to this ministry? 
  • What do we expect to occur in the lives of our young people through this ministry?
  • What do we expect to occur in the life of this congregation through this ministry?

(These questions are based on questions posed by ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson in an excellent letter to pastors on the ministry of preaching.)

I think it is important to have this conversation about youth ministry intergenerationally, to bring lots of voices to the table.  Youth ministry is congregational ministry, not a segregated ministry apart from the wider church.  Age-specific programming is important, but if youth ministry doesn't seek to be part of the broader church, and if the broader church doesn't seek to be part of the youth ministry, then it is doomed to be a ghetto of youth and youth workers distinct from the church's central ministry of Word and Sacrament.

My philosophy on youth ministry is clearly shaped by my experience as a youth in the church: I was raised in a church with three youth.  We didn't have youth programming, so I did "adult" things in the church.  During high school, I was the only bass singing in my church choir for three years.  I counted the offerings, and served as lector, assisting minister, and cantor.  Simply put, I was part of the church's leadership, just like many of the adults in the church.

Surely I want my church kids to be part of a vibrant youth ministry, sharing life and faith with their peers and not just with their elders.  But I get worried about the age segregation that happens when youth are banished to youth rooms with crappy furniture and called on to lead worship only once per year in a special "Youth Sunday."  In fact, I have lots of feelings about Youth Sundays – ranging from the ambivalent to the negative – but that will be the stuff of a future post.

More thoughts on youth ministry in the coming weeks.

Peace to you.