Now that the controversial headline got you to click, let me explain what I mean. I have a vested interest in youth ministry surviving, after all. I do not mean that youth ministry (or “student” ministry, if you prefer) should cease to exist altogether.
What I’m proud to report, however, is that there is a certain kind of youth ministry that is dying, and rightly so. If I can coin a pejorative term, I like to call it Doofus Youth Ministry.
Doofus Youth Ministry values style over substance, entertainment over discipleship, and programs over mission. It usually features a young (but not always), paid (but not always) leader who considers playing XBox with his students the sum total of his job description.
Listen, I don’t think hanging out with kids is wrong, or bad, or even that it makes you a doofus. I just think there are a lot of people masquerading as youth ministers who are actually just immature young adults who have figured out a way to stay in youth group — by getting paid to lead it.
But enough of my Old Man Grouchiness. What I’m really getting at is that I don’t see a ton of that any more. It is no longer acceptable. Instead, and I’m proud to say it as a fifteen year youth ministry veteran, I see the following:
Youth Ministers Realizing They Aren’t Just There For The Kids
This is huge! Lately, I see much more involvement by volunteers, with staff members entrusting ministry to other people in the church. Moreover, I see an increased emphasis on ministries helping parents navigate the difficult waters of adolescence. I think this is healthy, good, and un-doofusy.
At our church, we say we like to partner with not around parents. I think a lot of parents feel like they are taking a huge gamble entrusting their teenager to a 24-year-old who isn’t married, doesn’t have kids, and looks like an extra off a Disney Channel movie. We do well to give them the respect, encouragement, and tools they need to understand their teenager. We’re not just there for the kids.
Youth Ministers Realizing They Aren’t Called to Be a Teenager’s Best Buddy
I think it’s healthy for teenagers to respect, admire, and even like the paid youth ministers at their church. But I’m not so sure it’s healthy for them to be best friends. I’ve seen it a lot — normally in smaller churches in smaller towns — where the youth minister has kids in her home all the time. They have movie nights and dinner and lunch at school and act like they are best friends because, well, they are.
Let me underscore this point: none of that is inherently bad. But it can easily go overboard and become unhealthy for the student or the youth minister…not to mention the youth minister’s family, if he or she has one. We aren’t called to be best friends, but an adult friend they can trust. But the emphasis should be on adult. We’re not one of them and some separation is in our (and their) best interests.
Youth Ministers Realizing They Aren’t Alone
In days gone by, youth ministries often felt like a church within a church, duplicating everything the adults did for themselves. Sociologists who study such things reveal that this has been catastrophic to the retention of teenagers in the body of Christ once they graduate High School. Additionally, it’s inefficient for churches. You need two spaces, two preachers, two worship leaders, etc. The youth minister — nor the youth — ever feel like a part of the church as a whole.
The lines are graying between youth and adult, and I think that’s good. There are fewer churches that completely segment out their youth ministries. Teenagers are encouraged to worship with the whole church family. Teens are invited to serve the church alongside adults, volunteering as children’s workers or ushers or whatever. Mission trips are open to adults and teens alike. I have even heard of churches where teenagers are in adult small groups. Imagine that!
There may still be ways we specialize, and justifiable reasons for doing so. But I think increasingly youth ministers are realizing they aren’t doing their own thing any more. They’re less possessive and more collaborative, and I think that’s a good thing.
So, I’m not ready to bury youth ministry just yet. But I’m not lamenting the demise of Doofus Youth MInistry either. Our students are better off and our churches are stronger thanks in part to its passing.
Rest in peace.