My senior pastor has an analogy that he constantly brings up to those of us on staff: making changes at a church is like turning a super tanker, it takes time. This couldn’t be more true. It’s also very true for a youth ministry, though youth ministries are–by nature–more agile than entire churches.
Andrew Root has recently written on the idea that youth ministry may help churches to reclaim theological thinking. Much like many of the changes to churches in the ’80s and ’90s can be traced to youth ministry, so too a sort of turn back to the theological. I agree with the idea, in theory, but I’m not convinced that the so-called theological turn in youth ministry is quite prevalent enough at present (N.B. On twitter Andrew Root acknowledged this as an issue). Ironically, when once upon a time senior pastors would have longed for more theologically astute youth pastors, now we have youth pastors who are recognizing a need for theological nuance and their senior pastors are staring at them and arguing for a more basic, unnuanced approach. There is a certain twisted poetic justice to this.
I’m thankful that those in my current ministry support my own quest to continue learning and thinking. I’m also thankful for the parents and others in my church who are willing to give things a try. Moving from an entertainment-based model of youth ministry to a more theologically nuanced ministry is not exactly easy. Turning ships takes time. Turning ministries takes time and is often painful on various levels. Ultimately, turning the ship is still worth it because our students deserve to be taken seriously. It’s one of the things for which they’re longing. It’s worth it because the church needs youth ministries (indeed, churches) that have more depth than a dodgeball game and a thrown together devotion are likely to provide. Ultimately it’s worth it because Jesus has called us to something more than a culturally-bound consumeristic expression of his Kingdom.
But it can be very, very hard.