Youth Ministry Musts

Marko shared his thoughts on the “three components of great youth ministry” some time ago, and I was recently reminded of it. I haven’t yet read Marko’s new book, A Beautiful Mess, but I agree completely with the idea that youth ministry only really requires those three things:

1.You like teenagers
2.You are a growing follower of Jesus
3.You are willing to live honestly in the presence of those teenagers you like

I’ll be quick to add that, yes, I do think the youth ministry sky is falling. More importantly, I think we need more theological reflection. In fact, I think the above three things are actually deeply theological and we ought to understand and own that. I think “living honestly” is just common speak for living incarnationally. There is a great deal we need to rethink about youth ministry. We do need to challenge students to own their faith, to live it out, and all of that.

But at the end of the day what we need to “do youth ministry” is people who like teenagers, love Jesus, and want to live out that love for Jesus amongst those teenagers. That’s it. No fancy lights, no huge budgets, no bouncy castles, or buildings, or youth rooms, or sound systems, or church buses, or week-long summer trips. Sure, we can make use of all those things (well, maybe not the bouncy castle) in appropriate settings, but they aren’t needed for youth ministry.

Our church is currently in the midst of a number of transitions. We are understanding more and more the need for not only a greater number of volunteers but for volunteers who aren’t just doing it because no one else will but rather because they have been called to that ministry. I’m not suggesting that professional youth workers are superfluous. Quite the opposite. Professional youth workers are of huge importance to local youth ministries because we can help to train those volunteers who aren’t going to go to college or seminary to study ministry. We can help disciple students at greater depth, and we can offer our own stories and lives lived out in community. And, we can devote time to doing all those things.

Transition is tough. It’s especially tough in a youth ministry that has a long history. But we need to take a deep breath and realize that there is a big difference between youth ministry necessities and youth ministry perks, or simple by-products of a particular philosophy of ministry. I look forward to seeing what the future holds at my church, and for youth ministry in the US. But I’m certain of one thing: less is probably more, and living the Christian life alongside teenagers will always be the core of youth ministry.

Two Years

It has been two years since I blogged here, and nearly a year since I blogged over at The Floppy Hat.

A great deal has happened since then. I now hold an MA in Biblical Languages and an MA in Old Testament, having graduated from Gordon-Conwell in May 2010. I am currently the Director of Youth Ministries at Gaithersburg Presbyterian Church in Gaithersburg, MD. Certainly an odd assignment for a twenty-something with two Masters degrees in biblical studies. Mandy and I are also expecting our first child in November.

It has been a busy two years. I tentatively expect that blogging here at Random Bloggings is going to pick back up in the coming months. I feel a bit like I have things to say, and a blog feels like the most readily available place to say them. Look for more information in the coming weeks.

To PhD or not to PhD Redux

Almost three weeks back I posted that I was again walking through the issues surrounding what I’m supposed to do with my life. Perhaps that isn’t entirely accurate. I know what I’m supposed to do with my life: help young people know God more. The question is, how do I go about doing that? The question has been consuming my thoughts, and even leaked into many of my emails. To those of you who have received such emails, I apologize. You can refer to the post linked above to catch up on my thinking here. So, what has changed since the last post?

  • Several more people have affirmed that academia is an area they could see me thriving in. They have also affirmed that my passions lie in that direction, perhaps more so than in youth ministry.
  • I am now quite certain that I am not questioning the youth pastor thing because I think I am a horrible youth pastor.
  • Mandy has assured me that she will physically strike me if I suggest I might be stealing her thunder one more time (I hope this reference doesn’t count).

Mandy posed a very interesting question to me this evening. If I were writing Daniel I would say, “Then Mandy answered and said to me…,” but I’m not writing Daniel. So, she asked, “What is holding you back?” In other words, why have I not decided to go get a PhD after GCTS? I had to think about it for a moment. No one disagrees, my abilities would be well used as a professor. I am capable, even well-suited, to being a scholar. Multiple people have confirmed that if we distinguish God’s will, at least partially, based on the abilities and gifts he has given us, that I should pursue a PhD and become a professor. Mandy pointed out that if I were counseling a teen regarding a career choice I would be pulling my hair out wondering why they weren’t pursuing a PhD. I would tell myself that based on my abilities and gifts God wants me to be a pastor. Couple that with people in my life confirming such and I would be sure that it was God’s will. Of course, I’m not my own youth pastor.

So, what is holding me back? I think to some extent a friend of mine hit the nail on the head. I’ve perceived myself, and others have perceived me, for so long as “Calvin the Youth Pastor” that to change that seems to be almost blasphemous. It is not that I think I couldn’t use my pastoral gifts as a professor. Not only are their plenty of students who need advisors, or who want some guidance regarding life, but I don’t know of any youth pastor who has too many junior high small group leaders (well, oddly enough, aside from myself. But that’s because I have no junior highers). It is not, at the end of the day, that I think I couldn’t hack it getting a PhD or as a professor. Sure, it would be difficult. There will probably be times I get frustrated and want to give up. The stress will certainly be excruciating at times. But overall getting a PhD might be a very liminal experience*.

To summarize, I’m not entirely sure what is holding me back aside from saying that I am being held back, which means something is holding me back, which is a tautology. More clearly, the best I can come up with is that I am held back because I’ve not gone there before (ie, Calvin has always been a youth pastor, therefore Calvin is a youth pastor). Which I suppose is still a bit of a tautology. Where then do I go from here? I’ve run the whole situation over in my mind many times these past few weeks. There is no doubt that I will continue to do so. I’ve talked to people. I’ve prayed. I guess, at this point, I simply need to decide if God wants me to be a youth pastor or not.

But how does one determine that? I suppose I could go back and ask how I got the idea in my head in the first place. It was through a lot of prayer. It also came about after I examined my passions and gifts. I thought, and still do think, that God had given me the gift of pastoring. I also thought, and still do think, that God had given me a keen ability to teach. I talked often and at length with those around me and all confirmed that the pastorate was something I should pursue. In short, I did everything that I am doing now. The difference now? Well, I’m getting different answers. But, to be fair, I have changed. I was always very interested in what might be termed “discipleship.” Now, though, I have developed a passion for language study. I’ve also realized that my teaching gift/ability has been very much honed. I’ve developed a desire to see scholarship incorporated into what is taught at the local church. But, in reality, a youth pastor is barely going to have the time to read JBL, let alone research reported speech in the Samuel narratives. Even if a youth pastor did find the time, what would he do with said research? In addition to this, and related to it, I’ve come to understand that there are a certain set of expectations placed on pastors. There is a certain culture that goes with being a pastor of any type. I’m not saying that every pastor fits into the same mold, but there are some general characteristics and I’m not sure I fit those anymore–if, indeed, I ever did.

Does this mean I was incorrect when I began the road towards becoming a youth pastor? I don’t think so. First, I would not be here if I hadn’t begun on that road. Second, I have no problem believing that God A) changes his mind or B) has temporary tasks for people. Of course, all of this leaves unanswered the question of whether or not God gives a care about my abilities and gifts. Some might say that I should do the thing that I am least likely to succeed at so God can help me the most.

So what does all of that mean? I have no idea.

* – I’m not entirely sure I used “liminal” correctly. I have it on good authority, however, that many people use it incorrectly so I am not overly concerned.