Students and Youth Ministry Ownership

Tim has a great post on helping students take ownership of their youth ministry. I have some comments to make, and I thought rather than take up several paragraphs in his comment box I’d just post them here. Some background first, anyone who has been reading this blog regularly knows that we have just gone through some changes in our “main event” on Wednesday nights at the ministry I pastor. So this is something important to me, something that I’ve been thinking about, and something I think we (ie, the youth ministry blogosphere) needs to discuss.

First, I agree very much with time in his three steps. Students will have no interest in ministry if they don’t have relationships. It’s extremely important for us as youth workers to be diligent in developing those relationships. However, as I’m sure Tim would agree, we can’t develop them expressly for the purpose of getting these teens to work in our youth ministries. That is called using people. Which I think happens all too often in youth ministry when we begin discussing “ownership.” Too often what a youth pastor wants when she says “ownership” is actually “free labor.” We need to be cautious and check our motivations for wanting students to have ownership. The other two steps that Tim lists out are good as well. I remember Chris Seavey, in my undergraduate work, having two similar steps that he recommended. Something like having them join you in basic stuff (setting up chairs, sound tests, that kind of thing), then joining you in more “advanced” things (leading games or worship, being in charge of a section of an event), and then release them to do those things on their own.

Second, Tim mentions that jumping to #3 doesn’t work, and he’s absolutely right. We can’t just drop something in a students’ lap and expect them to want to own it, much less do well at owning it. It’s a process, and as all things in ministry (and life) it takes time. Now, I’m an impatient person, so I’d much prefer if we could just be like…”Okay, here ya go. Run with that.” Sometimes there are students in a youth ministry who are ready for that. If so, they are normally ready because they have had time to get ready, and people have worked with them to help them to that point.

Third, I’d like to add something to what Tim has said. He mentions this at the beginning of his post, but I think it deserves more attention. We need to make sure we are defining what we mean by ownership. We need to have tangible things of which students can take ownership. I think these “things,” whatever they are, need to be verbally defined as well as logically a unit over which someone could have ownership. Case-in-point, at our Wednesday night event we have a prayer room each week. This is something we’ve started very recently. The point of this prayer room is to allow students to, at any point in the night, take some time to just sit silently with God. At present the setup for the room is fairly basic. Over time my hope is that students will step forward and own that part of our Wednesday night gathering. I have verbally explained this, and it is a logical unit that students can wrap their minds around (as opposed to the intangible idea of “ownership of the youth group”). Another example, we do a time of Scripture reading on Wednesday nights. Again, my hope is that over time (and this is actually already beginning to happen) students will step forward and read the scripture passage for the week. Over the long-term I hope to involve students in selecting the passages to be read, and my real hope is that eventually I can step out of the teaching to some extent and allow students that role.

In fact, we have designed our Wednesday night program to include a number of logical units that we hope will eventually be “owned” by students. Scripture reading, explanation of the reading (ie, teaching), activity (to reinforce the topic), prayer time, discussion time. Before those things we have a time to hang out where students can play video games or use the prayer room, play card games or board games, or just hang out and munch on some snacks. Potentially each of these logical units could be owned by a student or group of students (taking care of setting up snacks and making sure there are enough, choosing and running the games for a given week, etc).

I’m not saying that the way we have chosen to configure our mid-week gathering is the perfect way. But I do think it incorporates something very important in helping students take ownership of a youth ministry. That “something” is allowing them to see, in very tangible ways, the things of which we are asking them to take ownership. Certainly, this needs to come after relationship building, as Tim has correctly pointed out. I do think it needs to come eventually though, and we need to be explicit in our expectations. Maybe this is one of those things to file under openness and authenticity.

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A Halo for Youth Ministry

So, over the past week or so there have been several posts in the youth ministry blogosphere that deal with using Halo in youth ministry settings. I decided that I would go ahead and chime in. Before I do however, a few disclaimers – I have yet to play the Halo 3. To be completely honest, I don’t have time. I have played through the campaign for the original Halo, and I’ve spend plenty of hours playing multiplayer. I’ve also played, on occasion, Halo 2 multiplayer. I’m also an avid video game fan.

So, to start, we need to acknowledge that someone’s theology is ultimately going to be a huge deciding factor in playing Halo, or other FPS video games at a church youth event. If one is a committed pacifist than I imagine Halo will be less likely to show up at a youth ministry event. On the other hand if one is not quite that committed to pacifism Halo may be more likely to show up. Theology impacting youth ministry is a good thing. We do need to be consistent, overall, between our theology and our practice.

Moving on from theology specifically, I think Tim (linked above) hits the nail on the head when he says that we need to be consistent across our practices. Playing paintball, laser tag, or T rated FPS games and then bemoaning Halo as “violent” (or worse, something crazy like saying it “teaches people to kill”) and saying that it is not a good game to play at youth seems to me a bit inconsistent – but each person will have to sort that out on their own. Tim goes 2 for 2 when he says that Christian video games are really no alternative.

However, I think Brian, over at Rethinking Youth Ministry, brings up an excellent point. If we are using Halo, or other video games, to attract students we need to be careful. If our youth ministries are going to be cut in half if we stop playing Halo, we have done something wrong. I’ve used video games in the past, and I have used them attractionally. In my present ministry we play Guitar Hero and DDR regularly, and may very well begin playing the first Halo, or one of the worms’ games, at some point in the future. These games aren’t used to attract students so much as they are things we do together, as a community. Some students play, others watch, we talk and have fun together. Some might become nervous with the idea that a game console is helping us form community – but I would make that argument. It’s obviously not the only thing that helps us form a community, and it certainly doesn’t define our community.

So, I would agree with Tim that it’s a gray area. I’d agree with Brian that there’s a problem if students are going to drop out of our ministries if we don’t play Halo. In my own ministry I deal with games like this: if they help bring us together, laughing, having fun, talking, being together that’s great, we’ll use them. If instead they destroy conversation, shut people down, and lead to arguing and bickering, then we won’t use them. Case-in-point: Guitar Hero can sometimes, in our ministry, lead to two people playing who aren’t talking to each other and aren’t interacting with those watching. That needs to change or GH may be coming off our repertoire of normal video games. This is also one of the reasons I’d love to get a Wii for the youth ministry. Mario Strikers Charged, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, Wii Sports, these are the kind of games I can see us playing together, laughing with, and talking about afterwards.

Video games used to get students to come = bad idea (IMO)
Video games used to build community = good idea (IMO)