Thursday, September 07, 2006

stepping out: a young minister explains his issues with contemporary youth ministry

this morning former lurker rob horton sent me a post that explains his reticence towards contemporary youth ministry. from my perspective, this post is a response to wes' earlier piece and dovetails well with josh brown's exodus series. without further adieu:

I recently stumbled into an on-line conversation regarding "youth ministry". The conversation features those who have chosen to continue to serve within the context of a traditional system. I am not qualified to enter the conversation as one of that status. The conversation has inspired me to share some thoughts from my status, i.e., one who no longer has any desire to participate in a traditional system or even participate in an endeavor to redeem and transform a traditional system. Those who are familiar with my recent thoughts will be aware that I find such systems to be contrary to Jesus and His teachings. I have even gone as far as to categorize such systems as: oxymoronic religion.

I do consider myself to be engaged in youth service, given that I am employed as a Service Coordinator for the Missouri Division of Youth Services, and more importantly I am presently parenting two young males.

It appears to me that many involved in "youth ministry" model their approaches after the conventional approaches to "adult ministry". One component of this approach is designating a manager. The adults have someone they refer to as their "pastor" (Latin for shepherd), thus the youth often have someone they can refer to as their "pastor". The initial visible emergence of the Gathering (Church) of the Lord Jesus featured persons who functioned in a shepherd-teacher capacity, but we have no evidence that this included people owning or belonging to such a person. Actually, the Scripture appears to discourage such a relational dynamic.

God communicates through the Scripture that Jesus is our Shepherd. I imagine that Century One Jesus followers would respond to the question "who is you pastor?" by referring to the Lord Jesus. It appears to me that many in conventional systems would respond to the same question by referring to someone other than Jesus. I believe this is something worthy of reevaluating both in the adult world and the youth world. I would like to suggest that those who care for youth, including myself, would be most helpful by encouraging youth to develop in an intimate union with Jesus as their Pastor/Shepherd.

Another approach that is worthy of reevaluating is the attraction emphasis that has dominated the conventional approach to "ministry". Many resources have been invested in the endeavor of attracting and maintaining system engagement. In the arena of "youth ministry" this has often manifested as an ongoing attempt to attract youth to youth events and programs, and provide effective stimulation to motivate ongoing engagement. I would like to suggest that we begin to provide more assistance in the area of releasing youth to engage their peers within their given environments. I believe this would include encouraging youth to embrace an incarnational emphasis.

When it comes to adults engaging with the Spiritual life of youth, it is essential that we engage them on the grounds of mutuality. Such a ground is rare, if not non-existent, in a conventional system. Young Jesus followers are equally capable of contributing to the emergence and development of the family of God as any adult. Lack of years is not a barrier to Jesus expressing Himself through a person. In some cases adults face a barrier of leaning on their own "aged experience" at the expense of a full "child like" dependence upon God's Spirit. I believe it would be advantageous for those who are engaged in assisting youth in their Spiritual development, that they engage the youth as their equals.

The above are merely some seminal thoughts from someone who has presently "ran away" from the traditional system [see Monty Python's "Search for the Holy Grail" – to catch how I am attempting to communicate the expression of running away].


james said...

"Many resources have been invested . . . to attract youth to youth events and programs, and provide effective stimulation to motivate ongoing engagement."

Having done a good bit of youth ministry myself, i couldn't agree with you more on the topic of baiting and switching kids into the Christian faith. It's almost as if we are tricking them into it. Thereafter, when critical questions arise on a spiritual level, I believe some kids are apt to wonder what it is they've just committed themselves to. Some then choose to move on, and curiosly enough we will often view them as having gone astray, when all that may have happened in actuality is their return to the life they best knew before becoming confused into the Christian faith.

Hope that made some sort of sense.

rob horton said...


Thanks for the feedback. I believe I am totally tracking with you. I think part of this relates to how religious systems measure their accomplishments, progress, and effectiveness. At a deeper level is questions related to the authentic nature of Spiritual life, health, and development. It is admirable that many have a heart for promoting the Spiritual health of the up and coming generation. The challenge I believe is the question of what are we really attempting to promote? Far too often it appears that we are more concerned with promoting a religious system than Jesus Himself. For many in my generation we were sold the package deal: Jesus + a religious system. We were told that our Spiritual health would die without the assistance of such a system. Many are discovering that these systems, though produced with the intent of assisting Spiritual development, are often a barrier to development. It is out of such a discovery in my own life that I have found myself reevaluating what I hope to promote.

What you share is tragic. When are we going to take a break from the maintenance of our system machinery long enough to truly evaluate what we are communicating. The tragic reality is that many a youth has likely walked away thinking “I gave that Jesus stuff a try and it is not for me”. Hopefully they will cross paths with Jesus followers who can communicate to them that what they tried was not the reality that God is offering them. And hopefully they can be introduced to the reality of life in Christ.

Thanks Again,
Rob Horton

Mike said...

this is exactly why i quit youth ministry. i did it to save my soul really.

i am afraid that for a long time i tried to make the entertainment/attraction model work and will have to one day be answerable to God for it.

rob horton said...


Thanks for sharing!