A lot has been said in recent years about the future of youth ministry. Some great books have been written and much has been mused about what the likely direction things will go. I have read most of the books and to a large extent I agree with what many of the writers are saying. If I had to summarize what I think are the three major trends and shifts in the direction of future youth ministry I would say they are: Intergenerational, Family focused and containing a more robust theological reflection.
If I’m honest though I should admit that I care less about the direction we “think” it will go and more about my continual place within it. I decided to make a list of things that are a part of my present call to youth ministry and how I believe they will continue into my future because it’s what I’m passionate about. This list is in no particular order it’s just things that I think I want to keep focusing on that get me excited to keep doing youth/family ministry after 20+ years. Many of these things line up with what others are saying the future will look like which is great because it shows maybe I’m not completely off base on what I value and think I should focus on.
Here’s my hope is that you do the same thing for yourself. What makes you tick? What gets you up in the morning and excited to do your job? What are the things that you feel are non-negotiable things that you want to hang on to for a long time. Find them and do them and your future in Youth Ministry will be so much brighter and longer.
Mentoring younger leaders- One thing I love doing is caring for people younger than me. I should first say that I believe this is a 2 way street. I gain so much from the perspective of younger leaders and feed off their energy, passion and new ideas. I’ve always be in places where this is an organizational value. I particularly love connecting the right people and getting out of the way to see what happens. I think that many of us older leaders have a lot to offer as we share about our experiences, failures and successes.
More connection to parents/families- An area I’ve gotten more and more convinced is my future is that of whole family ministry. I am no longer satisfied to only be involved with students (and their parents) once they enter into the youth ministry. I want to be involved in their lives from the beginning. I think my future (and I hope all of youth ministries future) will be about more integration between children/youth/family ministries. This is way more than a programmatic hope too. I think that on a developmental level there is a huge need for us to think about the entirety of the family’s experience from birth through college. As a parent myself with three young kids I just see this as more and more of my role and focus. I can speak to parents in a completely different way as I have my own kids now.
Encouraging two-way dialogue between the academy and the church- I am a bit of a closet academic that teaches adjunct youth and family ministry courses. Because I went to school for an awful long time I feel like I actually have the ability to be a bridge between the academic institutions and the church. I think we need to figure out a way for learning to go both ways and there are some of us that are in good spots for that to happen. Maybe a better way to say this is I believe the academy desperately needs the church to help frame and shape the education and skills they are teaching.
A network of influence- I love to network but it’s not simply because I love people. I do it often because I recognize the gifts and skills that people have and I want to put them in the right places to maximize their influence. The National Network of Youth Ministry has had “we are better together” as their slogan for a long time and I believe it’s true. We need to continue building relationships and maximizing gifts and skills. It is easier to be connected to each other and with all the communication tools we have now we need to leverage our networks. I want to keep doing that.
An Advocate for children/youth/parents/families- Ask me what my job description is and I will say I’m an advocate. What I mean by that is I think my job is to speak truth and care for families and always be thinking about how I can do that in every setting. So when a senior pastor makes a comment about middle school students that perpetuates a stereotype I talk to them. When we need to become more intentionally intergenerational I will voice that thought. When we spend significantly more on pipe organs than we do on marriage enrichment I will speak to that.
Push the Intergenerational Envelope- I think a lot of churches do lip service to this area of ministry. Yes we say we care about having the whole church together but in reality it’s often a children’s sermon and then sending children and youth back to their areas. I have a huge heart for the church living in to baptismal vows that in my PCUSA world say we will commit as a church to disciple children and students. Part of my hope is to continue pushing to encourage older congregants and people who wouldn’t normally think of themselves as having much to offer to children and family ministries to step into roles where they are able to use their
gifts. One of my favorite books now is “Sticky Faith” by Kara Powell and Chap Clark. They state that this intergenerational piece has a huge impact on the faith lives of students continuing past high school.