i’m in orlando, speaking at the especialidades juveniles (spanish YS) convention. i love these things. after attending so many of them in argentina and guatemala over the years, i haven’t been to one in a couple years, and i’d missed it. the energy is higher than at the regular NYWC. the attendees are noticeably un-jaded. they are genuinely eager. and that’s infectious.
i was teaching a 2.5 hour “super curso” on youth ministry 3.0, of course with a translator. i’d barreled through the cultural creation of adolescence, the extension of adolescence (both the beginning and the end points), the three tasks of adolescence, and the shifting prioritization of those tasks. the standing room only group in the room was totally engaged, and asked fantastic questions. their body language was all “i’m in”. so, i should have closed it out with a handful of suggestions and patted myself on the back.
but, with about 15 minutes to go, i had a sense. call it the holy spirit, or call it reading something subtle in the responses, or — more likely — just stepping outside of myself for a moment and noticing how passionately i was speaking (hyping?) about this stuff that is, to one extent or another, merely my opinion and conjecture. i had this sense that i was burdening my latin american youth working friends with a bunch of technology that they didn’t need (i’m using technology in the broadest sense here, meaning the systems and methodologies and scaffolding we construct and perpetuate).
i stopped. i said,
let me be clear about the three things that are necessary for great youth ministry:
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.
after i said it, i thought to myself, “that was actually true!” it had a sense of surprise to it.
my friend kurt johnston, who shapes me and my youth ministry thinking more than he probably realizes (mostly through the depth of his character), responded, when i asked him to give a 7-minute “soapbox rant” at the middle school ministry campference, by ranting about how ‘the youth ministry sky is not falling.’ he wasn’t only responding to my ongoing “we must change or die!” diatribes, to be sure; he was responding even more so to the panic so many feel in the wake of so many voices telling us we’ve got it wrong, we’re doing it wrong, our teenagers will all fall away, this is the last generation of christians, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah (crap, am i making a living by spreading fear, just as those i’ve always railed against?). sometimes i think kurt gets a little too much orange county sunshine. but i also think he’s onto something.
do we need more theological reflection in youth ministry? yup.
do we need to rethink our assumptions and practices? sure.
do we need to study the changing face of the american teenage experience and adjust accordingly? yes.
do we need a revolution in youth ministry? i think so.
but what we don’t need is to replace one technology (“programs are the answer!”) with another technology (“post-programming is the answer!”).
what we need, and why i’ve always felt that some of the best youth ministry happens in little churches with zero technology, is:
adults who like teenagers
adults who are actively growing in their own faith
adults who will live authentically in relationship with those teenagers they like
i’m gonna keep harping and ranting and instigating. but i can’t get caught in the trappings of a “new way” of doing youth ministry, and i don’t want to lead others down that dead end. and, really, a little sunshine ain’t such a bad thing.