Youth Ministry Hipsters

Yesterday was the first meeting of the C3 Conference. It opened with a breakout session, and I chose to attend one focused on youth ministry. A student from Northwest came along with me, and we listened together as five youth ministers from around the country sat on stage, speaking and answering questions. Our student thought the afternoon consisted mostly of a bunch of “hipster pastors” talking about various things.

There were a few gems in the midst of the conversation-most memorably an interesting youth pastor ministering in the hip-hop world of New York City.

The bulk of the time, however, seemed to be taken up with the kind of youth ministry basics and cliches I had hoped we had all learned by now. We need volunteers. I get it.  Teenagers need to know Jesus.  Agreed and understood loud and clear.  We should use social media? Amazing. And apparently being socially relevant is important too.

Youth ministry is more than this. I am sure that the five  earnest men on stage knew this. But why don’t we talk about it more? Why don’t we think more deeply? Let’s make a commitment to spend a little less time on random thoughts or even nuts and bolts…and more reflecting on the core. Bring together our practices and philosophies in the best traditions of what we call “practical theology.”


16 comments on “Youth Ministry Hipsters

  1. Andy Wong says:

    Maybe it was all ironic.

  2. Andy Wong says:

    “Youth ministry is more than this. I am sure that the five men on stage knew this.” I am not 100% convinced of this. I’m sure they understand that Christianity and discipleship is more than this, but I’m surprised at how many people think youth ministry is really all about throwing food at each other and then doing a short bible study.

  3. Will says:

    I think I may have to agree with Andy. I keep bumping into the idea that the main indicator of the success of a youth ministry, or Christian Education program for that matter, is the size of the program. A better indicator of a programs success is how many of those youth are still involved in the church five years after they leave your program.

    • Will, I hear what you are saying…and I think that at some level, the megachurch Texas culture has no idea what it is like to minister in the lonely outposts of the Northeast and elsewhere. But: size is certainly a factor, and is not NOT important. These things need to be held in a continuum, and it is rarely an “apples to apples” comparison.

      • Will says:

        I totally agree. A ministry that reaches zero people isn’t a ministry. I’m thinking more about times where people are talking about churches and say that youth program x has 40 kids, youth program y has 80 kids, therefore youth program y is twice as good as youth program x. Or times I listen to talks or read books and articles where the only thing they are concerned about is getting more youth in the door, with absolutely no thought or discussion about what they should do once the youth get there, or how they are going to foster growth that will continue after they leave. I want to get to a place where I hear people saying more, “Youth program x has 75% of their members still involved with the church 5 years after they graduate, youth ministry y has 50% of their youth still involved in the church five years after they graduate, therefore youth ministry x is more effective than youth ministry y.” The same thing with education programs. I feel the “stickyness” of these programs is a vital element that is rarely discussed. To paraphrase my original statement, a ministry whose impact ends as soon as they leave the building isn’t a ministry, it’s an activity.

      • Good stuff. You use the word “sticky” here. Have you taken a look at some of the “Sticky Faith” stuff out of Fuller Seminary? Worth reading.

      • I would add another angle to Will’s second comment here. Practically speaking, youth programs don’t just get x number of teens in the door. They get x number of families who move from another church to yours because they want their kids to be happy there. One good youth program can thus suck the life out of several *other* churches because of the quest for numbers.

        Also, the tacit encouragement for parents to “do what’s best for their kids” by letting go of a commitment to a small church in favor of enjoying the programs of a bigger church seems to me to encourage a shallow sense of spirituality and service.

      • This is a difficulty, especially in places where certain big churches have all the flash and bang. There is a growing mega-church culture in Seattle and we face these problems, even as there is in Texas, SoCal, and elsewhere.

  4. Andy Wong says:

    (and also how quickly a program like that can grow numerically).

    • Jim,

      Thanks for your thoughts here. I’m not certain about their education (but it is funny you asked–the student who was with me had the same question). I would say probably BA or less. As a good Pentecostal, though, I do believe that God can call and empower something without formal training to be successful in ministry. I just don’t think that is an excuse to stay theologically and educationally uninformed forever.

      I also agree that what I posted does seem to be the “straw man,” but I suppose I posted it in the first place because I was so surprised at the cliche nature of the session, at least at some level. As I said in the post, I suspect there is a lot more to them that what I heard…I just wish the conference had made it so that we would get more depth from them!

      • …and perhaps I neglected to mention that the evangelistic concern of these ministers was deep. It was what drove their “nuts and bolts” approach. I just wish they’d all been more reflective on this.

  5. JIm Mladic says:

    What sort of education did these fellas have? What were their qualifications for leading this seminar?
    Its funny to consider the range of perspectives, and education, in youth ministry. There are people with Ph.D.’s in Practical Theology that run youth programs, there are people with M.Div’s, there are M.A.’s in Youth Ministry, and there are people with zero formal pastoral education who are professional youth directors by opportunity and enthusiasm. This says a lot about what the church in general thinks of the position of “youth director”, and whether it is an actual ministry, or just a place to keep the kids until they graduate.

    Hmmmm. Those attitudes about youth ministry are usually the straw-men in the beginning of books on youth ministry, who are quickly knocked down on the way to a better way to do youth ministry. How real are they? Have you every met somebody who, innocently, naively, or otherwise, does youth ministry that way? I guess I would say that there are some churches out there who perhaps do not embody these negatives stereotypes fully, but include some of them by way of poor assumptions about what youth ministry can/should do. I can’t really say how many of them are out there, though.

  6. Viletta says:

    Teens can get the ‘games’ in a secular group. More than anything else they need someone to connect with them individually. Unfortunately, youth pastors have their ‘favorites’ and sometimes they are not even aware that some kids feel left out even at church. Hopefully these men will spend more time on sharing how to ‘connect’ with teens one-on-one – even in large churches.

    • Thanks for your comment. I don’t want to misrepresent the group as being without value. They are men of God serving faithfully desiring to see students walk in a relationship with Jesus Christ. I just wish in this session we would have gone deeper and moved beyond the mechanics of ministry to the heart of the way they understand God’s call to students and THEN the way that gets worked out.

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