My general antipathy toward youth ministers in general is fairly well-documented. Of course, there are individuals in the field whom I truly like but in general I’ve got a bone to pick with youth ministry.
I’m not sure, but I think it happened in the 60s or 70s. Someone, somewhere thought it was a great idea to start engaging the young people with Church. So we started changing the lyrics to popular songs (Who here hasn’t heard “Amazing Grace” sung to the tune of “House Of The Rising Sun”?) and having big parties at church.
When I was growing up, most of the youth ministers I encountered were guys who had some sort of arrested development thing going on. They got into youth ministry because they loved the feeling of someone looking up to them, thinking they were cool. In Junior High I had the best Sunday School teacher. Dave Roth was great. He never talked down to us and delved deep into the meaning of scripture. We had actual Bible study. It was fun and not dry, but we managed to learn at the same time. I’ll stop naming names now, though, because subsequent youth leaders all of a sudden began to believe that we were incapable of study or rational thought. Suddenly church–which I had loved–turned into Mini Golf Paradise. They started youth meetings at 7:37 (Look! A HIP TIME!!!! WE’RE SO TEH KEWL!!!) and bribed us with pizza, pop and ping pong. If there was any Bible discussion at all it was usually pretty facile and covered territory we had already visited in kindergarten. You know–God Loves You! Sharing is Good!
I’ll never forget one of my youth ministers coming to chapel at my Christian School. This was a school where we had in-depth theology classes and deep discussions about things like transubstantiation, abortion, euthanasia and other faith/ethics topics. My youth minister’s idea of addressing “kids” was to sing “Little Bunny Foo Foo”.
As I’ve grown older (and even more curmudgeonly) it seems like this problem was not solely at my home church. The dumbing down of church for the young is causing the modern institutional church to lose 20-somethings at a hemorragic rate.
It’s almost become an expectation that people will drop out of church between 18 and 30 and then return when they have kids and are ready to start “real life.” Meanwhile, the 20somethings are drinking their lives away, buying into the American dream of materialism, and starting off marriages on shaky foundations.
I agree with the bulk of that author’s post, but here’s the thing. I was a 20-something Christian who tried to find a church home periodically. But all the 20-something ministries were geared toward that whole Rock-N-HolyRoll thing. No church seemed to take 20somethings seriously unless they had kids. Then they were only taken seriously as parents of future youth group members.
Yet I wasn’t “buying into materialism” or “drinking my life away”. I was trying to cope with entering the workforce, figuring out who I was, building a healthy marriage, dealing with the struggle of infertility and health issues. In short, I was being a grown-up. But most church congregations don’t see you as grown-up until you hit 30 or drop a couple of shorties–which ever comes first.
The church needs to expect more from people between the ages of 14 and 30. The church needs to realise that this is when serious life choices are being made. Where shall we go to college? Can we go to college? Whom shall we marry? What will we do for the rest of our life? Instead of wooing “youth” with pizza party fun, the church ought to prepare growing people for the challenges of life.
I place a lot of the blame on youth ministers. Instead of hiring a series of Peter Pans to amuse and distract, we ought to hire theologically-grounded counselors with the ability to nurture. Then perhaps institutional church will once again be relevant to those who are adults everywhere but under the steeple.
(Hat tip to Patrick for the original link)