Friday, April 29, 2011

Big Dreams: Towards a New Approach to Youth Ministry- Part 1

 I am so very excited about the future of youth ministry at Trinity Community Church, Lake County, and the country. Here at TCC we are in the process of changing the model and philosophy of the way we do youth minsitry. We have previously followed the model where all the students come to the church to for games, social time, a sermon, worship and small groups. I think this is the norm in youth ministry. We are moving towards geographically based small groups that meet in the homes of people in the church, moving to the church for a sermon and worship. The change itself is both bigger and smaller than I would have thought.

Bigger in that it is a lot of practical changes to ask of students and their families: change locations several times, trust people in your church to take care of your children, relate to people in your high school and neighborhood that might be outisde of your normal social circle. We are buiding georaphically focused support systems made up of students and adults. The small groups are based on high schools, location and age. All the students from one high school, like Mundelein High School, are in one group, and when that group gets large enough, it will be further divided into upperclassmen and underclassmen. The shift is smaller in that is it only a cosmetic change to the model. Essentially we are cutting out games and moving the small groups to homes. The change is more philosophical in nature.

The idea behind the small groups is two-fold. To connect students with peers who can support, encourage, and challenge one another in their spiritual walks. To connect students with adults who are transparently living out their faith and investing in the lives of the students. Thety hosts provide food (always a big draw) and a setting. The adult volunteers provide the modeling, maturity, and in-the-trenches shepherding. The student provide the stability, help determine the content, and utlimately make the time and setting their own. Hopefully this is a furnace for digging into the spiritual lives of young people and adults alike. Through the large group at the church we are providing a place for students to interact with people from other high schools and also to hear Biblical teaching. The furnace of change is in the peer to peer and adult to peer realtionships in the small groups. And that change is directly facilitated by the volunteers, not the salaried youth worker. The geographic model frees a salaried youth pastor to focus his or her efforts on training, encouraging, and recruiting adult volunteers, as well as on partnering with other local churches to reach the adolescents in their area. More on local partnerships in part 2.

I am pasionate about this change is because it is part of something bigger: a shift in the way youth minsitry is done. This is critical. Culture has shifted, and as of yet, youth ministry has not shifted to meet those needs. I think intentionally connecting students with adults who are transparently living out their faith is key. Adolescents will do as we do in life and in faith, therefore the job of an adult volunteer is to live transparently. The job of a salaried youth worker needs to shift to serve the adult congregation and teach them to do just that. I think. I am not sure. I am sort of sure, almost sure. I think that this is a start, a change and that SOMETHING needs to give- this is a great place to start!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

End of the launch period

For those of you who are not aware, we are shifting the way we do youth minsitry at my church, and we just finished the 6 week launch period. Because of things like youth rallys and fundrasiers and Easter (you know, no big deal) we are taking a month off from regular youth group. This affords me a little room to breathe, to think, and to evaluate. Deep Breath. We did it! What did we do, exactly? It is the beginning of something, but I am not sure what. Just a new model here at my church? A new model in general? Paricipating in the large shift that is the changing form of youth ministry? I dearly hope it is the latter.

There is no real way of knowing at this point. That is frustrating. But, on the other hand, I think that my need to understand it comes more out of weakness than really wanting vision. The vision is clear: youth minsitry cannot continue the way it has been for the last 60 years. The model is no longer effective at meeting the spiritual needs of adolescents. We are in a time of cultural upheaval, and in that time people's needs shift, the delivery systems for taking in truth and love shift, and therefore those who seek to shepherd, nuture, and serve those around them must shift as well.

Things are changing so quickly I don't have a grasp on everything that is different, and I am far from understanding what it means. Social networking takes away much of the distinction between public and private lives. Communication and travel advances make mean that the world is available through media, knowledge and experience. This means that it is possible to evaluate our understanding of race, culture, ecnomics, morality, and spirituality in light of global considerations. What happens in the stock market in Japan affects a homeowner two blocks away from me in Libertyville, IL. Now, imagine that you are 15 and in a world that is changing this fast- and that it is just normal. This is just the way it is.

What would you grab onto to center yourself? Where would you look for answers about larger questions: Am I loved? What does it mean to be alive? Is there truth? If so, where? and how do you know? I can imagine that I could look just about anywhere-but where do I start? How do I know which information to trust? This world is so much different than the one that I knew even 15 years ago in high school. The world is changing and youth ministry must, too. We just launched a 6 week trial period of something that I hope is the beginning of entering into that change. God help us. Jesus it is for You. Spirit, we need You.