About 4 years ago Barna did some research into what does youth ministry look like, how do parents, youth workers and ministers understand youth ministry and is it succeeding? They have put it together in a book called the state of Youth Ministry.
It is an interesting read, the stats are generally pretty positive, it will be interesting to see how they are reflected now in post Covid.
Some things to note in the book is the importance of the relationship between youth leaders / pastors and the parents of young people. The better the communication the more successful the ministry was. Having parents engaged in the ministry also impacted in a positive way. This can often be against traditional understandings of youth ministry where youth groups were a safe place away from parents. The key pointer of success here was the partnership between the families, youth ministry and the Church, my only critique of this work is that young people are not mentioned at all in the discussion.
One of the best little nuggets in the book are a series of Q and A with key leaders in Youth Ministry. My favorite was with Sharon Galgay Ketcham who is an Associate Professor of Theology and Christian Ministries at Gordon College in Massachusetts. She begins by challenging the assumption that young people are a problem to solve. That they have a deficit and need help. I don’t know about you, but as the parent I see one of my key tasks is to help them find what they love and help them to achieve their dreams, to prepare them for life and have them ready to face anything.
Recently my daughter was given one of those wooden music boxes that you make, they take hours to do and use so many intricate little pieces, that come together to make a very impressive piece. I wonder how often raising children can end up like this? I just need to get all the parts correct and in the right order, teach them to clean, cook, discover hobbies they love (hopefully ones I love too!) Find a career that are worthwhile. All the little pieces coming together to create a magnificent human!!
Of course with this comes a huge amount of guilt, what if my child walks in the cross country rather than running, what if they can’t swim, what if they don’t have any hobbies, what if they won’t do homework, or don’t eat properly, what if they don’t have friends.. If we don’t have all the pieces in place then the magnificent human will not happen and we will be terrible parents.
I love the reminder that Sharon brings, they are not projects that need fixing or completing. They are companions that we have been given the privilege to go the journey of life with. They are gifts from God who have so much to teach us and give us if we allow them to be part of ours.
This is not just the case for the parents but also for our congregations.. Who are the young people God has blessed you with in your life? How is God inviting you to go on the journey with them? How does who they are add to the richness of what your community of faith looks like? As Sharon says – ” how might they contribute to God’s redemptive movement in the world?”
For Sharon the importance of relationships that give and take are key. That traditional understandings of role and expecting to only give to young people needs to be switched on it’s head. When we engage with young people we need to be willing to hear what the Spirit says through them as much as what we can share.
Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.