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A Youth Ministry View I Don't Respect

I respect youth leaders and the diversity of opinions on how they lead in youth ministry.

An area of practice I can’t respect is the area of the way the conversation about the differences unfold. Let me explain.

The conversations tend to narrow the categories into two groups; youth groups that integrate fun and events and then youth groups that integrate theology and community. When a conversation happens there is usually no middle ground and all inclusive statements are leveraged. Example: “All youth groups that play games are only interested in entertaining kids.” Or, “all youth groups who focus on theology and community are boring kids right out of the church and dismissing lost kids.” Usually the words are different. Instead of fun and events it’s just called entertainment by those against it. Instead of theology and community it’s often called holy huddles for those who are against it.

And, I use the phrase, “against it” because that’s often how the average post is written. The mentality of conversation is us vs. them or the right way and the wrong way. It’s just awkward to hear youth leaders throw things out like this about each other.

The other thing that happens in this conversation that I loathe is what I’m going to call, “passing the Barna Ball.” The Barna Ball is that multi-church wide census report out there that came to the conclusion that kids are leaving the church when they get out of high school. It’s a concern, indeed. But youth are not the only ones who leave church, become disengaged, disgusted, or distracted. Fear has created blame and blame is being shouldered on method and style for a three to six year window in the life of a believer as opposed to the full spectrum reality that young professionals, soccer moms, and Millennial adult men increasingly find no compelling reason to participate in the American church. 

The idea that an adult’s pathway to organized expressions of church or church membership and participation are directly linked to the manner and means in which their youth group’s style was applied to their teen years is irrational. Obviously, circumstances of abuse are instances of exception but students are capable and do leave churches on both sides of the argument. In all of the debate there has been no silver bullet. No church, group, or style advocate has been able to present case study, research, or field tested evidence that one is better than the other. To say, “it’s not working.” is not a valid argument unless you can say what is working. You could say, “it’s not working enough.” Or, “it needs to be better.” If at anytime we can say, “this is perfect. we found the best way to do ministry and it’s working.” Then I think we’re in trouble.

The other part of the argument is the idea that “holy huddles” can’t experience fun or “entertainment” ministries have no substance. I think there is more diversity among the two styles for both, who are experiencing good things and trying to figure it out.

Is there any logic to the fact that God is sovereign. It’s not as if he’s taken back by statistical results. He’s not off guard with the diversity and beauty of the bride. He isn’t standing idle with his hands off the reigns. He is working. He promised it and he’s not a liar. I would suggest that it will never be about style. 

It has and always will be about believers responding to their cultural context with the Gospel. Construct a view out of the way Jesus pursued the lost and broken. It will probably end up not looking like anything on either side of the style debate.

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chadswanzy@churchleaders.com'
Chad Swanzy has served in youth ministry for 15 years and currently works as the student ministry director at Gateway Community Church in Austin, Texas. Learn more from Chad and ask him your questions at ChadSwanzy.com.