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12 Things That Will Move Your Youth Ministry Forward in 2011

I’m hopeful that the ongoing renovation I’ve observed and experienced in youth ministry over the last few years will continue in and beyond 2011.

I’m confident that youth ministers will collectively continue to pray, think, converse, practice, and trust our way toward a more holistic approach to youth ministry.  A holistic approach marked by 1) a commitment to our own ongoing spiritual discovery and growth, 2) a more generous theological scaffold in which to guide our students into spiritual formation and an additional thorough devotion to engage God’s mission to restore the world to its intended wholeness.

Consider the following 12 areas in which we can all help each other progress even further in 2011 and beyond:

1- Anti-individualism – Let’s do every thing we can to keep moving away from an individualistic approach to spiritual formation and yet keep faith personal.  Individualistic Christianity depersonalizes the faith.

2- A Bigger View of God – I’m thrilled that we have been able to make progress in helping people see a bigger view of God through Scripture, culture, and our faith communities.  It’d be wonderful to push the boundaries even further and help our students catch sight of God in incomprehensible ways.

3- Starting with Experience – I appreciate our recent efforts to allow for postmodern people to engage with God though the convergence of their own experiences with God and people rather than from imposition placed on others by the people of God.  Encouraging people in the faith through experience has tremendously increased our faculty for guiding people toward living and loving in the way of Jesus.

4- The Power and Possibility of Story – I hope that youth ministers will continue to lean into story (narrative theology and practice) as a means of helping people discover God’s mission to restore the world.  Thinking and living “in story” forms the prophetic imagination needed to paint a living rendering for students to see the intended ways of God.

5- Becoming Culturists – Making culture is much better than consuming it, right?  I’m hopeful that youth ministers will continue to see their role to exegete their community in order to contextualize and impart the gospel in more expressive ways.

6- Holistic Church – We’ve made a lot of progress as it relates to moving out beyond age as the classification of youth ministry, and we’ve begun to see the importance of youth ministers serving the entire family.  I pray that we’ll become even more convinced that youth ministers are ministers not only to youth but also ministers to a church family who maybe just spend most of their time with youth.

7- Environmentalism – I can’t believe how far we have progressed when it comes to recognizing the importance of the environment in which we practice and guide students into the mission of God.  The youth worker as environmentalist is a reality for many (Mike King has done great work on this!).  However, I would love to see even more youth workers concerned with time, space, and matter, and the need to create transformative environments.

8- Quality vs. Quantity – When we measure in quality, we measure with the highest conceivable in mind.  When we measure in quantity, we measure with the minimum in mind.  It makes much more sense to me that we measure our effectiveness with the highest conceivable in mind, no?

9- Kairos vs. Chronos – A lot of youth ministers I know have stopped caring about and no longer allow themselves to be governed by chronos time or time that is dividable such as hours, minutes, and seconds.  Most youth ministers are eagerly embracing karios time, which can’t be divided or seen in duration, but instead is time as it relates to what Madeleine L’Engle called, A Wrinkle in Time or God’s time – when and where God decides, for the intensity of the Sprit to be realized.

10- Transformation Not Change – Change is inevitable; transformation is not.  Transformation is about opening up new dimensions of the soul – it’s a square transforming into a cube, revealing new and other dimensions.  I trust that youth ministers will choose not to settle for change in their students’ lives but instead, hope, pray, and expect transformation to happen.

11- Communal Hermeneutics – We need to continue in our efforts to move past reading the Scripture to our students and instead help them develop a hermeneutic that teaches them how to read the Scriptures for themselves.  And even beyond that, we need to help students develop the practice of interpreting the Scripture in community, allowing God to speak through the imagination and the truth discovered by others.

12- Unrelenting Trust – I love that youth ministers are talking more and more about trusting the way of a pilgrim – that God is leading through the Sprit, and we wander along ready to join the activity of God as God moves, not as we calculate our own plans and steps.  I hope we’ll discover even greater levels of trust in the Holy Spirit.

I love what is happening in youth ministry.  The enduring renovation is inspiring and challenging, to say the least.  I pray that each of us might consider what we can more deeply commit to in 2011 and beyond — for the sake of the world.  

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Chris is the chief ministries officer at YouthFront, a ministry designed to bring youth into a growing relationship with Jesus. He's the author of A New Kind of Youth Ministry and the upcoming books Clear: Bringing Your Faith into Focus and Story Signs and Sacred Rhythms: A Narrative Approach to Youth Ministry. Chris also has a regular column in the The Journal of Student Ministries and speaks to and trains youth workers and students throughout North America. He's been involved in youth work for more than 13 years as a youth pastor, coach, and high school teacher. Chris lives with his wife, Gina, and their three children in Kansas City, Kansas.