My friend Mark has been helping me recently work with a couple of groups of people in my congregation.
We've been discussing changes in adolescent development and changes in what the youth ministry paradigm should be. We spent a lot of time discussing what youth need in today's culture (namely: loving supporting relationships with adults, enculturation, and a message worth living/dying for, among others). We discussed the Church A v. Church B concept where Church A is a congregation that says they value youth ministry, but pays someone else to do it and Church B is a congregation that really does value youth ministry and it's evidenced in the level of personal ownership and commitment they display. We were hoping to begin the process of changing how we think about teenagers and our relationships with them/responsibilities to them so that we could begin to approach our youth ministry in a better way. ("Better" meaning: NOT the low-parent-commitment high-youth-pastor-commitment, entertainment-based, derived-from-someone-else's-cookie-cutter-model, programs that we've been failing with for years)
This past week I did some follow-up work with that group and we approached things like so: "Based on our new understandings, where do we go from here?"
Amazingly, there were basically two responses.
One group's response was disturbingly yet another program. And it was another program idea that involved very little parent involvement and an extremely high amount of staff involvement. Worse yet it was the It-Worked-When-I-Was-A-Teenager-So-It-Will-Undoubtedly-Work-Now answer. And the method for communicating this response was not to talk to the parents, to me, or to the teenagers themselves about it. This response was heard in the hallways and the parking lot. Most of the time the conversation proceeded as: "You know what they should be doing..." (Emphasize either "they" or "should" or both and you wind up with basically the same problem)
Another group's response was to work hand-in-hand with the teenagers in the church, exercising adult-level conversation in which the teenagers have an equal voice, to discuss their dreams and formulate future plans. Better yet, this group has begun thinking outside the lines of "our" youth ministry. They are ready to embrace cooperative, even ecumenical ideas, in order to move in the right direction. (Yes, part of this involved programs, but it's the difference in philosophy and method I intend to point out.)
Very clearly, we have both Church A and Church B present and existing at the same time. Both have good intentions, but they are now operating out of two entirely different value systems. It's as if our church body has Multiple Personality Disorder when thinking about youth ministry.