Monday, May 14, 2012

"A Brief History of Youth Ministry" Explained

Below is the first article of a four-part series that Dave Wright has written to expand and explain the points made in "A Brief History of Youth Ministry".  Check out the other three posts here, here, and here - well worth your time!

In writing for The Gospel Coalition Blog the first in a series of articles written by several authors, I had the task given to me of providing some sort of historical overview of youth ministry as it specifically related to the series. So, I focused on a short bit of history from which I see shifts having taken place. Space did not permit really unpacking those shifts, so I thought it might be worth exploring them more and ultimately trying to provide some specifics as to what I think the solution is.

First, I pointed out that we segregated youth from the rest of the church. I think that the church in emulating parachurch youth ministries took specialization to a whole new level. While it would not be true of all churches, the trend was there. Sunday schools would have already been age oriented but when people like Mark Devries (author of Family Driven Youth Ministry) illustrated youth ministry by drawing a one eared mickey mouse (think small circle attached to a large circle), it was clear that we took segregation too far. The typical church situation was that we had set youth apart to the extent that they did very little if anything with other generations. Consider the church where Sunday School is at the same time as worship. Students grow up attending church every week but only worshipping on Christmas and Easter. Or the church that does a youth worship service to be more relevant. They figure youth would not attend anyway, so they create a service for them. Not a bad motive, but the end result is again segregation and a lack of intergenerational experiences and relationships.

Age segregated ministry is a hot topic these days. Many will argue whether or not it is a biblical practice. We saw that in the comments on TGC blog. I’m not going to dogmatically argue a position on that because I am more concerned about the practical than the ideal. Realistically, a church that is highly age segregated is not going to suddenly change if the pastor were persuaded that their practice was unbiblical. It would take a generation change to accomplish that sort of shift. A wise pastor would know that to make such a radical change would result in losing the congregation who expect the old ways. So, what is the corrective? Simply an honest assessment of where one’s church is currently at and then a strategy to move towards intergenerational ministry. The question becomes, where can we get students interacting with the rest of the church? How can we progressively make this more of a reality so that the whole church knows it needs one another?

The end result should be that students grow out of our ministries and then integrate into a church family at college or wherever they find themselves. This would reverse the stats that Lifeway proclaims about 70% leaving the church after high school and only 30% returning later.

Next up... obscuring the gospel. Stay tuned!

Dave Wright is the Coordinator for Youth Ministries in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina.  This article is cross-posted with permission from Fusion Musing, where Dave regularly blogs.

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