Thursday, September 6, 2007

Is Student Ministry Broken?

I hesitate to answer my own question. I haven't done student ministry in over ten years, and even then I hadn't done it that long, so I feel ill equipped to answer with much integrity.
But I have been heavily invested in the life of the church's ministry, I know and interact with student ministers, I have looked at the research . . . My gut is that "yes, it's broken."

Still, there's this:
So I called a few who called a few who called a few and eventually, my back yard was filled with no fewer than a dozen former students. 3 of which were former interns. One is married. Two have answered a call into full time vocational youth ministry. All are still striving to love Jesus as young adults with their own unique gifts, personalities, and passions. What a sweet time this was.

There are days when I feel like an utter failure as a youth pastor. Every once in a while, some long term fruit is sweet. Especially when you get bombarded with "studies" that show how many students evidently blow off any time/energy you pour into them and dump Jesus like a bad habit. Evidently youth ministry is broken. These dozen are a sucker punch to the gut of that idea. Maybe they're the minority. But they're out there.

Yes, they are.

The student ministry I directed was not large (neither was the church), and its makeup was largely troubled kids from broken homes, most with parents who didn't go to any church. One guy in particular struck me as immature, needy, and very much in need of mentoring. So I did my best with everyone, and especially him.
He is now the student minister.

I think I come out of a church culture that is broken. But, heck, I came out of it.

I don't think, as many church pragmatists do, that the end justifies the means. And we must reform. But there is fruit. There has always been fruit.

Those of us who talk about the culture of evangelicalism, who talk about ministries and missionality, who talk strategy and methodology ought to always remember we are not dealing with statistics here, but souls.

Toward a more fruitful fruitfulness . . .

Hit "Pause" on that Youth Ministry Bashing


Nicholas said...

Interesting (and encouraging) quote! In my experience, it seems as though many (not all) of the pastors to students that I know are focused on transforming their student ministries away from the attractional, entertainment-driven model to focus on Scripture and Jesus... what a novel idea! Unfortunately, as this is done, most parents seem to be fighting the idea that what has been going on for years was broken and unhelpful. I have dedicated an entire blog to reforming student ministry and hope to soon start a specific ministry that provides information and resources along those lines -- I would love for you (and your readers) to join me in the conversation at Reforming Students.

Jared said...

many (not all) of the pastors to students that I know are focused on transforming their student ministries away from the attractional, entertainment-driven model to focus on Scripture and Jesus

Nicholas, I hope you're right.

There are two forces I see at work against this:
1) What to do about unchurched kids?
2) What to do about parents who, as you mentioned, are resistant?

I think the first can be addressed by applying a missional approach to student ministry, understanding of course that maintaining a youth group culture that can be a "home" for kids on the fringe is needed.

I think the second will likely involve student ministry evolving into a more holistic family ministry, and also a transition in the larger church culture to cultivate the value for this approach in parents.

I'm afraid we have to work at growing everybody up at the same time.

Thanks for your words of hope. Will check out your blog . . .

brian c. berry said...

Thanks for the link. Ministry is not easy. It's not always fruitful. This is true for all of us: To adults or students or to the guy in the mirror. I'll keep thinking and rethinking ministry with you as we strive to serve the God alone and help those I minister to and with to do the same.

Jen said...

1) What to do about unchurched kids?

Well, I'm a bit biased, but I do think there are parachurch ministries who fill the gap here. Being a former Young Life leader and staff, I can attest that YL targets the unchurched and reaches them pretty effectively. The one bad rap usually tagged on YL is the lacking discipleship, but in my tenure with YL that was one thing we worked really hard on. We wanted to make sure the kids who came to Christ in our club were growing and strong in their faith before they graduated from HS and moved on to college. Many, many YL kids stick with it into and past college - often becoming leaders themselves.

Jared said...

Jen, does YL work on integrating those kids into a church community?

I don't have a strong take on parachurch ministries and really have no reason to disfavor them, but I tend to be pretty skeptical (despite knowing and respecting quite a few people who work for a wide variety of parachurch organizations).

I guess I just fear that what is intended to be transitional or supplemental ends up being a substitute.

Jen said...

The org always talked about coaching those kids into the local church. I know that we worked at getting kids to go to church. Sometimes the kids desperately wanted to go to church, but their parents were opposed to organized religion (or so these kids said). Also we're in a pretty diverse area with kids from a lot of different religious backgrounds. It was tough to get newly converted Jewish kids, for instance, to a Christian church.

You're right that in too many cases the parachurch ministry ends up being a replacement for church. My experience, though was that while teenagers might not have gotten plugged into local churches, the kids who stuck with their faith into college did get into church.

Nick Kennicott said...

I am the product of YL -- now I'm a pastor! Looking back, there's a lot that could have been better, but I am grateful for the YL vision and ministry. Overall, it is a good model for a para-church organization.