Somewhere along our journey with youth ministry I believe many of us took a wrong turn. We headed in a direction that had us increasingly isolating our youths from the life of the congregation. Our youth groups and youth events rarely served to strengthen our relationships with other age groups and with the church’s ongoing work and mission. Upon reflection I have come to see that the turn we took did not necessarily serve us well and might have even worked against some of our deepest hopes for our young people.
The good news is that over the last number of years youth ministry in our congregations has headed in some healthy new directions. Away from the models of isolation and occasional interaction, we have set our sights on integration and perhaps even imagining our youths as critical innovators in the church.
In his book, Practicing Discernment with Youth, David F. White awakened me with these words: “Young people contribute beauty, energy, critical challenge, passion, compassion, curiosity, camaraderie and many other gifts that invite us toward a reconciled world envisioned by the reign of God.”
If this is true, and I believe it is, we do well to move our youths from our fringes to our centre.
I continue to be encouraged as I witness congregations exploring and experimenting with new ways of youth ministry by:
- Moving away from Youth Sunday services, to calling upon the gifts of youths throughout the year in the areas of worship, formation, fellowship and witness.
- Moving away from service projects that have no connection to the congregation’s present commitments, to adding their energy and creativity to those relationships the congregation is already engaged in.
- Moving away from performing random good deeds, to nurturing and developing a lifestyle of servanthood and generosity.
I recently came across an article in Leadership Journal that confirmed my suspicions that we were on the right track. In the article, “Is the Era of Age Segregation Over?” Kara Powell, executive director of the Fuller Youth Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary, Calif., reflected upon some recent research: “There is a strong link between kids staying in church after they graduate and their involvement in intergenerational relationships and worship.” This finding would also head us in the direction of integration, challenging us to bring people together for the purpose of deepening intergenerational relationships.
Some of the most profound moments of youth ministry happen when together we wash dishes after potlucks, study the Bible, nurture our relationships with our mission partners, discuss current issues, experiment with new technologies, play baseball and pray for each other.
I am hopeful that together we are discovering new ways of youth ministry, ways that invite our youths to relationship and engagement. Creating spaces within our congregations where the gifts, energies and innovative imaginations of our young people are welcomed and valued is a challenge for us, but a challenge I believe we are ready to take on.
Kathy Giesbrecht is the associate director of leadership ministries for Mennonite Church Manitoba.