Nothing, in my mind, can be healthier for a youth group than a church that cares about them and wants to know them. The first part is the easier one. Most churches care about their youth. However, the way in which churches care does not always correspond with the second part of my original statement; getting to know the youth. Lots of churches care about the youth in that they grow up making the right choices, become influenced by the right people, and eventually becoming full and active members of the church community themselves. Yet, this needs to be coincided with a willingness to know the youth as full and active members already.
For this reason, a youth pastor, in the hands of a church that cares about their youth but feels hesitant to get to know them, can be a dangerous tool. Let me explain.
There is a trap in which we can find many different churches caught in. Some are struggling to get out and others are content with their confinement. It is the trap of viewing the youth as a problem. Teenagers in the church are often seen as something that needs to be dealt with. They are a problem for the church in that the church does not know what to do with them. This is never a conscious decision nor is it often realized, but it remains all the same. Youth most often are relegated to a dingy basement room with no windows. A room in which no adult over the age of 40 has ever even set foot in because of their fear of what they might find.
What is the churches solution for their youth? A youth pastor of course! Riding on a white steed the youth pastor comes in to save the day. Here is someone who will be able to deal with the youth and maybe even teach them something. Here is someone who will understand what they are going through and maybe even understand what they are talking about. Thank goodness we have a youth pastor to deal with that youth problem so we can focus on other things.
That came off a bit strong but those feelings do exist to some degree in many congregations.
What happens then is that the youth group can become completely removed from the church, almost as if it has its own separate entity rather than being a part of the body of the church. Subsequently, involvement in the youth group from the rest of the church becomes stagnant as the heroic youth pastor and the brave band of sponsors fight on the front lines of youth ministry.
A youth pastor, in the hands of a church that has fallen into this trap is a dangerous tool because it gives the rest of the congregation an excuse not to be involved in one of the most important parts of the church.
How do we begin to remedy this situation? Being a youth pastor I will place the first load of responsibility on my own shoulders and those of every youth pastor. A church needs a youth pastor who is open to and excited about engaging the youth group with different parts of their own congregation. Our own youth group does not do this enough and this post is a way of holding me responsible.
Let’s face it, youth are scary, especially in a group. Rare are the occasions when an older church member comes up to a youth pastor to ask how they can connect with the youth. The process of reintegrating the youth into the church must begin with the youth pastor and sponsors.
Likewise a church congregation must be open and willing to spend time with its youth. Both individuals and groups should feel called to reach out and seek to know their youth, whether they are 35 or 85.
What are some ways we as a church can begin to see our youth as full and active members of our communities? Does anyone have any suggestions for us as we seek to continue building a whole church community, youth included? Has anyone seen or participated in any intergenerational activities or other whole church bonding events? I would be curious to hear your responses.