I was in Orlando, Florida, speaking at the e625 convention (an international convention for Spanish-speaking youth workers). I love these events. After attending many of them in Argentina and Guatemala over the years I hadn’t been to one in a couple of years, and I’d missed it. The energy is higher than at most American youth work conventions. The attendees are noticeably unjaded. They are genuinely eager, and that’s infectious.
I was teaching a two-and-a-half-hour super curso on my book Youth Ministry 3.0, with a translator of course. I’d barrelled through the cultural creation of modern youth culture, the extension of adolescence (both the beginning and the end points), the three tasks of adolescence and the shifting prioritisation of those tasks. The standing-room-only group in the room was totally engaged and asked fantastic questions. Their body language was all “I’m in”. So, I should have just closed it out with a handful of suggestions and packed it up.
But with about 15 minutes to go I had a sense. Call it the Holy Spirit, call it reading something subtle in the responses, or call it – more likely – just stepping outside of myself for a moment and noticing how passionately I was hyping this stuff that was, to some extent at least, based on my opinion and conjecture. I had this sense that I was burdening my Latin American youth-working friends with a bunch of technology they didn’t need (I’m using the word ‘technology’ in the broadest sense here, meaning the systems, methodologies and scaffolding we construct and perpetuate).
I stopped and said: “Let me be clear about the three things that are necessary for great youth ministry:
1. You like teenagers.
2. You are a growing follower of Jesus.
3. You are willing to live honestly in the presence of those teenagers you like.”
I was burdening my Latin American youth-working friends with a bunch of technology they didn’t need
After I said it, I thought to myself, “That was actually true!” It had a sense of surprise to it.
Do we need more theological reflection in youth ministry? Yup.
Do we need to rethink our assumptions and practices? Sure.
Do we need to study the changing face of the teenage experience and adjust accordingly? Yes.
Do we need a revolution in youth ministry? I still think so.
But what we don’t need is to replace one technology (“Programs are the answer!”) with another technology (“Post-programming is the answer!”). What we need (and this is why I’ve always felt that some of the best youth work happens in small churches with zero technology) is:
- Adults who like teenagers.
- Adults who are actively growing in their own faith
- Adults who will live authentically in relationship with teenagers they like.
I can hardly believe I’m writing this, but there really is a magic formula – a mathematical equation – for great youth work:
A grace-filled caring adult who’s willing to be present to teenagers
A smallish group of teenagers
The power of the Holy Spirit and presence of Christ
A freakin’ awesome opportunity to impact the world
I’m going to keep harping and ranting and instigating. But I can’t get caught up in the trappings of a ‘new way’ of doing youth ministry, and I hope you don’t wander into that dead end either. Focus on the gooey center of what great youth work really should be about.