Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Youth Ministry Values (Part 6): Whole Disciples, Whole Church

Everyone has values. Whether they're clearly articulated or tacitly underlying every action we take, our lives are defined by them. Ministries have values too. Two years ago, I created a set of ministry values that have stuck with me and my ministry. Some of them have been refined or matured, but all remain the core DNA and ethos of the ministry I want to embody. This blog series will unpack each value in the following way: where the value comes from, why it's important, and how it's practiced in my ministry.

The sixth value: Whole Disciples, Whole Church
Students are viewed as full members of the body of Christ; they aren’t the future of the church, they are the church. This requires the whole church living, loving, and serving together, with students belonging to the church as a whole, not just a separate youth group or program. This also means students are capable of leading within the student ministry, serving alongside adults as practitioners instead of consumers.
Where the value comes from: In our culture, teenagers and young adults are considered "kids." The cultural markers for adulthood have become so blurred that we've essentially created an extended form of adolescence, now labeled "emerging adulthood." The problem is that teens and young adults have the innate capacity to think, act, love, and serve as well as, if not better, than many 40- and 50-year-olds. When we view young people as "almost disciples" or delay their involvement in the whole church community, we end up isolating them into an adolescent moratorium, which essentially causes them to continue to not mature and grow up, causing a cycle of stunted maturity and potential. We can unintentionally create church tumors by isolating our youth to their own programs, rooms, and discipleship process.

The Shema in Deuteronomy 6 is both a call to love the Lord with our whole being, as well as pass on that faith to the next generation:
The Eternal is our True God—He alone. You should love Him, your True God, with all your heart and soul, with every ounce of your strength. Make the things I’m commanding you today part of who you are. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you’re sitting together in your home and when you’re walking together down the road. Make them the last thing you talk about before you go to bed and the first thing you talk about the next morning. Do whatever it takes to remember them: tie a reminder on your hand and bind a reminder on your forehead where you’ll see it all the time, such as on the doorpost where you cross the threshold or on the city gate. (The Voice, emphasis mine)
This Shema culture views all generations, young and old, coming alongside each other to love God in holistic ways. Discipleship isn't isolated to a program; Godly adults and teens serving alongside each other, worshiping together, and being in communal fellowship plant the seeds of discipleship already.

Why it's important: From Fuller Youth Institute's Sticky Faith study, to the research of teenage spirituality in Soul Searching and Almost Christian, to the Canadian study Hemorrhaging Faith, the research is clear: young people are abandoning the church because they never really belonged to the church as much as they belonged to a program. One of the solutions offered by every author and researcher is to foster healthy relational connections between youth and adults, connections that go beyond a youth program. Young adults need places to serve and contribute to the overall body in order to feel like they belong; churches that empower young people and allow them to use their gifts and talents will find far more success in having young adults "stick."

How it's practiced: We're in the midst of a significant transition at my church, where we've been evaluating the youth programs, asking lots of questions, and seeking input from other churches, our pastors, elders, and parents of teens. One of our newly discerned core values for our church is this: we value every generation faithfully equipping the next generation. From age 6 to 60, each generation follows Jesus together as the family of God. We recognize and value generational differences, but don’t allow those differences to dissolve our unity. The older pours into the younger on a journey of mutual spiritual maturity. We're wrestling with having to put our money where our mouth is; if we're willing to embrace this as our value, we need to make sure our programs and structures embody the value. I'll share more about this exciting transition next week!

Questions to ask: How can we foster healthy adult-teen relational connections in our church? What is the responsibility of an adult for discipling our young people? Do our youth ministry programs create church tumors or integrate young people into the whole church?

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