So begins April Diaz's phenomenal little manifesto, Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker. With a small but significant paradigm shift, April moves the emphasis in youth ministry from "create a great youth ministry program" to "create a healthy church where young people can fully belong." April shares the story of her church, Newsong, in Irvine, California, and their journey towards a youth ministry approach of integration.
Citing the common statistics of church dropout with graduating high school teens and young adults, April and her church team did a systematic evaluation of their church and youth ministry, choosing to make some difficult and exciting changes to stop the hemorrhaging. This required a shift in the role of the youth pastor. Instead of primary running a program for youth to coincide with the church, the shift called for a Student Integration Pastor, one that would be a champion of students for the greater church and build bridges for young people to connect to the larger body.
Beyond creating a culture of integration in a church, Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker is an excellent primer on navigating making systemic changes and leading up. (In fact, there's a section in chapter 5 all about the concept of leading up.) Making these kinds of changes in any organic system brings up all sorts of resistance, obstacles, and growing pains. April's honesty about her own struggles were comforting, as were her exhortations to be patient and to "never sacrifice loving people for the sake of fulfilling your God-given vision."
April's book came at an opportune time, when our own church is in a strikingly parallel process of creating a culture of integration and shared lives in our church family (you can read the first post about the changes here). More than anything, April's words were a source of encouragement in a season where I've often wondered "will it work?" It's certainly not the most pragmatic approach, and it will definitely take time to shift an entire church culture towards one of integration and embracing young people as whole disciples in the whole church.
Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker is a must-read for any church leader who cares deeply about the future of the church and the spiritual formation of teenagers. The book is a short manifesto, so it will only take an afternoon to read, yet a few years to implement its concepts and wisdom.
So, to April: thanks.
Buy Redefining the Role of the Youth Worker at The Youth Cartel and Amazon. In fact, buy one for yourself and one for your lead pastor.