The challenge of ministry to youth in the Methodist Church today
WITHIN the last 25 years, our world left behind the typewriter and Cyclostyle machine, and embraced the social tsunami waves of the personal computer and Photostat machines, the Internet and email, laptops and broadband, mobile phones and PDAs. Today we co-exist between the physi-cal and the ethereal reality of virtual worlds, online gaming and social networks like Facebook and Twitter.
For young people growing up in this last quarter of a century, apples and blackberries connote first a computer or communica-tion device before they do a fruit. They post fewer letters in a mailbox, and post freely on a blog. They know little of buses without air-conditioning, and have never known the concept of rolling up the car windows, because theirs is a push-button world. They have never known a world that moves at any other speed than fast or faster. Busyness is not a state, it is the norm.
Across churches, there is an increasing demand for professional youth workers. This is a sign of the growing challenges of youth ministry today, and a desire by churches to meet these challenges. The landscape of ministry in our churches has also been altered within a very short space of time. We have largely moved from expressing ministry with youth in the form of Sunday School and the Methodist Youth Fellowship to a modern creature we call “youth ministry”.
With the frenetic pace of life that we face in Singapore today, it is easy for our youth ministries to just try to make do – copying what other churches do (overseas or local), or grabbing the latest and trendiest youth programmes, curricula and strategies and make them our own.
This is the very real and almost understandable temptation for youth workers and youth ministries in the “trenches” of the very immediate, urgent and crisis-like pace of ministering to young people.
The incredible selection of youth ministry tools in the form of books, manuals, worksheets, Bible games, ready-made Powerpoint presentations, multi-media presentations, music, videos and other interactive computer or Internet-based resources, is just stunning. However, most of these resources were developed in other countries, for contexts and communities of youth quite diﬀerent from ours.
The truth is we do not need more resources (not that we do not need resources at all) – we need more reflection.
For the church today to adequately meet the challenges that confront ministry with youth, we need to be thinking, praying, contextualising theology, and innovating methods, approaches and strategies for ourselves.
With this in mind, let us begin to actively think by consider-ing one possible myth (amongst many) that we may have been harbouring, consciously or unconsciously, in our understanding and doing of youth ministry.
This is the myth: “What we are doing is youth ministry.”
If asked to define or describe your youth ministry, what would you say? Would it be a description of the youth meeting, the style or format of worship, the Bible curriculum, or the small group structure?
You see, most of us, in spite of our best eﬀorts, limit the Kingdom possibilities when we think of youth ministry in its limited expression that we currently see or experience in our own churches. Such thinking keeps us fenced within existing ways of doing things, and limits our ministry to only existing youth already in our churches and programmes.
We need to think less about “youth ministry” (being the limited expression and limited scope that it is currently in our church) and more about “ministry to youth”.
If we begin to think of “ministry to youth”, our youth meetings or youth services no longer define us. The myth is to believe that what we are doing today is all there is to youth ministry.
The reality is that ministry to youth is much more than that.
Firstly, ministry to youth means expanding our idea of who we are minis-tering to – beyond the existing group of youth. As Wesleyans, if the world truly is our parish, we must ask: who are the other youth in our sphere of influence, in nearby schools, in the neighbourhood (be it a housing estate, condominiums or private homes) that we can intention-ally and actively reach?
Just as we speak of people groups in missions, have you considered who are the special groups of youth that your youth may have access to? Be it a specialised sporting community, a particular gaming fraternity, a bunch of youths who are into a particular extreme sport, hobby or other specialised activity or interest.
Secondly, ministry to youth also means being prepared to break away from a traditional approach of youth ministry where “one size fits all” and all the youth are expected to be excited, and engaged in the same way, in the same meeting.
Instead, it means to recognise that the expression of youth ministry in a local church can take the form of multiple ministries to youth instead of a single mass youth meeting or youth service but where youth can be reached, discipled and deployed for service through a variety of platforms and activities.
Have we been doing “youth myth-nistry” or are we doing ministry to youth?
The Rev Bernard Chao is the Assistant Pastor of Trinity Methodist Church and Assistant Director of the TRAC Board of Youth Ministry.