In November of this past year, 2011, I attended Timothy Eldred’s pre-conference seminar on youth-led ministry at the National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta. Since that time I have dealt with the ideas, concepts and challenges that Tim offered to us as we listened and talked. What is the purpose of Youth Ministry and the Youth Minister/Pastor? What is it that should be the goal of each? I can not say, not yet anyway, that I know all that I should be doing, but I will say that what I have been doing is not the answer.
In his book 4-Hour Youth Ministry Timothy Eldred sets out to encourage ministry leaders and youth ministry professionals to evaluate and reevaluate what we have been doing as a vocation. He argues for a radical shift in the way that the church engages, equips and mobilizes young believers within the fellowship and throughout the world. This is not an easy task. The challenges are numerous because of the fact that many of the assumptions that drive the current trends in youth ministry, while well intentioned, have not produced the desired results. The church has been sitting in the proverbial rocking chair, content with activity, but not really accomplishing any movement. Sure, we are exhausted after all that effort, but what do we have to show for it? Have the young people under our charge been changed, challenged and commissioned? Not hardly, not even close.
I do not intend to be overly critical. That is not my intention. I know that there many youth workers, both paid and volunteer, that love young people and desire to see their faith nurtured and maturing. I think that what has happened is that we have bought into the conventional wisdom that youth are incapable of doing ministry for themselves and on their own. That is why the adult pledge of the Christian Endevour groups that Eldred leads is so powerful.
Believing young people can make the same commitment to Jesus Christ as adults, I promise to challenge young people to the hurst level of service and dedication. (193)
During the seminar Eldred added that
As adults we will not do for young people what they can learn do do for themselves.
If anything I am encouraged by many of Eldred’s suggestions. And he acknowledges that the greatest challenge will be in the transition.
The Youth Leaders Role
So what is the main point that comes across in the book? It is one idea with two arms. The first idea is that the role and purpose of the adult youth leader should be that of a coach/mentor rather than that of a program director. The adult youth leaders job should not be to do all the work, but rather to train and release the young people who come to do more of the work, until they are doing all of the work.
This leads to a second question. What is the work we are talking about? The work is the personal faith development of the youth AND the evangelization of their peers. Neither of these responsibilities should be taken on by the adult youth leaders. The modern missionary movement has long realized that the spread of the Gospel message is best accomplished by indigenous people. If youth culture were treated like a foreign country, the best missionaries are those who are actively living within the boundaries, norms and mores of the culture.
The Youth Leaders Role
The first arm is the adults role. This second arm is the youths role. The example that Eldred provides in the book and gave in the seminar was that of the conception of the child. Ownership of anything begins at conception. Being there through the entire process creates higher levels of investment and infuses all those involved with the needed responsibility for the outcomes. Therefore, the best way to create an environment of ownership is to give youth access to the entire process: conception, planning, execution, evaluation, and assessment.
The trick is that the adults have to let go of the need to insulate the youth from the consequences, positive or negative. When the youth know that they are responsible for what will happen or will not happen, the needed buy-in will begin to take place. This process can be both difficult and painful. Not because this is not the desired result, but rather the transition will require significant shifts in thinking and approach.
The bottom line is that this should not have been such a novel idea. This should have been what I was striving to achieve from the very beginning. It has taken me a while to get here, but I am looking forward to equipping the youth of my church to become fulling involved members of our faith community, as well as fully motivated disciples of Christ. Every Christian should desire to see God’s kingdom come. I want to see that it happens.