November 13, 2010

We Love Our Youth Worker

This year, as I start a new school year of ministry at my current church, I have realized that I am now the longest tenured church youth worker in my town and the third longest in the county that I live. For some, this may seem like an amazing accomplishment but in reality it really is more of a concern. It would be one thing if I could say that I was in my tenth year of ministry at my current church but this year only marks the beginning of my fourth. At four years, I shouldn't be the church Youth Ministry elder in my community.

Unfortunately, I don't think my area is the only one that has this issue. Throughout the nation, the average life span of a youth worker within one church is about three years. Compare this to the fact that when Doug Fields took the job of Youth Pastor at Saddleback Church he told his senior pastor to not expect to really see fruit from his ministry until year five. If that's the case, many youth workers only make it about halfway to that point.

On top of this, there are many concerning studies and voices that speak towards the decline of young people involved in church and faith and many have speculated what the reasons are. I would assume the  above fact of the turnover of those committed to working with our students has to have a major impact. Our teens are taught by many churches that they are an after thought as they do the bare minimum to have a ministry to them. They are taught not to get too close to the current youth worker (which is really what discipleship is) because they won't be around for too long.

With this in mind, consider the findings of George Barna, Josh McDowell and others who have reported that 80% make a commitment to Christ before the age of 21, and many would even say that it's by the age of 18. Could you imagine what the response would be from Apple if they had those same statistics in regard to their iPod sales. They would commit 80%, if not 100%, of their resources and marketing efforts towards that age group. This is exactly opposite of what the church does.

Because of these issues, I am really excited about an initiative I connected with over the summer called We Love Our Youth Worker that is currently based in the UK. WLOYW is an attempt at creating a national standard for how a church employs a youth worker by asking churches to make 7 promises to their employees and volunteers.

1. We will pray and support
2. We will give space for retreat and reflection
3. We will provide ongoing training and development
4. We will give a full day of rest each week
5. We will share responsibility
6. We will strive to be an excellent employer
7. We will celebrate and appreciate

Such simple things but yet such important things for every youth worker to have in their life and ministry. Over my ten total years involved in youth ministry, I have watched over a dozen peers burn out or fall out of ministry. I even burned out myself at the first church I served at. To be honest, I can look at those 7 promises listed above and tell you that the reason for the majority of burns outs and youth workers stepping out of ministry was due to the neglect of one or more of them at the fault of the youth worker and the church.

I am very privileged to be part of the team working on bringing WLOYW to the US and I am extremely excited about the potential. The opportunity to help educate churches and young youth workers about the importance of these things will create an amazing opportunity for healthier, longer lasting youth workers. This will lead to healthier ministries which will mean that more teens and their families are hearing the Gospel and being discipled.

If you want to learn more about We Love Our Youth Worker, check out the UK website at www.weloveouryouthworker.co.uk. To help support the US initiative, join our Cause on Facebook.

Lastly, if you will be at the National Youth Workers Convention in Nashville next week come and say hello at our exhibit hall booth or at one of our three informational meetings:

Saturday afternoon, 2:00-4:30pm in Room CC202
Saturday night during Latenight options 10:15-11:15pm in Room CC202
Sunday morning 8:15-9:30am in Room CC202

November 4, 2010

The Fading of Youth Ministry?

This past week I got my copy of Leadership Journal in the mail and began to peruse through it. As I got to page 13, they included two short blurbs about youth ministry and teen spirituality. Both of the short articles frustrated me to be honest.

The first was really more annoying than frustrating and was about an outreach that a church in Illinois came up with called the Pizza Pig-Out. The event is pretty much exactly as it sounds...students would come together, eat as much pizza as they can, play some games and then hear the Gospel. That event went so well, that it led to another event called The Dodgeball Revival which was a round-robin tournament.

What annoyed me wasn't the idea or the events themselves, I'm all for each of them if they reach students with the Gospel. What really got to me was the fact that in a whole magazine devoted to leadership within churches and ministries, this was the longest piece devoted to Youth Ministry. It's no wonder that Youth Workers can have a hard time being taken seriously. I believe that within the Youth Ministry world we have some of the best, most creative up-and-coming communicators, pastors, theologians and leaders in the country but yet so often, the things that get the air time are pizza and dodgeball. 

I dunno, perhaps I am over reacting but it just bugs me as a youth worker. I am more than just dodgeball and pizza and I know others are too. We are working hard to disciple students, teaching them to live out their faith, running Bible studies and taking care of the administration of our Youth Ministries. In some cases, we find ourselves basically running an entire "church" among our young people as our peers have multiple staff split up among responsibilities to do the same thing with adults. I feel like we deserve more credit than pizza and dodgeball!

The other blurb I found very frustrating as a youth worker, and I think some of it may been because of with how it was worded. It focused on some new research that youth group attendance across the country has been flat over the past view years and many groups are reporting drops. The blurb quoted "The result in reports this year of drops in teen participation in summer camps has youth leaders concerned with the future of their programs."

Really?? Kids aren't coming to camps or youth group and the first concern is a program? How about salvation? Or learning morals? Or being part of the Body of Christ, something bigger than themselves?

Then, this quote from Thom Rainer president of Lifeway, "A decade ago teens were coming to church youth group to play, coming for the entertainment, coming for the pizza...They're not even coming for the pizza anymore." (Again, with the pizza!!) He then adds that many teens don't see the church as relevant.

The thing that bothers me so much about this quote is that, personally, I see all of the above as a good thing for this generation. Teens aren't settling for being entertained and duped into hearing the Gospel anymore. They show up because they actually want to hear the truth about Christ and his plan for their lives. This generation is hungry for something more and for something real.

As Youth Workers, Parents, Pastor's and Volunteers, it's our responsibility to give them just that. Sure, it may involve pizza, or dodgeball or other youthful things, but they are simply a means to something bigger. It is such an exciting time to be in youth ministry! As Jesus says in the book of Matthew, "The harvest is plentiful."

Let us continue to be faithful workers and continue to pray for more youth workers who will take ministry seriously and make it more than just fun, games and pizza but instead about Truth, the Kingdom of Heaven and Christ's love for us all.