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.