Here is something I put together about applying the missional concept to the role of “Youth Pastor”. What do you think?
There has been a fundamental change in the way the world works over the last twenty-five years. The shift has been called “post-modernism” or “hyper-modernity” or “post-Christian” or “post-Christendom”. Regardless of what one calls the paradigm change, the change has indeed happened. The way that most people see and understand the world is very different than it was not very long ago. You could say, “this ain’t your mama’s world anymore”. The kind of shift that has happened is as thoroughgoing as the shift that took place in the 1960’s, maybe even more so.
The environment that the children of the emerging generations are growing up with is a unique one that the church, their parents, and their educators have not ever experienced. The rampant individualism, the emphasis on a radical consumerism, and the overdevelopment of the institutional church are leaving the emerging generations out of the spiritual conversation. If we are going to reach the emerging generations there has to be a change that takes place on a fundamental level.
Consider briefly the reality that the Benoit Mindset List tells us of this year’s graduating seniors:
“Most of the students entering College this fall, members of the Class of 2011, were born in 1989. For them, Alvin Ailey, Andrei Sakharov, Huey Newton, Emperor Hirohito, Ted Bundy, Abbie Hoffman, and Don the Beachcomber have always been dead.
- What Berlin wall?
- Rush Limbaugh and the “Dittoheads” have always been lambasting liberals.
- They never “rolled down” a car window.
- They may confuse the Keating Five with a rock group.
- They have grown up with bottled water.
- General Motors has always been working on an electric car.
- Nelson Mandela has always been free and a force in South Africa.
- Pete Rose has never played baseball.
- Rap music has always been mainstream.
- Religious leaders have always been telling politicians what to do, or else!
- “Off the hook” has never had anything to do with a telephone.
- Russia has always had a multi-party political system.
- Women have always been police chiefs in major cities.
- Classmates could include Michelle Wie, Jordin Sparks, and Bart Simpson.
- Wal-Mart has always been a larger retailer than Sears and has always employed more workers than GM.
- 16. Being “lame” has to do with being dumb or inarticulate, not disabled.
- When all else fails, the Prozac defense has always been a possibility.
- Multigrain chips have always provided healthful junk food.
- They grew up in Wayne’s World.
- U2 has always been more than a spy plane.
- Stadiums, rock tours and sporting events have always had corporate names.
- Commercial product placements have been the norm in films and on TV.
- Women’s studies majors have always been offered on campus.
- Being a latchkey kid has never been a big deal.
- Thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time.
- High definition television has always been available.
- Microbreweries have always been ubiquitous.
- Virtual reality has always been available when the real thing failed.
- Tiananmen Square is a 2008 Olympics venue, not the scene of a massacre.
- MTV has never featured music videos.
- They get much more information from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert than from the newspaper.
- They’re always texting 1 n other.
- They never saw Johnny Carson live on television.
- Avatars have nothing to do with Hindu deities.
- The World Wide Web has been an online tool since they were born.”
The change is simple and yet so radical that we might simply dismiss it out of hand without thinking through the consequences. The fact of the matter is that we as the church are like most auto manufacturers. We are seeking to outsource the spiritual formation of the emerging generations.
Biblically the primary function of the parent is to “bring them [children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Interestingly, the emphasis is on the father here. He is not to “exasperate” his child. This is the role of the parent. It is their responsibility to train and instruct their child in the Lord.
This idea is not new to the Newer Testament but is found throughout the Older Testament as well. A key passage is in Deuteronomy 6:1-9:
“1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
The concepts of the parents passing on the fundamental truth about who God is, is placed on the shoulders of the parents.
It is not the responsibility of the youth pastor. It is not the responsibility of the Christian school. It is not the responsibility of the Sunday School. The spiritual formation of the child is the parent’s responsibility.
The body of believers is then to come alongside the parent to aid in that process of spiritual formation. This is communal. Think about what you just read there in Deuteronomy 6. Could you imagine being a child and every home you went to had Deuteronomy 6:4, 5 written on the doorposts? You would be exposed to it at every turn.
The other key thing is that at a very early age (probably 13) boys and girls were understood to be fully a part of the community of faith. The disciples of Jesus were most likely teenagers. The covenants were bestowed on children at eight days old!
Today, most people younger than 35 in our faith communities are seen as children who are not ready to exert leadership. It’s nice if they want to be in a choir or a play, even play in the band. But, they are not challenged to teach, to engage as leaders in the community. How many conversations take place around the dinner tables in our homes about spiritual things? Does family worship take place? Is there intentionality of the parent to teach their child spiritual truth?
Missional Paradigm Applied
Approximately 80% of churched children do not continue in their faith after high school. The keys to retention seem to be pretty straightforward, discipleship and parental involvement.
Most churches however, hire “Youth Pastors”. The job descriptions are simple. Reach out and care for our High School and Junior High students while providing support for K-5.
The consistent pull in youth ministry over the last twenty-five years has been to create a bigger, better program. If you entertain them, they will come. The hard part is that you keep them by how you get them. The entertainment has to be bigger, better, and more awesome each week or they will go down the block to the other church.
What if we saw the children in our congregation as not simply kids but as image bearers of the triune God? What if the parents were engaged in the spiritual development of their children? What if we sought to actually send our kids out as ambassadors and engaged with them as brothers and sisters in Christ?
To achieve this there would have to be a fundamental transformation in the role of the “Youth Pastor”. He would have to become a “Family Pastor”. To understand what “Family” pastor means one must first define what is meant by “family”.
Family is the core building block of a community. This would include young married people to those who have sent their children to college. This would also include single parents and blended families. The reason is that marriage is the primary foundation for godly parenting. The Family Pastor would first help marriages to be healthy and then build on that foundation when as people have children. He will help in the transition from no kids to one child to elementary to middle school to high school to college.
This role would have him focusing on the discipleship of parents, helping them to engage their children in spiritual formation. He would then be freed to foster the “youth” of the church to be missionaries to their peers.
This means that the ministry of the church to the youth would have a focus on pulling the children into mission as opposed to pushing them through a program. The emphasis would be on training. Sending them to their peers as ambassadors for Christ.
A developing community of Christ followers who happened to be young people would replace programs. “Church” would become a place to connect with other Christ followers on mission. Sunday mornings would be a time of worship, prayer, training, and teaching.
Young people would be pulled into the rest of the community. They would be influenced by 80 somethings, 70 somethings, and on and on.
Generational differentiation would be replaced as young people are seen as participating members of the community. The Family pastor would help to bridge the gaps between generations.
Youth involvement would move beyond babysitting and singing in the choir to a full engagement in the life of the church. Youth would be seen and understood as people created in the image God along with adults. Believing youth would be recognized as fellow believers indwelt by the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts.
As emerging generations graduate and leave the context of the church and enter the world, they will leave with a firm grasp of their faith, and how it functions in the context of the body of Christ.
To move from program to organic community in realm of families and youth will require time. There will be consolidation. But, when the gospel is embraced by a generation (be it emerging, Boomer, or even X) the results are explosive.
Nuts and Bolts
The big question that must be answered is practically what does this look like in a job description for a search committee of a church that desires to apply the missional approach to “youth” ministry. The key would be not the development of programs but a pastor who is focused on discipleship as his primary ministry. I think that it could look something like this:
- An embracing of the concept of covenantal family.
- This points to the fact that within the body of Christ there are covenantal families that comprise it.
- Children are brought to adulthood, recognized as adults, and differentiated from their parents.
- Shepherds families (as defined above)
- Marriage support
- Parenting training
- Oversees and develops volunteers in all youth ministries.
- Disciples parents and trains them to engage in spiritual formation of their children.
- Disciples teens and sends them out on mission to their peers.
- Develops an environment of spiritual formation for youth church-wide cross generationally so that all believers are embraced and sent as laborers.
- Recruiting and developing multi-generational disciplers.
- Drawing teens into discipleship relationships beyond their parents and peers.
- Develops an organic community among youth and families where youth are continued to be developed into adulthood and maturity in the faith.
- Develops and provides opportunities for training and involvement in mission in the peer and familial context.
- Develops an environment where the family is the first discipler but not the only discipler, thereby creating an environment where teens are prepared to be discipled outside the family context.
- Teens are developed and sent as adults and mature believers upon graduation.
- An acknowledgement from the church that this will be an imperfect and messy process.
Imagine generation after generation of covenant children embracing their relationship with God as their own…
Imagine sending High School seniors as ambassadors for Christ to the university, work force, and the world, year after year…
Imagine healthy marriages that foster an environment for healthy parenting…
Imagine parents and children engaged with Jesus together…
Imagine generation after generation Christ-followers being born, grown, and sent to the world…
Imagine our church changing the world by sending laborers to the harvest one son and one daughter at a time…
Imagine the Lord smiling and saying to each generation of parents, “Well done, my good and faithful servants.”