Monday, August 16, 2010

Pizza Parties = Youth Ministry?

Last week I read an article in the USA Today entitled ‘Forget pizza parties,’ Teens tell Churches. I read it, and didn’t put any thought into it. Later that same day, I was reading one of the youth ministry blogs that I try (key word “try”) to keep up on by youth ministry vet, Mark Oestreicher. And he was writing on that very article, with his post, Youth Ministry in Decline?
Finally my brain began to power up a bit on this article and Oestreicher’s words. Here’s a snippet of the USA Today article:

"Bye-bye church. We're busy." That's the message teens are giving churches today.
Only about one in four teens now participate in church youth groups, considered the hallmark of involvement; numbers have been flat since 1999. Other measures of religiosity — prayer, Bible reading and going to church — lag as well, according to Barna Group, a Ventura, Calif., evangelical research company. This all has churches canceling their summer teen camps and youth pastors looking worriedly toward the fall, when school-year youth groups kick in.

Then, towards the end of the USA Today article:
Sam Atkeson of Falls Church, Va., left his Episcopal church youth group not long after leaving middle school.
"I started to question if it was something I always wanted to do or if I just went because my friends did," says Atkeson, now 18. "It just wasn't really something I wanted to continue to do. My beliefs changed. I wouldn't consider myself a Christian anymore."

Here are Oestreicher’s concluding thoughts on this artcle:
my second thought (the first being how the article names the problem but misses the point): why are we always so dang quick to point our fingers at everyone and everything else? when will we have the humility to point that accusing finger at ourselves?

i sure would have enjoyed seeing a quote from a youth pastor or church leader or ministry expert who said something like, “well, to be honest, we dropped the ball. it’s our fault. culture has changed, and teenagers have changed, and we’ve still been rolling along with our same ol’ lame pizza parties and camps, pretending it’s 1982. i hope this is a ‘better late than never’ situation where our desire to change and find new ways to engage today’s teenagers with the love of jesus will still find purchase. we’ve stumbled, but our calling is unshaken.”

that would have been cool.
This article & blog post couldn’t have come at a better time for me as I gear up for the fall. Every single generation dealing with the message of the gospel has dealt with the issue of relevancy.
A couple of thoughts going on in my head right now. 1) How do we make the gospel relevant Answer: we don’t. The gospel is relevant. Jesus’ message is as relevant today, as it was when he spoke it. The problem then comes with our communication (spoken & unspoken) of the gospel. How are we living this message? Are we recklessly abandoned towards living a life of submission and ministry to bring people to the only hope that can save them? Do I believe it for myself? Do the students that I get to minister to see it in me?
Am I constantly trying to find ways to expose students to the work of Jesus for them, or am I just trying to convince them that if they’ll just listen to Jesus their life will be better, and they’ll get along with their parents.
2) We were never promised that the gospel, communicated clear and effectively would bring people (or keep people around). Isaiah was told that he’d preach, but no one would listen. Paul said that the gospel is foolishness for those who are perishing. Jesus said that wide is the gate that leads to destruction and many find it.
It’s tough to live and minister in that paradox. One thing I am sure of, though. I am called to do everything with the resources that God has given me to point people to him. And I want nothing more than to give my life to that cause.