I Should’ve Written The Book When I Had The Chance

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been reading Mark Oestreicher’s new book, Youth Ministry 3.0. I’ll have some more galvanized thoughts on the whole later (maybe–if I choose to air those here), but my thoughts have certainly been provoked by the book. I finished it yesterday and am glad I read it.

Here’s a quote that I’d like to get some feedback:

“…Not that understanding teenagers as part of a family system and ministering to their parents aren’t important–of course they are. But what I’m suggesting here is larger and broader.

The fact is, teenagers need adults in their lives–multiple adults. But the church also needs teenagers. Blue Hairs need Kindergarteners; Teenagers need empty nesters; Twenty-somethings need Baby Boomers. We’re all the church, like it or not, and the choice to like it is a critical one.

Isolated youth groups have done just as much harm than good. Isolation might be easier in some ways, but striving for the best is rarely easy.

Work to find meaningful ways for intergenerational community and relationships. Find meaningful ways for adults of all ages to connect to the work of the youth ministry and attempt (with failure being a necessary part of the process) to find paths for integrating teenagers into the lives of adults in your church.”

At the heart of this is the sermon I preached to our congregation on November 7, 2004 entitled “The Myth of the Kiddie Table.” The idea of a “convergent” congregation. This is also a frequent hot-button topic here at The Diner.

See, I’m smack in-between generations in my local church. I’m 42. Middle-aged, if you like. And, I’ve never really been a big fan of the trend in younger members of my Tribe when they take a look at what’s going on in churches, don’t like some of the stuff (it could be anything they don’t like, from the architecture to the programs to the pastors to the age-range and anything and everything in-between), so they “take their ball and go home.” They form their own churches, which generally evolve as reactions to whatever they didn’t like about the place they left. So, for example, if they don’t like the “mall feel” of a large church, they go to a pub (which I actually kind of like). Or they don’t like the slick power-point and big rock bands so they go acoustic and light candles and have a more liturgical communion.

I’ve also never been a fan of the trend in the older members of my Tribe who bemoan the reality that younger people are leaving the local church in favor of these smaller places where they feel more “gotten” and like part of a family. These are the folks who complain when you rearrange chairs or temporarily blacken the windows. They don’t like it when you break into small groups to pray together during the service. These are the people who gripe when the music is too loud or if you sing a traditional hymn with a new arrangement. These are the people who whine if you decide not to make coffee or ask them to go into the service 5 minutes before it starts (to maybe calm down and pray?) and visit with friends after the service. These are also the people who ask questions at congregational meetings like, “What are we going to do to get the younger couples back in our church?”

There are two sides to the coin.

I see them both.

Very well, if I do say so myself. And both groups have legitimate insights that should be addressed. No question there.

And, I’m thankful I go to a local church that gives teenagers a chance to be a part of the church right now. They’re not waiting until they “grow up” and “become leaders.” Nope. My church is pretty good about giving my students meaningful opportunities to serve anywhere and everywhere folks can serve. We have teens that make the coffee and sing on worship teams. They help in children’s ministry and they lead small groups in middle school. They sweep floors and go on mission trips. Frankly, I’m pretty blessed to work for a church that “gets it.” And, I’m blessed that my teens want to be part of the whole, too.

But I think there’s a need from those of previous generations to “dive in” to mentor the young. To teach them the beauty of “All Hail the Pow’r of Jesus Name” done in 4/4 time the traditional way. To teach them why we have a multi-purpose facility with basketball goals and stackable chairs in our auditorium. To teach them that it’s okay to have a cup of joe and maybe enjoy chatting with friends before you step into the service. To teach them why our building is designed with wide hallways and ample parking lots. There were, and are, good reasons for this stuff.

And I think the more mature believers should be willing to let some of those things go every now and then. I mean, if they fire up “Amazing Grace” to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun” and think that’s original, let it rip! If they choose to arrange those chairs and darken the windows on occasion and light candles and go acoustic with no amplified sound, let it rip! If they want to experience solemnity and you don’t get coffee before the service and have a quiet foyer before everything starts, let it rip! If they want liturgy, let it rip! If they want a smaller feel, let it rip! There were, and are, good reasons for this stuff.

And, you know, I think it’s win-win if we can create a ministry in such a way that the young have a chance to get to know the more mature spiritually so both sides can LISTEN to the other. We have some GREAT things we do already…like our mission trip to Mexico. Manalive, the adults that go LOVE the trip. But not because of the work, but because of the relationships they build with the young.

And, the middle school girls love it when some of the ladies come from their empty-nest lives and talk to them about what it means to walk with Christ for 45 years.

So, if I’m reading the book correctly, the future of student ministries hinges on stuff like this…

…finding ways for generations to mix and mingle and hear each other’s stories.

To listen to each other.

To serve each other.

To love each other.

I don’t think the ideas are really all that complicated. Being creative and innovative in order to facilitate it is extremely complicated.

But worth it.

And I should’ve written the book back then, man.