How Can We Make Youth Ministry More Missional?

Adam McLane, from The Youth Cartel, has written an excellent guest post for the Asbury Seminary Seedbed site on “Why Youth Ministries Are Not Working in America,” and the first item on his list is … “Amissiological approaches”:

Adam McLane“If you were to move to a new community as a church planter or if you relocated cross-culturally as a missionary your first year would be heavily engaged in research. You’d spend months doing ethnography, learning the nuances of language, understanding norms, mores, and discovering not just how people communicate but how the culture really operates.

“We don’t do any of that in American youth ministry. Our approach is amissiological. Most youth workers start a new job the same way pioneers tried to settle Massachusetts. We don’t just deny the importance of local culture and church ecology, we find our identity in ignoring it and pressing forward without ever asking the question, ‘Is this even Good News to the students in my ministry?’”

What are your thoughts on missional youth ministry? What does it look like? And/or what does it take to make the missional shift in youth ministry?

  • adam mclane

    I love your questions, Steve. I think it’s important that we ask these questions and get to know our communities before we design ministries to serve them.
    My feet are in 2 different worlds sometimes. My wife grew up overseas on the mission field with her parents. It’s odd to me that my statement above isn’t a “well duh, Adam” but that it’s really thought provoking at all.
    The imperialistic mindset of “this is how we do church, teach the savages how to do church” really died in the 1970s – 1980s. Not just because it was awkward theologically. But also because it didn’t work.
    I read the comments to my Seedbed article and a lot of them accused me of being too matter of fact. I mean, really? Matter of fact? Matter of fact is that I’m tired of talking to my friends in the hours after they’ve been laid off! I’m sick of seeing fantastic, education, motivated youth workers walk away and go sell cars because their missiology sucks.
    Anyway, that’s my thought. Label me what you want: IMO– I’m just trying to talk some sense into people!

    • Steve Knight

      I love it, Adam, please keep talking!

  • the holly

    i was taught to do youth ministry from a missiological perspective. not quite twenty years ago, this shifted the way i saw the world. we were taught to negotiate to not actually host any programs for three months to give us at least a bit of time to do ethnography, to ask questions, to learn the culture.

    as you can imagine, no church i’ve ever served bought into that time line.

    we have a crisis. its not only that youth ministers are taught to be attactional program directors and proof text their actions with scripture. but we’ve taught congregations that this approach is what “good” youth ministry is. we need a holistic overhaul, one that targets both communities and youth ministers from a missiological perspective. we need new metrics to measure “success.” we need to cultivate places that are safe places for risk. we need spaces for consistent reflection and evaluation so that instead of people fearing for their jobs, there is a culture of improvement and creativity.

    can you imagine not just a youth minister but a community who has learned to ask a different set of questions? who asks what are the values of the people around them? who reflect on the whole notion of an ideal of “good news” and how the gospel is always embedded in a culture? i can’t help but wonder how that might change the ways the community worships, serves, relives suffering, and, gulp, practices the art of youth ministry.

    • Steve Knight

      Holly, mind if I just copy and paste your entire comment into my next blog post?!? Seriously. Great thoughts. Thanks so much for sharing them here!

      Especially this: “It’s not only that youth ministers are taught to be attactional program directors and prooftext their actions with Scripture, but we’ve taught congregations that this approach is what ‘good’ youth ministry is.” Bam.

  • Steven Carter

    I think it starts in two different ways. Either bringing in someone who has a finger on the pulse of the youth culture, or someone who is capable of sitting back for a couple of times and gauging what the culture is telling you, picking up on the subtle nuances that would otherwise escape someone entrenched in teen mental occupational warfare. You have to be creative and patient. That is my two cents.

  • the holly

    sure, steve, happy to have you copy and share. :) altho i’d edit it a bit for readability.

    i’ve been flirting around for years on writing a “basics of contextualization for youth ministry” book. hmmm…

  • Jake

    This is something that has been on my mind a ton lately. How can I as a youth pastor of a group of about 60-70 shift the focus of our church culture away from the always dangerous consumerist mindset to a mindset of Jesus. I think we often lose sight of that what it is all about. If Christian means little Christ, then we need to be looking more like him.

    Jesus never put on a program and expected people to come to him. No, he went into the community, healed people, loved the unloved, served those around him, and then the people were drawn to him. That’s not to say that everyone was happy. The Pharisees hated Jesus for this style of ministry. It messed with their program. Their study.

    Don’t get me wrong, we need to be teaching our youth so that are empowered to go out and do. To go out and be Jesus to those that have never seen him. I am worried that we are becoming too caught up in doing programs that we think that Jesus would like and we forget about Jesus himself.

    Now, practically, this is what I am struggling with. Like I said, I am working on figuring out how to implement a biblical style of ministry in a group our size.