There is a growing company of youth workers who are passionate about a theologically vigorous approach to youth ministry and the Christian formation of young people and who also feel vocationally called to challenge the church to be true to God’s mission in and for the world.
In the last decade, many youth workers have determined that it is essential and necessary to move out of the role of youth worker and seek more significant and influential roles in the church. They realize that the challenges of Christian formation of young people are not youth-ministry-only problems but broader ecclesiological problems. Unfortunately, many youth workers who decide to respond to this problem do so by planting churches, becoming lead pastors or choosing other, more influential roles. I believe that choice moves them further away from the role that offers the best opportunity to address these issues in the church.
The dysfunctions we wrestle with in youth ministry are not specific to youth ministry; they are broader ecclesial problems. However, youth workers who love Jesus, love people, love the church and love theology are able to profoundly impact the ecclesial conversation about what it means to truly be a community of people formed for loving God, loving others and passionately engaging in God’s mission for God’s glory.
I know we have to deal with ecclesial bureaucracies that seek to keep youth workers “in their place,” politely encouraging them to submit to those more qualified to speak about what the church should be. However, youth workers who understand and embrace the importance of deep theological reflection about issues like Christian formation, God’s mission, postures toward culture, the relationship between divine action and human action, personhood, sexuality and identity, soteriology, evangelism, the gospel and much, much more, are perfectly positioned to nurture change and curate healthy environments within the church.
If a church is to be a dynamic community of people following God in the way of our Lord Jesus Christ, we must see the importance of the entire body—each child, each young person, young adults, adults, elderly—along with all the human roles and diversity that constitute a church body. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16, NIV, emphasis added).
Youth workers have a wonderful opportunity to serve as curators of culture for their local churches. We cultivate space and environments for young people to, if given the freedom, speak honestly about the important theological and cultural issues that are at the nexus of the human experience and pursuit of making meaning in life. Young people are a vital part of the church body and have a great contribution to make to the wholeness of a church community. Youth workers have the privilege of helping the young people in our churches be heard and valued by their own congregations. As a result, the church will be better and truer to God’s mission.
I am passionate about youth ministry for many reasons. I love young people; I am filled with joy every time I witness transformation in a young person’s life; I love seeing young people discover who they are in Christ. I’ll complete four decades as a youth worker in a few years because I believe that it allows me the wonderful opportunity to speak into and contribute to the broader ecclesial conversation about what the church is and what the church should be about as we move deeper into the 21st century.