Yesterday I engaged some colleagues in a conversation about the need for youth ministry to engage students in the life of the congregation as active participants, and not to sequester them in a program of programs and activities only for teenagers. Where is this already happening? I asked. What are the barriers to it?
My colleagues are smart. And experienced. And astute. They offered thoughts that I’ll be chewing on for awhile. Like:
We should do more than simply invite youth to take part in things as they already are, but should look for ways in which students can impact the thing they’re participating in. For example, when youth lead worship, do they simply read from a script they’re not allowed to change, or do they get to choose their own words?
Inter-generational trips are terrific opportunities for youth ministry done this way, because the default youth-as-participants, adults-as-leaders dynamic isn’t operative. Instead, adults and youth are co-participants. Everything is new and shared for everyone.
Engagement in congregational life is more than a youth ministry imperative. Congregations need to invite the participation of everyone in some new ways. Standard church programs like choirs remain vital connecting points for people, but lots of the things churches offer are unfamiliar to new people; I’ve repeatedly heard people say they don’t want to go on a retreat because they have no idea what that is. Youth ministry is a part of a larger congregational culture. It can influence that culture for good.
My colleagues are the best.