It’s about youth work again I’m sorry

I recently learned that in the denomination of which I am a part we now not only have a ‘children’s department’ and ‘youth department’ but we now also have a ‘young adults department’.  Now according to PCI these terms are self-explanatory but to me they weren’t so let me explain.  Category one is from age 0-11; category two is from age 12-18; and category three is from age 18-25.

When I first heard of the third category I quipped “what does that job involve?… telling 18-25 year olds that they’re adults and need to grow up?! ha ha” but no-one laughed…  and that’s not really what the job involves at all.

Apparently young adult workers are required in our denomination because 18-25′s is the ‘missing generation’.  People are appointed to help churches form 3-5 year strategies of how to target this specific age-group in order to ‘keep’ or ‘find’ people from this age group.   Now I realise that I have graduated from this age group a couple of years ago but I have a sense of suspicion and unease about this.  There are two reasons:

1) Why are we concerned with a missing ‘age-group’ in our denomination but never so concerned with a missing ‘social-class’ for example? That’s really a side-point though…

2) I suspect that the missing age-group has more to do with the fact that this generation (of which I am a part) have become consumers of church rather than active members of the body of Christ.  It is this that makes me most wary about a special focus on this particular age group.

I am constantly figuring out what it means for me to be a youth worker but lately i’ve been thinking that at least part of what it means to do my job well is to tell these 12-18 year olds (that’s the youth category you know?!;-) ) that they’re not who the world tells them they are.  That even though they’re young they have a story and are fully part of what God is doing in and through the Church.  I feel like part of what my job is is to tell them that they’re more like the adults in their congegration than they think.  My fear is that having a ‘young adults’ worker will do the opposite… not intentionally perhaps but surely by building our programes and strategies around the focus of ‘keeping’ these young people rather than loosing them to other congregations (which is true of most of this missing generation) then what we are doing is perpetuating the poisonous idea that church is something that we consume rather than commit ourselves too. We perpetuate their idea that they have a right to consume as well as perpetuate the idea to the older congregation that we have to be something that the young people want to consume or else we’re in trouble.

I do feel a little like telling this ‘missing generation’ to step up and be the church.  That church is not there to serve them or make them feel good or important but they are there to serve and commit to the church even when it’s full of people we dont particulary like, or agree with or even when the music is a bit weak, or the preacher doesn’t have a beard.  I want to tell my own generation that its not even about good stuff like great worshp or amazing teaching.  I am called to be committed to the body of christ as expressed in the local church because that’s what God chose to fulfill his mission.

Is this unfair?  is my desire to say, ‘just get on with it and grow up’ wrong?’ I dont know and i’d appreciate your thoughts.

I do know that i’m sick of people saying they’re not really part of a church because they tried it and it wasn’t really that good an experience and so they’ll just do life with God on their own.  …Well we cant.

…….
Since writing this blog a few hours ago the good man Kevin Hargaden posted this here . It makes my post much better…!

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20 Comments on “It’s about youth work again I’m sorry”

  1. WhyNotSmile Says:

    Great post! I agree muchly.

    Too many churches form strategies to keep a particular group happy, and then end up having to keep keeping that group happy, because the people who are attracted to that are the people who like to be kept happy.

  2. transfarmer Says:

    ‘the people who like to be kept happy’… i love that!

  3. lilytodd Says:

    Hi there, followed whynotsmile’s link and found you, really enjoying reading your blog.
    I have the deepest respect for your strength of faith but from my experience, many of the ‘missing generation’ disappear due to a real crumbling of their faith. They travel, read, move beyond their cultural expressions of faith, meet people who challenge everything they may have ever believed and they simply bow out for a while.
    It is easier/ better to experience a relationship with (yell out to) God alone rather than risk shaking your friends’ faith who are still ‘in church.’ Fear or inability to express doubts leaves some isolated and at that point they disappear. Better to vanish than to rock the spiritual worlds of people you love.

    Good worship bands and events are the last things some of these people need or want. They want reassurance, deep conversations, authenticity, they’ve moved beyond ‘youth work’. No more cheese and please no ‘grow up.’ Many are questioning and breaking their hearts over whether any of it was ever real?

    Some return in the next phase of their lives; they have kids, panic and want to bring them up in the church, just in case. Sometimes a reawakening occurs and at that point they start playing the church game again and ‘serve and commit.’

    I’ve felt the frustration of needing time out but knowing that I was a valuable ‘resource.’ Urging me to ‘serve and commit’ would not and did not work on me. I don’t want to be kept happy- just to have integrity. But then we’re not talking about me as I’m 32, who am I trying to kid?

    Massively long comment, sorry- love the blog, glad to have rediscovered it!

  4. canalways Says:

    hmmmm…interesting post.
    I think sometimes we’ve far too high an opinion of church and basically put it in the place of place. Many times we’re more concerned with getting people to follow the church than Jesus. And even if that’s not our intention, its what seems to happen.
    To be honest I suppose when you say to ‘step up and be the church’ my feeling is that we should step out and be disciples of Jesus, from young to old?

    As for the ‘missing generation’ business, its a pile of crap….
    How many people sitting in our churches each week might are a missing generation, but not counted as such because they’re good Presbyterians or whatever and come hell or high water?
    I don’t mean that in a slagging way. I mean in a sad way. In a ‘stuck-in-religion-that-makes-me-miserable-but-I-feel-like- I have to keep on coming each week’ sort of way.

    My has been committed to the same church for 60yrs but still he doesn’t feel like he can be himself and that his needs have been met, despite years of just hanging in there teaching Sunday school and being an elder, sticking on his suit and tie and fulfilling his duty.
    .
    I don’t think its him being selfish and expecting his consumer needs to be met, it more that he’s sick of being depressed and wants healed of it, he longing for the chance to be himself and community.
    Yet he’s never heard mention of things like depression or sermons about sex, or things that deal with his doubts and dark corners.
    Dad just gets hit with ‘the gospel’ week after week after week. He’s a faithful church goer but a member of the missing generation as well

    And as for younger people like myself I agree with Lily’s comment before…

  5. canalways Says:

    you may notice poor bad spelling and grammar mishaps in that previous post…canal ways is sleepy:)

  6. transfarmer Says:

    Lillytodd, I’ve spent over an hour wrestling with your thoughts! Thank you for commenting. I appreciate your heart and compassion (mine’s more full of cynicism and frustration!).

    Firstly, when I wrote the blog the kind of people you speak of were not in my head at all. And I realise my words in that light may seem harsh and perhaps flippant and I apologise for that. I was thinking only of the peoples who are happy to call themselves Christian but who ‘aren’t that into’ the church or certain kinds of church. I was seeking to challenge the culture of looking for churches with certain things rather than understanding the church as a whole. I was seeking to challenge the idea that the church is FOR us rather than that we ARE the church.

    HOWEVER, the kinds of people you speak of are also very real and I know many of them and you’ve got me to thinking about them. I guess I would wonder if wrestling with God apart from his people is to truly wrestle? I do think it can feel easier to be real with God, yell out to him, swear at him alone, but I guess I do not agree that to do so is better. I think these questions are real and important but I do not think that we can understand God or figure out our questions without the body of Christ. Only together can we reveal him and know him. I also suspect that we do not know how to be loved by God if we cannot even allow ourselves to be loved by people and we are not being loved by people if we cannot let them know our wrestlings.

    My desire to tell young people to ‘grow up’ (which i should not have phrased that way!) is a desire to say ‘you are not a second-class citizen just because you are young, you are also not off the hook from responsibility and accountability and discipleship just because you are young, so please see who you are, please see what the church is, please see that even though it’s all a mess and we’re all jerks that to be committed to loving these jerks and being loved by them is how God is winning this world.’ ‘It doesn’t matter if the place where you worship on a Sunday morning is a place you particularly like so much as it matters that it is what God has chosen to reveal himself to those around us.’

    I guess now after reading your comments i’m wondering if that’s also what I would want to say to the person who is genuinely wrestling with their faith as well as the person who is seeking an enjoyable experience? I’m not sure of the answer. How should we respond to people who are genuinely wrestling with their faith? I would seriously like to know your answer to that.

    I guess I feel like when you hear me say ‘commit to the church’ you hear it like i’m saying ‘just get busy doing stuff’ or something like that, but I suppose what I really feel is that being a christian is like being married to the Church, like you’re in it no matter what. Proper covenant stuff, this is utterly terrifying and demands every part of you but it means that even when your life crumbles, when you loose someone you love, or when you get depression, or when you get angry, or bored or whatever, that you commit not to walk away, but instead you say ‘this is what i am and this is what i feel please keep walking with me and i’ll keep walking with you’ because even our deepest wrestlings don’t stop us from being the church, infact i think such honesty is what makes the church act more like the church because we’d be truly doing life with each other. So I guess even though it may seem harsh i think I still would tell the person who is wrestling with the church that the best thing as well as the right thing is to get in there and not walk away from it, for their sake and for the sake of everyone else around them.

    I guess I believe that Jesus is still Lord even when I don’t believe him, or trust him, or like him. My wrestlings with God (and i’ve done some swearing in my time!) do not make that any less true and I guess I believe that perhaps the Christian life is just the dailyness of the choosing again and again and flippin’ again to live as though God is who he says he is even when I don’t feel like it is true or even when I dont want to. I guess I believe that this is more important than finding answers to my questions, I guess i believe that because i realise that the answers to my questions wouldn’t make me any less mad or sad about the things i’m pissed with God for allowing in my life.

    One thing’s for sure, neither kind of peoples need bullshit entertainment and I pray to God that’s never the kind of youth work I do.

    You have really made me think, and these are my verbal processings so feel free to kick my butt where you see fit because i’d really be thankful for that. Really. (that goes for any of you)

    cheers for the conversation.

    peace.

  7. transfarmer Says:

    Canalways, thanks for your thoughts, and despite the missing words your post still made sense!

    I think the missing-generation game is an idiotic one too and that was supposed to be my point though I feel increasingly like I have not done a good job at communicating what i was trying to communicate.

    Anyway I am not deluded about the state of the local church, most of the time or in large proportions it fails deeply. I am sorry that your dad has had to deal with such failings just as I am sorry for so many others. And it is so true what you say that so many of the ‘missing-generation’ are the very people that fill our pews.

    I do I guess disagree that there is a danger in being too committed to the church (the body of Christ) rather than Jesus. To me these two things cannot be separate, the one is the other, intrinsically linked so I don’t really understand what you mean by that (and would love to hear more). I guess i think that it is still freedom and joy and right to be committed to a bunch of people who at the minute can’t even manage to talk about the stuff of life like depression even though it can also be extremely frustrating. I don’t say that lightly, I know it makes me wanna burst my own head open in rage some days, but then I sort of imagine God looking at the state of his people in all their little congregations and knowing the worst of it and the best of and and yet still saying ‘yeah i know, i know, but this is still my bride and I will be revealed in her.’

  8. canalways Says:

    (long rambling comment coming up)

    well, I guess I’m working through lots of these sorts of issues with where H__and I are in life, with her training to be a minister in the PCI and me working out what that means for us both.

    If we end up being called to a church what are/should the expectations be for the ministers wife (i.e me?)
    The expectations are often that they are getting a ministry partnership or ‘two for one’ offer. But is that fair to assume that of me? Why should a church expect to get me as well H____?

    I guess that I often feel a sense of guilt from the local church that I don’t play the guitar, or lead Sunday School or help move things forward.

    It’s like a ‘if we all pull in the same direction we can really change the community’ sort of thing and then there’s a sense of frustration that people like me don’t want to pull in the same direction.

    Anyway, those thoughts are quite jumbled.
    But its good to work through them..

    As for not being as committed to the church as Jesus business I’ve been re-reading ‘Surprised by Hope’ by NT Wright and he was talking a bit about that sort of thing in chapter 8….well maybe he wasn’t, but oh well I’ll just quote a bit anyway

    ‘Only when we grasp firmly that the church is not Jesus and Jesus is not the church – when we grasp, in other words, the truth of the ascension, that the one who is indeed present with us by the Spirit is also the Lord who is strangely absent, strangely other, strangely different from us and over against us, the one who tells Mary Magdalene not to cling on to him – only then are we rescued from hollow triumphalism on the one hand and shallow despair on the other’

    The words from an Arcade Fire song ring true as well

    ‘Been working for the church
    While your life falls apart,
    Singing hallelujah with the fear in your heart,
    Every spark of friendship and love
    Will die without a home.

    Hear the soldier groan, “We’ll go at it alone”
    Hear the soldier groan, “We’ll go at it alone”‘


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  10. soapbox Says:

    Really interesting stuff – thanks for making me think about it too.
    I did notice when I moved to Dublin much more of the consumer mentality in some 20s and 30s although my small group is full of 20s and 30s who certainly have committed and got stuck in (again i’m not quite talking about the ‘young adults’ category.

    I do think there is a dual responsibility – yes on ‘young adults’ but also on those who lead the church to speak truth that engages with the whole of life. The sorry truth is like canalways says is that there are lots of churches/church leaders that just seem totally detached from the real life struggles, questions, learning and experiences of people and who either refuse to engage or are simply unable to…

  11. jaybercrow Says:

    This is a great discussion. I agree with everyone!

    • transfarmer Says:

      Jaybercrow you big fencer! You’re supposed to just tell me the answer and we’ll be done with it…

  12. the sayer Says:

    Wow transfarmer, I am so glad that the teenagers in our community are in your care. What a gift you are to them.

    I’m in complete agreement with you here.

    When I was nineteen I left the church. I suppose I was temporarily part of the “lost generation”. It wasn’t really on purpose. I had been attending a cliquey church for 5 or 6 years by myself and had never been received into the church family with love and welcome. I had been used and abused and I left feeling very hurt and annoyed. Nobody noticed either when I left. I started looking around for other churches, doing a bit of church shopping. I had no adult Christian guidance, I had never had any, so I was simply stumbling around in the dark trying to find a welcoming church family. Coming from a miserable home-situation myself, I knew I needed community. I didn’t find it. But why? Because I didn’t know what I was looking for. I didn’t know what I was made for. I didn’t know that my own role was to be as a reconciler, a forgiver, a rebuilder. I didn’t know in part because there was nobody like you to tell me that. But I also didn’t know it because I was a self-righteous self-centred hypocrite who wanted everyone to like and praise me, and that’s never going to happen. :)

    As it so often happens, the church found me again. A certain older person (K to the McCrory) invited me back to church and said that he and his wife would make me feel welcome there again. Not only did they come good on this promise, they also envisioned me for community and showed me how we can live together in love and fellowship even when we are broken, fucked up individuals. That gave me strength to return to the church that had rejected me and in turn, the courage to help Keith and S in their mission to see God build something new, in the shape of what is now our dysfunctional and wonderful current church, MCC. Now, 10 years on, I see what church is. I see who I am, albeit through a glass darkly. And I am with you in your convictions, 100%. I have not been spared hurt or disappointment in this new church, nobody has. But there is a commitment to love, a commitment to Christ, a recognition of our brokenness, that means we can stand together and say, “We are one body”. We fail, we stumble, we hurt one another. But, as you beautifully put it, like a marriage, we stay and we keep plugging away, and sometimes it is more beautiful than I can understand.

    To address Canalways, I think you’re missing Wright’s point. His point is not that Christ and the Body are not one – they ARE one. They cannot be understood apart from each other. His point is that the sins of the church are not the sins of Christ.

    When we are church consumers, as I once was, we often believe that the failings of the church reflect poorly on God. But they don’t. In fact they demonstrate further how stunning our God is because his determination is to use failures like us to bring his love to this world.

    I’m in.

  13. transfarmer Says:

    Sayer, thank you for sharing your story. so it seems that when we really get what the church is about that we are more able and willing to put ourselves right into it even when it hurts and fails us. but for people who don’t really understand what the church is (which is still me never mind was me) who’s responsibility is it that they have a truer understanding of the church? is it the churches responsibility or the persons responsibility or both or neither? This part i’m still confused about.

    Soapbox, thank you also for your comments, I ask you the same question…

  14. the sayer Says:

    “is it the churches responsibility or the persons responsibility…?”

    For me the crux is understanding that the “church” and the “person” (meaning the individual Christian person) are exactly the same thing! This isn’t about how we feel about things, although I can tell you my feelings of hurt and rejection were very real, and that that original church of which I was a part never changed and is by all accounts still the same today. I have some friends there who complain about it but they simultaneously refuse to be agents for change. They bemoan the lack of discipleship but do they become self-feeders? No. They bemoan the lack of grace but do they show grace? No. They bemoan the lack of young people, but do they share their faith with their their friends? No. Because they have no idea what their faith is. I am not condemning them mind, I once was them. They feel burnt out and so respond by dropping off the rota. Well no wonder they are burnt out. They aren’t drinking from the springs of living water in their own lives and their own homes. They come starving to the church service, and the church service does not satisfy. The church service was never meant to satisfy though. It is Christ who satisfies, and it is in the church service that we express to God as His body who we know Him to be.

    So I think it is both and! Both the individual and the corporate have responsibility, but all that we can do is be individuals that shape the corporate body. Marva Dawn helped me to see that I don’t go to church, I am the church. This, for me, changes everything.

  15. canalways Says:

    sorry, I keep on stalking this post…..just ignore me if I’m dragging things out and being annoying…(I’ve clearly too much free time on my hands with H___ being away in Paris for the weekend)

    When we say the church ‘the body of Christ’ or when Derek Webb sings about the church being the bride are these things meant to be taken as literal truths or are they metaphors?

    Like we say God is a rock and a fortress but He’s not literally a rock or a castle.
    And Jesus is the bread of Life but he’s not a loaf.

    So when Paul calls us the body of Christ are we the actual body of Christ or is it just a metaphor? If Jesus has actually risen does he not have his own body?

  16. canalways Says:

    I’m not saying I know/am right etc but was just wondering out loud

  17. Carel-J Says:

    I like it when someone says what I want to say, but then just says it better. Oh wait, did I say “I like that”, I mean “Isn’t it annoying” ;-)

  18. transfarmer Says:

    welcome aboard Carel-J

    • Carel-J Says:

      Thanks.
      We have the same problem here in South Africa. Young adults leave school, leave the teenager program and suddenly they are dumbstruck when they need to join the adult church. “But… but… you’re not organising events for me…”


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