|Philip Murray with youth at Taizé, France, this summer|
In recent years, many traditional and “mainline” churches in the western world have been experiencing dramatic drops in membership, interest, and influence in society at large. As people in our society become more interested in religion and spirituality in general, this increased interest is not being reflected in the number of people attending church on any given Sunday. When faced with questions about their future survival, many churches find themselves focussing on youth.
Youth are an integral element of our congregations as they provide hope for the future and energy for the present.
The youth of today are indeed the decision makers and the leaders of tomorrow. While some may find it difficult to imagine a future Prime Minister chilling out with friends at the local skate park, those who take the time to get to know the average teenager will discover a wealth of possibility and potential. Fostering a strong and involved population of gifted youth in the current life of the church is an effective way of ensuring a strong and involved population of gifted adults in the future life of the church.
However youth are more than the church of tomorrow – they are also the church of today. Many churches in our Diocese have youth. For some the youth are highly visible in that they attend weekly worship services or youth group programs. For other churches, the youth are barely visible, showing up once in a while with families for the occasional service. Whether your parish has one teenager in the pews, or hundreds showing up regularly, you have an opportunity for youth ministry.
Youth have specific pastoral and spiritual needs. Adolescence is one of the most formative times in our human development, as it is the time when we change from childhood into adulthood – resulting in significant physical, emotional and relational changes over a relatively short period of time. During adolescence the focuses of our relationships shift from being primarily within the family unit to being with peers. Sexual maturing and the accompanying hormonal shifts experienced during adolescence result in an onslaught of emotions, feelings and urges. High school combines the need to establish oneself for the future with academic success, with the need to succeed and be accepted socially. And adolescence is the time when personal belief systems become established and solidified. In many instances, adolescence is the time during which individuals make the decision as to whether or not they will continue to follow the religious teachings they have inherited from their parents.
Youth Ministry is about relationship. Establishing relationship with the youth who are present in your parish as children of God (as opposed to children of Mr. or Mrs. Parishioner) is an integral element to providing effective ministry to youth. By establishing relationships of trust with youth, one opens up the potential of being present to your youth when they encounter the questions and difficulties which inevitably accompany adolescence. And when we are present to youth, we become present to God with and in youth. It doesn’t take much, and doesn’t require one to don hoodies and ball caps askew on the head. It does, however, take time, heart, and energy. But if we take the time, heart and energy to connect with the youth in our midst today, not only will be we assuring the strength of our church for tomorrow, but we will be opening up potentials for energy, creativity and joy in the here and now.
A wide range of resources for leaders is available. Here are some compiled by Philip Murray and Elaine Perry of Vine & Fig Tree books, 4109 MacDonald St., Vancouver - www.vineandfig.ca
The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry by Kenda Creasy Dean and Ron Foster. This book is not about methods, but about realizing that at the core, youth ministry exists in order that we can form authentic relationships with young people
Grace-based youth ministry: Helping teenagers see themselves through God’s eyes by Chris Hill. Based on the Biblical story of David, Hill aims to encourage, inspire and motivate youth leaders to help dispel a ‘secret’ many teens believe - that they are losers. The subtitle says it all - looking for a God’s eye view.
Practicing Discernment with Youth: A Transformative Youth Ministry Approach by David F. White. A great introduction to ancient and modern discernment practices for youth, including both theory and practice, as an inclusive part of the rhythm of life.
Ready to Go Youth Group Activities: 101 Games, Puzzles & Ideas for Busy Leaders by Todd Outcalt. Every youth leader needs a quick and handy resource of simple yet effective last-minute ideas for youth group meetings. Perfect for that busy week!
Single Digit Youth Groups: Working with Fewer than 10 Teens by Marcey Balcomb. Struggling to get the ‘critical mass’ for a successful youth ministry? Balcomb offers encouragement and strategy for ‘single digit’ youth groups, as well as many practical suggestions.
Group’s Blockbuster Movie Events for Youth Ministry: Relevant Retreats and Movie Nights by Bryan Belknap. What group of teens does n’t like getting together for a movie night? Belknap provides a complete plan for each suggested movie, including scripture verses, discussion questions and an overnight retreat schedule.
DayBook for New Voices: A Calendar of Reflections and Prayers by and for Youth ed. by Maren C. & Maria I. Tirabassi. A daily devotional book written and edited by young people with a wide variety of resources including prayers, poems and short bible studies.