This last week I had the privilege of sitting in on a roundtable discussion with some west coast youth pastors talking about post-christian student ministry. This conversation was facilitated by Jeremy Zach who is the XP3 Specialist for Orange. Jeremy is one of the sharpest youth workers out there, and most of that is due to the fact that he is a learner. He always wants to be stretched and grow. He strives to do his job better, and mostly he has a heart to be as effective as possible in reaching students for Jesus. And it is out of this heart that he put together a group to talk Post-Christian Ministry. The guys on this call are great youth workers and deep thinkers and you should check out their blogs and give them some push back :) They are: Peter Johnsen, Erik Anderson, Mike Cunningham, Ryan Reed, Looney Moore, and yours truly.
As our conference call began I realized very quickly that in a post-modern context, that is becoming more and more post-christian, our biggest challenge was trying to find common language to even begin this conversation. I knew there were questions to shape our conversations, but I was not exactly sure what questions were the right questions.
After our time, I spent some considerable time reflecting on our conversation, and reflected more about the context I find myself doing ministry, and about student ministry in general. After a little bit of wrestling, I realized that much of this conversation is us barking up the wrong tree.
It is not the programs that need to change:
Every church, every town, every student ministry has a very unique culture and style in which they do ministry. Some are huge and are like a worship service with hundreds of kids. Some are small group focused, some are on Wednesday nights, some are Sunday mornings only. Some have a strong campus presence, and others can't get on campus at all. Some are cluster focused, and some have a hodge podge of students. Some focus on worship, others on service, others on disciple making, and others on fun.
This emphases a ministry has doesn't matter when we are talking about post-Christian anything. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the what form a student ministry takes does not matter in the slightest. I have the exact same form that my youth ministry had when I was a kid in the early 90's. (Yikes) As I went around to visit other youth ministries on my Sabbatical, I realized there is nothing new under the sun. There are like 4 basic models and everyone falls into one of those models. AND THAT IS OK!
THERE IS NOT A SILVER PROGRAMATIC BULLET!
Unfortunately, this is where we want to go first in all of our conversations. We want want to find the secret sauce. But here is the reality: There isn't one. The form a student ministry takes does not matter, what matters are the underlying assumptions that inform your ministry. Some of those assumptions inform your form, but most of it will impact your youth ministry language, culture, expectations, and understanding of and communication of salvation, discipleship, and sanctification.
This conversation is motivated solely out of my love for Jesus and for my desire for as many to come to know him as possible. To be like Paul in my missionary endeavor, to be all things to all people, to find the thin places in my cultural context, and find the touch points with the Gospel and to point people to Jesus. This for me, is not an intellectual exercise or a pissing contest. It is recognizing that our culture has changed, and for some of us, the distance between us and the culture that our students live in has fundamentally changed. It is not simply a form or style issue, but a worldview issue. And this change must force us to change.
What does post-Christian even mean?
Owning that our students are fully post-modern, post-Christian, beings is hard to get our head around. We think because they can mimic back some Christian language at our gatherings this conversation doesn't apply. I think that outside the two hour program we do, no matter where in the United States we find ourselves, every student's worldview is completely post-modern and post-Christian. Simply stated this means that our students have no understanding of the Christian story and if they do, it has little to no impact on their lives and that they have basically rejected the Judeo-Christian ethics and morals that most adults over 40 take for granted. I have written about this topic several times, and for a little primer you can peruse the articles here:
All this is to say that if we are serious about reaching students we MUST get our head around the fact that their worldview and culture is FUNDAMENTALLY different than ours, and therefore we must do some cross culture contextualization. Here are some of the questions that will help us move the ball forward:
So, as we move forward in discussion, here are some questions I have surrounding this topic.
- What in the world does post-Christian mean?
- What is the the core of the Gospel? Is there even a core?
- What Gospel picture speaks good news to this culture most effectively?
- Can we own that penal-substitutionary atonement has ZERO cultural touch points with youth culture?
- What are we to do about that reality?
- How do we deal with students who are amoral?
- How do we develop convictions in our students that are Holy Spirit directed rather than us directed?
- How will we speak about, think about, and reach out to the LGBT community and those who sympathize with them. (Meaning all of our students)
- Can we or should we move away from behavior modification focused language and talks?
- How does us / them, in / out, death / life, language make us loose credibility with this culture?
- How can we embrace dissonance and complexity?
- If our goal was to make the Christian Faith and Christian Community a viable option for them to embrace in adulthood, how would that change what we do?
Ok, I got a little carried away. These are some of the questions I have, some of the thoughts that inform me, my worldview, and my ministry. The form of my youth ministry is for sure not cutting edge, but I hope and pray that the content of my ministry is getting closer and closer to the sweet spot, the thin place, of my context so that by God's grace, my students might embrace the love of God, experience salvation, healing, adoption, and live into the grand purpose that God has for their lives! (And that grand purpose has nothing to do with reaching their campus for Christ. Just sayin' :) )
May we love the LORD our God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and all of our MIND! And may we live life and do ministry in a way that compels our students to do the same.