Why are we letting big churches dump their baggage on the rest of us?

Why are the experts the experts?

I love youth ministry.  I mean, I really love  it.  I love doing it, talking about it, reading about it, writing about it, and learning from my "industry" leaders about upcoming trends and practical helps.  

But what I have found to be disconcerting after learning from the "experts" for quite some time, is that I am not really sure that they are the "experts."  The talking heads, leaders, authors and presenters in youth ministry circles are good looking, successful, high capacity youth ministry leaders of some of the largest youth ministries in our country.  

The reason for their huge numbers are not because they are incredible, brilliant youth workers who have more insight and wisdom the the common folk, but their platforms are mostly because they are part of huge churches.  

Their bosses should be presenters and "industry" leaders because they are the ones who have set up the culture, systems, or models that have grown their churches into mega churches.  But the youth worker is a youth worker within that system.  And for some reason we have given these youth workers a louder voice then is deserved.  

Without even realizing it, we have allowed mega churches and their youth workers to set the rules of the game, define the models, and when those models come up wanting, are the first to let us know the sky is falling.  But in reality, these leaders have simply been on a parallel trajectory wrestling with the ups and downs of attempting to disciple students within a large church culture.  They do have insights, wisdom, and corrections for youth ministry, but really for youth ministry in their minority context as youth workers within large churches. 

This a valuable conversation and these large church youth workers need a place to get together and work out their issues.  But what I am having less and lass space for is letting them set the expectations and parameters of the entire youth ministry world and how effective we are as a ministry.  

A case in point:

For the last few years, at every conference I have been to, Sticky Faith has been given a prominent platform.  And from this platform I have heard over and over again the perils of the one eared Micky Mouse, and how silo ministries with specific youth centric services have not been helpful in retaining students into the larger life of the church after High School.  

This conversation has opened up the door for all sorts of conversation about intergenerational ministry, students attending Big Church, and the 5:1 ratio of adults to students.  This is all well and good.  But what I find interesting, is that this is exactly what small and medium sized churches have been doing for decades.  

Most churches in America are not mega churches, they are not even large churches.  In fact most churches are measured in hundreds, not in thousands.  And in these small to medium sized churches, students have, by very nature, been an intrigued part of the life of the church.  

Small and medium sized churches have been doing the ministry fixes called upon by ministry leaders for decades:

  • They have had consistent Sunday School teachers
  • They are known by the Lead Pastor by name
  • They have small group leaders from  several generations
  • They are expected to attend Big Church
  • They would never be baptized outside the larger congregation
  • They have participated in Big Church in various forms ever since they were in Kids' Choir. 
  • When they return home from college, Big Church with the other adults is their home, not the porch of the  youth building.  

I love large churches and I love the innovation and professionalism they bring to our "industry."  But just because they are coming to realize that the models they have tried for a generation or two have come up wanting, does't mean that their crisis of ministry model is necessarily our crisis of ministry model.  

Small and medium sized churches have plenty to wrestle with and work through as we strive to disciple students and find ways to increase the likelihood that students will continue to follow Jesus into adult hood.  Let us be reflective as we evaluate what we do and why we do it.  But let us do with without the larger churches barfing their baggage all  over us in the process.

Let's hear it for small to medium sized church ministry! :)