Why social justice should not be the focus or goal of student ministry.

Why social justice should not be the focus or goal of student ministry.

According to the California Teacher’s Association website, generation Z is the generation that “while they may be named for the last letter of the alphabet, they’ll soon be at the forefront of solving the worst environmental, social and economic problems in history.”[i] This generation, born in the mid 90’s, or current middle and high school students, are supposed to be the ones that fix all our problems. This is the generation that will recognize the damage we have done to the planet and to each other and rise up and fix it. This is a perspective by many secular leaders, and is a calling that Christian and non-Christian kids are trying to live into. With social action being all the rage right now the church has been able to find common purpose with our culture to expand God’s Kingdom.

But is social action and world change really the goal of the youth worker? Is mobilizing an army of young people to enact lasting social change what we are called to do?

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Retelling a lost story

Retelling a lost story

Remember This Movie: Lions and tigers and bears, ___________! If you could immediately fill in the blank, then, whether you realize it or not, you have been impacted by culture. If upon further thought, you could fill in the blank and your mind went to Dorothy and her companions walking along a yellow brick road towards Oz, then you have some context for that cultural expression. And if the conclusion of that statement causes you begin to think about your favorite scenes, smile at the munchkins, hum a song, and even have fond memories of seasons of life when you enjoyed watching the film, then you are part of the generation that has been impacted by the movie, The Wizard of Oz.

Many of us have grown up with this movie. We know the songs, we know the stories, and we know the characters. We have seen poor high school versions of this movie, and even a brave interpretation of the story by Micahel Jackson. And because this story is so ingrained in our current pop culture, there was a place for someone to come along and use that story to tell a fuller story. And that is exactly what happened in the production of Wicked.

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what if chap is right?

There are two compeating truths that are attempting to live together in the youth ministry world. Truth 1) The process of adolescence is lengthening.  Tn the 1950’s most sociologists agreed that by the time someone was 16  they had completed the process of individuation.    And in the 70’s it was around 18, in the 90’s early 20’s and now late 20’s. Chap clark has done a ton of work in helping youth workers and parents understand this process.  Even time magazine is on board with this truth.

Truth 2) That students today are so over having youth ministry be fun and light.  They are ready for deep theology, emerging worship practices, justice ministry, and being missional.

As I have been trying to bridge the gap of these two truths, I have been coming up short.  and over the past year or so I have been intentionally wrestling with these competing truths, and am coming to an un pc conclusion:   I firmly agree that while adolescence is lengthening, students are not developmentally prepared or ready for some of the deeper things of christianity.

I have written an article developing this view here:

Because youth workers are doing youth ministry longer, it makes sense that we have our spiritual growth overflow into the heart of our ministry.  But as the developmental gap widens, we have to be so much more thoughtful and aware of differentiating our issues and growing edge with those of our students.

Which leaves me wondering: Where are the books that actually equip those of us in the field who work with middle school and high school students that address this phenomena on the front end?

Because, if this lengthening is real, then the implication is not just that students are behaving like adolescents well into their 20’s.  It also means that current high school students are behaving and processing the world the same way middle schoolers were just 10 years earlier.  This truth leaves me with some unresolved questions:

If that is true, then shouldn’t high school ministry today look more similar to jr high ministry of 10 years ago, then like college ministry?

If this is where our high schoolers are at, what in the world are we supposed to do with our middle schoolers?

How do we walk with students who are engaged in and exposed to very adult material and are even less able to process these experiences because they are even more developmentally delayed then we are aware of?


are you noticing this in your ministries?

student ministry is changing at break-neck speed because students are becoming more and more complex.  they are exposed to more complex and adult issues at a time in their lives when they are becoming less developmentally prepared to deal with them.  while this is very overwhelming, i am committed to figuring it out.  i want to walk well with students through this crazy season of their lives.  i so want god to use my feeble efforts to be part of the redeeming process, not the part that needs to be redeemed.  thankfully, no matter what, god uses all of it; the good, the bad, and the ugly, as part of his authoring and perfecting of their faith.  thanks be to god!