Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Youth ministry idea: Position Book

My BA is in Christian Ministry from ETBU, and I did a year and a semester towards my M.Div. at New Orleans Seminary before family happened and I ended up getting a real job.  I had started school expecting to go pastor and church-plant on the mission field.  When I went to seminary that plan had morphed into teaching Bible Interpretation, maybe in the US but probably on the mission field.

I was never a youth ministry guy.  I fumbled my way through a summer missions stint as a youth pastor at a little church in Idaho.  But kids were never my calling.

Now I have a kid in youth group.  I was talking to some friends today about their kids in youth group.  I got a fresh perspective on the struggles and issues of running a youth ministry.  I have a new understanding of one of the big mostly-hidden problems of youth ministry.  And I have an idea how the problem might be solved.

Youth ministry involves teaching people's kids.  Those kids' parents come from a diverse background.  They have very different opinions on things like music, clothes, dating, movies, food, etc.  These are not really Bible issues.  The Bible only speaks to these issues indirectly.  I think that the topics I'm concerned about here are really "social" issues--how should a godly person live in an ungodly society?

These are topics that the kids are desperate to talk about.  They need guidance on these topics.  And they probably are not getting that guidance at home--or they are not listening to their parents.  So it is entirely appropriate for the youth ministry folks to talk about these topics.  But what should they say?

In about sixth grade my Sunday school class had a revolving door of substitute teachers.  At one point we had three different teachers on three consecutive weeks.  And all three teachers took it upon themselves to talk about sex.  I don't remember the sequence, but one preached abstinence, another preached safe sex, and another tried to tell us that homosexuality wasn't all that bad.  I'm pretty sure that none of the parents had any idea that was happening.  Actually, I'm pretty sure that these substitute teachers didn't clear that topic with anyone.

That's an extreme example, but I'm sure that stuff happens all the time.  The other thing that I'm sure happens all the time is that parents hear (or overhear) some snippet of what was discussed and then jump to conclusions and get all bent out of shape.  One of my friends today was upset that the youth group had talked about one of these social topics with his kids.  It happened to be a social topic that he and his wife had just spent several weeks arguing with their child over.  My friend was pretty upset.

We talked for a while and figured out that the real issue wasn't that the youth ministry folks talked about that particular topic--although some warning would be nice.  The real issue is that he doesn't know what kind of advice his child was given.

Christy and I recently went through a parenting seminar and class, and we have a vision of what this period of parenting should entail.  And every kid is going to grow up at their own pace.  What might be appropriate for one child at one time will not likely be appropriate for another child at the same time.  So some parent or another is always going to be scandalized that their child isn't ready to discuss this or that.  How can a youth ministry move forward?

Now I understand what most of them do.  They talk a good game to parents about how they want the parents involved and informed, and then they don't really tell the parents what the parents want to know.  Parents seem to be willing to let the sleeping dog lie, and so there is this mutual deception going on.  You pretend to tell us what is going on and we'll pretend that we approve.  But when the inevitable happens and a parent actually finds out what is being taught they get all upset.

I have an idea of how it might be done differently.

A youth ministry could generate (over time, with parent input) a "Position Book".  This book would contain the official stated teaching positions of the ministry team on all social issues.  Clothing, music, movies, dating, non-Christian friends, etc.  What will we teach your kids?  When will we start teaching each topic?  How much will we encourage the children to form their own opinions and experiment for themselves?  Will we give parents warning before we cover a topic?

The parents should get a copy of the position book, and have the opportunity to input on it.

The Position Book should also be accompanied by a vision training session for the parents and youth.  This seminar session should lay out the vision that the youth are really "adults in training" and that they have to start getting exposed to more and more options so they can start learning to make up their own minds.  I would use Ken Wilgus's map and the concept of strategic withdrawal in this vision session.  And the teaching times for these social topics would be organized along a time table slightly ahead of where "average" kids should start gaining some independence in an area.

When these teaching times came up the teachers should be well familiar with the position statements on the topic.  The topic should be introduced with references to the strategic withdrawal and the idea that the youths will all vary a little on exactly when their parents decide give each youth increased freedom and responsibility in that area.

I think that this would get parents and youth staff onto the same page better than any system/process that I have ever heard of.  This would make communication so much easier, and could really facilitate better parenting--by keeping parents on a program of strategic withdrawal.  Since attending Wilgus's seminar I have thought that this concept should be taught to the youth so they could gain the language and a safe location to discuss it.  The youth could start talking about how they were gaining freedom and accepting responsibility, which I suspect would greatly help most of them.

Update 2/17/2010 @ 11pm: I sent an email to Dr. Wilgus about this idea (through Frank Childers--thanks, Frank!)  Dr. Wilgus replied and said that he liked the idea and that his home church youth ministry was starting to use his stuff as a communication tool between students, parents, and the youth ministry staff.  He expressed some doubts about whether or not it is possible to write position statements that would not scare off some parents.  That's a great point.  So I think that has to be the first to-do on the whole position statement idea.  I'm going to have to write one on a controversial topic and shop it around.  I'll just add that to my to-do list.  :-)

1 comment:

  1. sounds like a constitution or bill of rights for the the youth ministry effort - a project charter or organizational charter if you will. good idea.