Friday, May 28, 2010

"Adult in Training Youth Ministry Program" v0.1

I previously posted an idea I had for a Youth Ministry "Position Book".  One of the people that I had talked to about this remembered it, and he wants to help me take this project to the next stage.  So we're going to talk it through some more, refine it, and then present it to Dr. Wilgus when he is back in Austin in September.

Dr. Ken Wilgus is a believer from the metroplex who works as a youth and family counselor.  From his counseling experience he has put together a parenting action plan.  His big idea is that the whole point of parenting a teenager is that the parents need to actively prepare the youth for adulthood by granting the youth more and more autonomy and responsibility.  Dr. Wilgus calls these youth "adults in training" (AiT).

Dr. Wilgus has a great presentation on this.  He likens a teenager to an island nation that is being ruled from afar by the parents.  His vision is for the parents to begin granting the teenager limited autonomy in several areas of their lives:
  • The clothes they wear.
  • The music they listen to.
  • Their hair style.
  • Their friends.
  • Their homework.
  • and others.....
The idea is to give the AiT more and more freedom, and the responsibility that comes with it.  Parents are responsible for deciding the time table upon which an AiT gains their freedom and responsibility over each area of their lives.  The teenager learns how to make decisions, and grows up into adulthood before they leave the house.

Youth Ministry:
If that is the new model of parenting, then youth ministry needs to be adjusted to match it.  To a large degree, youth ministry is an extension of parenting.  And just as parents have to adapt and learn new skills in order to carry out this planned withdrawal, youth ministries will need to adapt in order to better fulfill their roles in this new plan.

The New Program:
I am calling this new youth ministry program the "Adult in Training Youth Ministry Program" (AiTYMP).  (If you come up with a better name, please share.....)  All of this is subject to change, but this is what I think the AiTYMP consist of:
  • Focus on teaching the AiT decision-making skills.
  • A published set of roles and responsibilities for the youth ministers, parents, and teenagers.
  • A published schedule of when to cover the various social topics.
  • A published outline of what will be presented on each topic:
  • - The clear 'sin' boundaries found in Scripture.
  • - The range of options that godly people could choose.
  • - The youth ministry's recommendation(s).
  • A presentation and workbook for parents whose kids enter the program.
  • A course for youth ministry volunteers who will be teaching in the program.

When teenagers enter the program they need to be told on the first day that they will be learning decision-making skills in order to learn how to be an adult.  That is the point and focus of the program.

There needs to be an outline for how to make godly decisions.  Off the top of my head the outline looks something like this:
  • Study Scripture
  • Pray
  • Seek godly counsel
  • Flee temptations
  • Defer decisions whenever possible (in order to keep your options open.)
There is a lot of meat in there.  Bible stories take on new meaning as lessons in decision-making and finding God's will.  Much of what the world tells us to pursue can be covered under the heading of 'flee temptations'. So we're not making a sea change in what is taught in the youth ministry, we're just re-organizing it and providing a larger context for making it meaningful to the teenagers' lives.

Roles and Responsibilities:
It is always important for everyone to understand their roles and what everyone else is expecting of them.  Here we have a beautiful opportunity to clarify this for everyone.  This should provide everyone with peace-of-mind and common vocabulary for the journey.  The roles and responsibilities need to be communicated to the parents, especially.  This is the first key way in which parents can be brought into the whole Adult in Training program.

Like everything else here, this is all subject to change.  But I think that the roles and responsibilities break down like this:
- Youth ministry volunteers:
  • Teach the material.
  • Offer godly counsel.

- Parents:
  • Decide when an AiT is ready for a certain freedom/responsibility.
  • Communicate this schedule to their AiT.
  • Enforce consequences when an AiT fails to live up to their responsibility.
  • Make the final decision on lifestyle options that may be practiced while the AiT is living in the parents' house.

- Teens:
  • Communicate their desires for freedom/responsibility to their parents.
  • Learn the material.

The Schedule:
If we wait and talk about an issue after the AiT has already faced the temptation then probably they will fail the test and succumb to the temptation.  That's why we have to teach and prepare the AiT before they face the various temptations.  This will be hard for most parents to accept.

But the youth ministry needs to present each topic before the AiT run into it out in the world.  That may mean that almost every topic needs to be covered very very early, in a very high level--because the world is throwing smoking, drugs, sex, rock & roll, pornography, and violence at the kids at a very young age.

This will cause a constant problem that may be the Achilles' heel of the program.  AiTs will be taught about every topic before the parents are ready to give them freedom and responsibility in that area.  There might be a few early bloomers and liberal parents, but for the great majority of cases the youth program will be the first place that the AiT hear about topics such as:
  • pornography
  • family violence
  • drugs
  • suicide
  • etc.
The parents need to be brought up to speed on this before their AiTs enter the program.  The youth workers need to constantly remind the AiTs that they are teaching ahead of the temptations, and ahead of the time that their parents grant them the freedom/responsibility.

The Topics:
(You know the list.  I'll fill that in later.)

For every social topic that is covered, there are several key questions that must be discussed:
  • What are God's boundaries (at what points are you sinning)?
  • If there is room for interpretation on that boundary, then why do we interpret the way we do?
  • What does temptation in this area look like?
  • How do you know if you are being tempted to sin?
  • If you have fallen to temptation in this area, how should you change your behavior to guard against continuing to sin?
  • If someone you know has fallen to temptation in this area, how should you treat them?
  • What are the types of options that you could choose, without sinning?
  • What factors should you consider when making this decision for yourself?
The sin question is the other potential Achilles' heel of this program.  Every church is going to need to customize this program to suit their own beliefs.  Some families will bounce from church to church looking for a ministry program that agrees with them on every sin definition.

I think that a youth minister is going to have to take this program idea to the leaders of his/her church, and have the leaders of the church discuss and decide on those sin definitions.  A youth minister who is left defending definitions that he/she wrote will be out of a job quickly.

This is probably the part of the program that you are most skeptical about.  I agree.  Before we can say that we have a program at all, we are going to have to write up one or two of these.  I think this is the outline:
  • Topic
  • Relevant Scriptures
  • Clear sin situations (we would doubt the salvation of anyone who argued these)
  • Debatable sin situations (might be sin or could lead to sin very easily, but we would not exclude anyone from full fellowship over these.)
  • Our congregation's suggested boundaries / lifestyle / practice for a sin-free life.
  • Recommendations for someone caught in this sin.

The Presentation:
Parents should be urged to attend the program entry presentation.  Where I said 'published', above, I meant that the parents would be handed these items at the entry presentation.  This is what I was referring to as the 'youth ministry position book' in my previous article.

The presentation should be a short form of Dr. Wilgus's presentation.  The parents should be invited to participate in an adult learning community like the Parenting Adolsecents class, as a follow-up to the presentation.

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