I recently read Brock Morgan’s book Youth Ministry in a Post-Christian World. In the book Brock discusses the major shifts we have experienced in our culture over the past couple of decades and how that has affected the students we work with in youth ministry. Because the world is a different place, by necessity, how we relate to and minister to students must change. Many of the ways we did ministry just a decade ago are no longer effective, and the expectations we had of students and our programs are no longer valid. But rather than sit back and miss the good ole’ days of youth ministry, Brock offers us a fresh perspective and a hopeful way forward.
One of the things that stood out to me in the book was the recognition that there seems to be a sad increase in the number of youth workers being fired these days. While there are certainly very legitimate reasons that some are released, more often than not, it is due to the perceived inability of the youth leader to get large numbers of students to come out to their programs. Morgan makes the astute observation that many of the senior pastors and supervisors in the church today were either youth workers or students themselves in the 80s and 90s when it seemed that all one had to do was offer pizza and some messy, crazy games, and kids from all over the community would come out to youth ministry programs en mass. In that era, success was defined in terms of numbers. What many overseers and decision makers today often fail to recognize is that those days are long over.
At the National Youth Worker’s Convention I attended last week, Dr. Kara Powell noted: “When I was a youth leader in the 80s and 90s, parents would call and ask us to have more activities for their students. Now when parents call, it is to apologize that their students can’t come because of they’re too busy.” In the book, Morgan does not suggest that counting is unimportant or that we should just resign ourselves to running programs no one will come to. Rather, he challenges us to change what we are counting. Success in today’s youth ministry should be measured much less in terms of attendance at our events, and much more in terms of individual care, how often we are getting out of our offices and connecting with students one-on-one or on campus, how we are encouraging and helping students become authentic members of the larger church body, how we are getting students involved in compassion and justice, how we are investing in families … These are things that matter and have lasting impact in students’ lives.
He also calls on youth workers to remember that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and that as people on the front lines contending for the hearts of a generation, we need to be doing battle on our knees in prayer, and we need to be living in purity. Whenever there have been significant moves of God throughout history, the leaders were people devoted to passionate, faith-filled prayer and right, God-honoring living. Youth leaders must remain faithful to their primary calling of ministering before the Lord. Our ministry to students must overflow from our intimacy with the Father.
I highly recommend this book. I am looking forward to having Brock speak to our entire youth leadership team, and perhaps even our entire church leadership team. I believe he has a word for the church in our generation.