OK I know that sounds a little dramatic. Let me start Micro and move towards Meta. I also really want your input, so this is a conversation starter. Here it goes:
Well for about two weeks now I have become the acting Children’s Ministry Director at the Church where I am doing Interim Youth Ministry. They are doing some budget reallocations for staffing. First off let me admit I know next to nothing about Children’s Ministry. Or I should say, I have a lot of opinions about Children’s Ministry, most of which I imagine are badly out of alignment with reality.
Are you a Children’s Minister who recently was asked to “expand” your job to also be the Youth Minister in the midst of church staff budget cuts? Are you a Youth Director that recently took on the Children’s Department in your job description? Are any of you in charge of BOTH Children and Youth and now have been asked to take on an additional ministry area?
So, I always had this opinion that the difference between Children’s Ministry and Youth Ministry was more or less rules and structure. Obviously developmental age differences also, but I mean philosophically different otherwise. Children’s Ministers were much more professional than a Youth Minister like me. They had charts and databases and lot of volunteers. There were clear rules that all must follow. These rules had no grey area. Youth Ministers like me tried to break rules or eliminate them to give Youth room for “creativity” and “growth” and frankly to justify me wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and a baseball cap to work. Parents generally liked Children’s Ministers and Parents were generally worried about Youth Ministers because of things like the marshmallow slip and slide and the mystery trip (which I think was invented by an early Youthworker who just could not plan a trip with any details).
OK, so my opinions about most of this have been way off. Many Youth Ministers are highly organized. Some Children’s Ministers actually “wing-it” each week to teach Sunday school. (At least try to “creatively imagine” this for the sake of the article please.)
When I started in Youth Ministry, there were a ton of well-trained folks doing full time Youth Ministry. Many Youthworkers were still volunteers, but we had these Seminary trained clergy doing Youthwork, planning camps, leading group mission trips, etc. We had “go to” people who were experts at the Conference Office and at area churches.
Now, three decades later, we have put event managers in place at the Conference level and these good folks have little training or local church experience to help in adolescent faith formation. Similar things have happened on the Conference level around the country with Children’s Ministry. Camps suffer. Events suffer. The “go to” expert has gone bye bye. So we search the internet for the best “help” we can latch onto.
This has now trickled done to the local church. We just need somebody to keep the calendar organized, the programs running, the trips planned, and the parents happy and out of the Senior Pastor’s office. We need budgets maintained and we need Safe Sanctuaries implemented. And now because of growing debt and shrinking staff budgets, we need one person to cover Children and Youth. Or maybe go back to getting volunteers to do it all the way ministry happens in most churches.
Don’t get me wrong, most of these things are important to vital ministry with Children and Youth. But it seems like an era has come to an end. Who resources the volunteer? Who supports the overworked Children/Youth/Young Adult/Family Life/Outrach Director who also needs to develop the Power Point for this week’s comtemporary service because only this uniquely qualified staffer has that skill set?
What happened to the well-trained Christian Educator who knows about developmental needs of toddlers through high school seniors? What about Faith Formation as opposed to event preparation?
I recently took my confirmands to an all conference rally designed just for them. I must say it was well-planned and very FUN! Some groups were led there by their Children’s Minister, some by their Youth Minister and we stood and waited together while our kids ate pizza, played in the gym, watch a video of a comedian, played some more on blow up outdoor game items, did some crafts and then sang some CCM songs they didn’t know and then listened to our Bishop ask them if they had ever been to Israel like he had as he gave a semi-motivational speech. Now, nothing about this is completely wrong. But I did have a common conversation with several Children’s and Youth Ministers: what faith formation is happening here? What is the “hidden” curriculum in these large events? Are we teaching something about what it means to follow Jesus that we DO NOT INTEND TO TEACH?
Is there something bigger going on? In all of this push to have better and bigger metrics (because we have a perceived need to measure our success and failure) have we lost something that is actually Vital? Have we ended Youth Ministry? Children’s Ministry? Faith formation? Have we slowly but surely stopped Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World? All to reshape budgets to pay for more bricks and mortar so we can have better metrics on our dashboards so that we can…….
All the research says we are headed in the absolute wrong direction. ALL of the research. Youth’s theology is underdeveloped at best, it started in Children’s Ministry but is a direct result of the fact that their parent’s faith is equally underdeveloped. The Bible teaches that when you are headed in the wrong direction, REPENT, and then head in the right direction.
So, do you find yourself doing both Children’s and Youth Ministry? What do things look like in your context? How does that feed into what is happening in the BIG Picture across the realm of all/most churches?
Am I wrong to worry? Am I off track? Has Satan confused me? Or maybe Wall Street and Madison Avenue? Too-Meta you say? Is it? I think I will REPENT now and head in a different direction. Who is with me? Let’s have a conversation. We are better, together!
Peace and Grace,