April 11, 2008
Live at Shift: Deep Ministry in a Shallow World
Four critical questions about how we do youth ministry, and all ministry.
If there is one thing that everyone in youth ministry seems to be talking about it's how to keep students following Christ after high school. That's been a hot topic here at Shift, and this morning Kara Powell addressed the problem head on. As the executive director of the Center for Youth and Family Ministry at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, Powell knows the sobering statistics.
Her data reveals that 50% of high school students who had been deeply involved in a church's youth ministry will not be serving God 18 months after graduation. And that's not counting the many other high school students who are only going to church because their parents are forcing them. She also cited the LifeWay study that was highlighted on Ur last year.
Powell stood next to a table piled high with ministry books and resources. She asked, with so many resources available to us why are our students falling away at such alarming rates? Her thought: the more resources we have the less desperate and dependent upon God we feel. And we begin making "mindless, automatic decisions about our ministries." She called for an end to "autopilot" youth ministry, and for us to start asking hard questions about what we're doing.
Here are Kara Powell's four critical questions:
1. What gospel are we feeding kids?
She says that a lot of what students are fed is a guilt based gospel - what Dallas Willard calls the "gospel of sin management." Powell compared it to a diet of Red Bull. It's fast, energetic, and easy, but not very nourishing. And after the rush is over you deflate. We've fed students a gospel of rights and wrongs, but nothing nourishing that they can internalize and grow from. No wonder they fall away shortly after graduation. The buzz is over.
2. Are students' doubts welcome at our table?
Powell's research shows that the students who were able to express their doubts and problems about faith in high school were more likely to endure through college. She shared about girls in her youth ministry talking about homosexuality. Rather than shutting down the conversation with fast answers from Romans 1, she let girls share openly. Eventually two expressed their own feelings of possibly being gay. Are we secure enough to let these kinds of conversations occur in our churches?
3. How can kids take their place at God's diverse kingdom table?
Kara said that the church is suffering from a new kind of segregation - not racial or economic, but age. The youth ministry functions like the "kids' table" at Thanksgiving. But her research shows that students who have meaningful engagement with the adults at church do far better post high school. She called for a new 5:1 ratio - not five students per adult, but five adults per student.
4. How can we train students to feed themselves after graduation?
Echoing the sentiments shared by Greg Hawkins presentation on REVEAL, Powell called for youth ministers to teach their students how to feed themselves spiritually. They can become totally dependent on the youth ministry for their spiritual nourishment, and when that resource is disrupted when they leave for college everything falls apart. Rather than making kids dependents on us we need to make them independent. A simple but often overlooked goal.
While Powell was addressing youth ministry and youth workers, I was struck by how relevant her words are to every pastor. The drop off rate seen among high school graduates is forcing youth pastors to reevaluate their approach to ministry. But shouldn't we all be concerned? 48 year olds may not be leaving the church the way 18 year olds are, but are they really growing? Are we feeding them a Red Bull gospel? Are we teaching them to be self-feeders? Are their doubts and struggles welcomed? These are great questions for us all.