I’ve lost track of the number of times in my career in youth ministry when a high school senior has confronted me because they don’t like the direction our ministry is going. This confrontation always comes after a transition – usually within the first six months of my tenure somewhere.
Typically, the complaint goes something like this:
Youth group used to be a fun social gathering. You’ve made it a Bible study. That’s not what I signed up for.
There was a time when such a complaint deeply bothered me. It felt like a personal attack against me. And let’s face it… Since I want my kids to like me, this kind of criticism hurt.
Yet, over the years, this kind of criticism has bothered me less and less.
As a youth pastor who works for the church, I know that the thing that distinguishes the church from every other (even good) organization is Jesus. In an age where teens have a million things to do and an equally daunting number of places to be, there’s no reason for the church to simply try to be another community organization where teens go to hang out. There are plenty of places that do that already… And do that far better than the church ever could (in terms of resources and the coolness factor.) What there aren’t enough of are places centered on Jesus, dedicated to helping teens form a consequential and lasting faith.
As a youth pastor who believes I am called to ministry, I also have no interest in merely filling a calendar with “fun” events. I tried that my first year in ministry and I was exhausted. What’s more, parents were too… And so were their kids.
As a youth pastor, I also wholeheartedly value fun. But here’s the thing. I don’t exclusively value fun. There are a few things more important to me than fun, like Jesus, faith-formation, relationships, and a culture of welcome that allows every teen who comes to feel like they belong.
As a youth pastor, I also know that fun and Jesus don’t have to be mutually exclusive. I see the smiles on my teen’s faces week after week when they play games, have thought-provoking discussions, and make deep, lasting relationships with both adults and students alike.
So… to those who miss the social gathering that youth group used to be.
I hear your frustration.
I hear your pain.
So does Jesus.
And if you give our ministry a chance, I’m convinced you’ll encounter him there… And discover something way better and more meaningful than a space that’s merely another fun place to gather.