In youth ministry, we serve an ever shifting population. There are several reasons for this. To name a few, there is a continual flow of students from elementary, to middle, to high school. High school students grow and move to college. Thus, we can be sure of new faces in our ministry every few years. Each new group comes with its own identity. Moreover, from time to time someone will change location. Then there’s the reality that student culture is constantly changing and evolving. How can we stay relevant?
Sometimes it seems that the concern for relevance is at the forefront of youth ministry more than anywhere else, a reflection of our reality. As I thought of this, I was reminded of Jesus’ words in John 17:14-15: “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.” So, we’re in, but we’re not in. Yet, when we look at Jesus’ life, in many way, he was a part of the culture. He was comfortable with it and people, unless they represented the status quo, were comfortable with him. At the same time, he constantly confronted aspects of the culture that did not conform to God’s law of loving God and neighbor. These were aspects that distorted and dehumanized God’s creation.
In our quest for relevance, therefore, we need to be critical of what is around us and discerning in our use of the various tools and cool stuff that keeps coming up. What is behind it? What does it seek to do? How does it conform to the kingdom of God? How does it engender love of God and neighbor? Do we need to modify it or leave it alone? I like what Michael Warren says in Seeing Through the Media: A Religious View of Communications and Cultural Analysis when he speaks of the religious culture as a culture of resistance: “Such resistance does not call us to take the world less seriously but more so. It seeks to escape not the world but the trivialization of the world by which other persons become instruments of my self-will rather than temples of the living God” (Warren 1997, 24). In other words, we recognize the reality of the world while refusing to buy into the aspects that make people others’ pawns rather than dwelling places of God.
Relevance is necessary. However, in youth ministry it must be on God’s terms. Do you agree?
Loving God, Loving Neighbor