At the May 10, 2012 meeting of Classis Toronto, a group of my youth ministry colleagues and I gave a presentation on youth ministry in the CRC. Here is part one of that presentation:
Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Re-visioning Youth Ministry in Classis Toronto
In the numerous discussions I’ve had with my colleagues in youth ministry over the years, it became apparent that we were struggling with many of the same issues when it came to youth discipleship. Through our discussions, we found mutual support and encouragement and shared our hopes and dreams for the future of youth ministry in the CRC, but something kept gnawing at us – many of our congregations and youth ministries seem stuck in a rut, unable, unwilling, or unsure to how to engage our postmodern, postindustrial, multi-ethnic culture. How were we to communicate our challenges to a wider audience in such a way as to move the conversation forward positively and productively? This is how the “Re-visioning Youth Ministry” project was born.
Over the past year, CRC youth pastors from across Classis Toronto have been meeting monthly to share our challenges and ideas. Interest in our project has gone beyond the boundaries of Classis Toronto – including a write-up in the Banner. Our discussion is resonating with youth workers, parents, and pastors from across the denomination – like us, they are asking similar questions – why are so many youth and young adults leaving the church and walking away from the faith, across all denominations, including the CRC? Why is denominational loyalty in the CRC at an all-time low? At what expense are we “toeing the party line” and “maintaining the status quo”, especially when it comes to youth and young adults?
These are difficult questions – they sound negative and alarmist. These are uncomfortable questions – they force us to realistically examine ourselves, our practices and habits, things that we hold dear. However, as difficult and uncomfortable as these questions are, we raise them because we remain hopeful – we firmly believe that the church will always have a future, that God has a plan for his church and that he continues, as promised, to do a new thing. All of us who participated in this project share four things in common – we love Jesus, we love his church, we love youth, and we love the CRC.
To be clear, in talking about youth ministry, we are not talking about what happens on a “youth night” at your church – we are talking about how the CRC ministers to its youth. Like good doctors, we are interested in making an accurate diagnosis so that we can offer the correct medicine and best rehabilitation. We believe that the CRC is “sleeping giant” – as a denomination, the Lord has blessed us with many talents and strengths. However, we are concerned that when it comes to youth ministry in the CRC, these gifts are not being used, or at least not used as well as they could be to foster life-long discipleship. The questions we are asking today, especially as it relates to youth ministry is why are we a sleeping giant and how do we awaken the sleeping giant? How can we reform our strengths and use them in service of ministering to our youth?
PART 1 – WHY ARE WE SLEEPING?
|THE GIANT OF TRADITION||HOW ARE WE SLEEPING?|
|We value tradition – history is important to us and we cherish our forbearers and our Reformed identity||How do we understand tradition? It seems that we understand tradition as something settled in the past and our job is to continue it “as is” with little or no room for innovation – do we allow the past to dictate our current practices as though “this is the way things have always been done”? Is tradition a script for which we memorize the lines or is there room for improvisation as well? Are we overlooking our weak-area/blind spots? Have we turned our creeds and confessions into boundaries/border police rather than starting points/teachers?|
|We have a high view of Scripture – for us the Bible is more than a “how to book” or a set of moral guidelines. It is the true story of what God has done and will do, in covenantal partnership with us, to bring about a renewed world||How well are we teaching our youth exegetical tools? Are we leaving the work of exegesis to the pastor alone? How well do we teach and engage sensitive exegetical issues (creation & evolution; role of women in ministry; place of LGTBQ people in the church, etc.)? Are we teaching solid hermeneutical practices that go beyond mere reductionism (proof-texting, etc.)? Are we teaching students to positively engage with different Christian interpretations of doctrines?|
|We have a holistic view of worship – true worship engages the heart and mind and prompts us to continue our worship as a way of life||How well are our sermons engaging all learning styles and all generations? Do we view the sermon as something accessible for everyone or is it for “mature audiences only”? Does our Sunday worship prepare youth to worship as a way of life – in other words, are they making the connection between Sunday and the rest of the week?|
|We have a covenantal understanding of baptism that underlines the shared responsibility of the community in growing the faith of the baptized||Have we relied too heavily on “professionals” (Christian school teachers, pastors, youth workers, church programs, etc.) for our discipleship responsibility? How well are the “professionals” in the church helping parents with their discipleship responsibilities? Are we truly encouraging and supporting each other in our parenting and discipleship responsibilities?|
|THE GIANT OF EDUCATION||HOW ARE WE SLEEPING?|
|Christian day schools are very important to us and we continue to support them with our time, energy, and resources.||Are we creating unnecessary division between “Christian school”, “Public school”, and “Home school” youth that leads to relational tensions in our programs? How can we become more intentional about supporting our youth and parents and teachers in all of the various school systems?|
|We offer top-notch programming (Cadets, GEMS, Teen Club, Youth Group, Catechism, Profession of Faith)||Are our programs making “CRC Graduates” or are they making disciples? Why do we stop formal education programming at the end of the high school years? Are we equipping and releasing people for ministry or do they just not have any time because of church activities? Are we over-programming in church? Are we over-programming in life? Are parents taking on the role as the primary disciplers of their children?|
|We are theologically rigorous and we emphasize catechism education as an important element in faith formation.||Are we over-intellectualizing the catechism? Are we integrating the catechism into the contemporary lives of our youth? Have we made theological discussion into a futile exercise that is only for the elite? Have we sent the message that schism because of theological disagreements is normative? Are youth and young adults receiving solid theological teaching that is accessible and relates to their everyday lives at work, school, etc.? In emphasizing the catechism have we overlooked the other elements of the ancient practice of catechesis which was designed for the formation of disciples (head, hearts, hands)? Have we created an unnecessary divide between Youth Group as “fun stuff” and catechism as “boring stuff”? Is it time to consider reforming the structure of our youth program|
|THE GIANT OF CULTURE||HOW ARE WE SLEEPING?|
|Our World Belongs to God – we affirm that there is no sacred/secular divide and that faith is relevant to life beyond the church walls. We have a deep understanding of the cultural mandate – as humans created in the image of God, we are called to create and cultivate culture||How well are we equipping youth for understanding and engaging diversity in the marketplace? How well are we modeling cultural discernment? Are we equipping and releasing people for ministry? Have we lost sight of what it means to be “culture makers”? Have we consumed kingdom ethics with consumerism and materialist culture? Are we teaching cultural discernment – in affirming the goodness of culture, do we end up assuming that all culture is good? Are we teaching are youth what it means to transform culture?|
|We emphasize the Priesthood of All Believers – everyone is called to participate in the life of ministry and everyone has a role to play||Are we including youth in meaningful leadership roles? Are we taking their ideas and opinions seriously? Have we created a denominational culture of settling to be “good enough Christians” rather than “great” Christians passionate about the kingdom? How are we modeling the life of discipleship to our youth?|
|We view the church as a tight-knit family of believers||Are we actively striving to move from being “multi-generational” to becoming “inter-generational”?
What about diversity – are we ready, willing, and able to embrace and enfold those who are “different” – ethnically, economically, etc.?
|We are gifted in management and administration – as a result, our programs and ministries are very well run and maintained||Do we have a tendency to “discern things to death” to the point of rendering real and meaningful change difficult? Do we have too many meetings and committees? Are we developing leaders who exercise Spirit-empowered leadership that is willing to risk going against the status quo in order to follow God’s leading? Are we training youth how to be kingdom leaders? Are we sending the message that church leadership is an onerous task rather than a calling and an opportunity to serve?|
|We are very good at articulating criticisms of ourselves and of others||Of course, this is what we are doing in this presentation. We felt it necessary to point out this irony ourselves to save you from having to do it for us J. Have we created a denominational culture of cynicism and finger pointing? Are we committed to making changes when and where necessary in order to faithfully follow God in our time and place? Are we reaping what we sow in terms of young adults leaving the church, many of whom articulate Christian “in-fighting” and division as reasons for why they leave the church?|