Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Youth Ministry: Emotional manipulation v. geniue conversion

I work primarily in youth or student ministry, and at times I often find myself facing a crisis about my work. I love what I do, I love the people I work with, but sometimes I find myself terrified at that possibility that I am simply manipulating teenager’s emotions to respond to a teaching, and they are not actually responding to the person of God.

Adolescence is just an awkward phase. What teen does not feel depressed from time to time? What teen doesn’t feel alone, imperfect, or even un-cool? My fear is that youth ministry manipulates these very natural feelings, and promises teens a simple solution in Christ. When really the solution is one of growing up…developing into an adult. Christ is the solution for the sin and shame we all experience. Christ is the one bringing redemption to the world, but is Christ the solution to teen angst? Maybe they are all wrapped together?

I also realize teen angst can be quite destrucitve, so we do not simply want to abandon them to their emotions and figure they will work it out in a few years. But I fear we communicate that sometimes what they are feeling is abnormal and wrong, or even sinful, when really they are just growing up. Who wouldn't feel anxiety growing up in this world?

If you know me, you probably know that I actually error to far from emotional manipulation. Good theology and good living tells us that are emotions are wrapped up in who we are and how we relate to God. So, what should youth ministry focus on?

My real passion in youth ministry surrounds itself around faith development, and helping students connect with the person of Christ and his church. I could care less if they say a prayer, but hope and pray they discover the love of God and begin to live in the story of redemption we that is the Bible.

What helped you as a youth connect to God and develop your own faith? What are the real needs of teenagers and how do we appropriately minister to them?


mjonthemove said...

Westbrook's youthgroup really impacted my life. That is as opposed to Waukesha Assemblies of God's youth group.

Westbrook was a place where we were able to discuss things that were going on. There was a culture built where the leaders of other high schools (homecoming kings, football stars) came to just be people of God. I think I was privileged to hang out with people who were pretty grown up in one youth group, and not so much in the other.

I know that part of that growing up process was helped along by crazy road trips by the youth group across country to the Adirondack mountains, and things of that nature. It was a place where you could wonder about growing up without someone telling you to come up for an alter call. The things I remember the most were the breakout group discussions. It was almost a place where you could practice being an adult. It was also very, very fun. You could go, and see people who were genuinely inclusive and inviting. We would sometimes take a break from discussion or teaching, and play floor hockey. Those things were great.

- m.j.

timmer k. said...

Good call, Matty. I think you hit it right on the head--one of the most important things a youth group can be is a 'safe facilitator' of growing up. It's a place to work out all of that angst and learn to do it in a Christ-honoring way.

I don't think any of us would say the angst and awkwardness of being a teen goes away in (say) college. It just morphs into a new kind of awkwardness, i.e.--what will my group of friends look like, how am I supposed to prepare for marriage, how do I become a hands/feet member of a different church, what is health insurance.

I don't think you need to feel guilty/be apprehensive about being emotionally manipulative, Joe. That's not your style. You do a great job of interacting and giving the students a chance to respond. And, really, isn't that what it should be about--learning to respond? As I understand it, youth ministry begins to lay the important hardwiring for learning to respond to a God who is relentlessly seeking after relationship with his creatures.

OK, 'nough preaching. You probably only wanted my 2 cents...I gave you a nickel and you can keep the change.