Youth Ministry: The big picture
We need to see the church as a community of young and old living out their faith
By Lai Kai Ming
“KNOW YOUR YOUTH, KNOW YOUR SELF, a hundred battles, a hundred successes” (well, just a slight modification of Sun Tzu’s famous saying). Except for the fact that there is no guaranteed success in ministry (or in battles) – this maxim has much to teach us about the Youth Ministry today.
How much do we know our young people? It is not uncommon to hear someone say that today’s youth are so different from those of “our days”, and their culture so foreign and incomprehensible. Yet, have we really tried to understand them? Here are some questions for pastors, parents, and church leaders:
· When was the last time you intentionally spent time with a young person in an attempt to understand his hopes and fears, his world and worldview?
· How much time do we devote in leadership meetings talking (and praying) about youth ministry issues and concerns?
· How different are our church youth from Singaporean youth in general?
· Name three questions that our young people ask about life (you might be wondering if they do ask at all!).
In an attempt to understand our church youth better, my team recently conducted a survey on 404 young people (mainly from Methodist churches). Below are some of our findings:
· Our youth desire a closer relationship with God. However, they appear to lack the biblical knowledge or spiritual habits to match their desire. Results suggest that coming from a Christian family does not necessarily mean better spiritual habits or biblical knowledge.
· While youth communicate a lot online, what they really desire are deep (offline) relationships. The majority surveyed want more time with parents, as well as guidance from an older mentor.
· In the survey on ethics and sexual values, a high percentage of respondents indicated neutral. This suggests that many of our youth are unsure about their convictions.
· While most agree that sex is reserved for their spouses, many do not see the need to get married first. In fact, co-habitation appears to be acceptable.
· The majority of youth polled welcomed teaching from church and parents on issues of sex and sexuality. While they may not be willing to dialogue openly on such topics, they are prepared to listen to what we have to say.
Do some of these findings surprise us? Or have they already been factored into our Youth and Adult ministries today? Notice I included “Adult” Ministry. Yes, the Youth Ministry and Adult Ministry are inextricably linked – we need to see this bigger picture. It is true that a healthy Youth Ministry is indicative of a strong adult congregation. Why is this so? Because that’s the nature of community. When adult Christians are strong in discipleship, ethics and compassion, their life and values naturally affect the watching generation.
On the other hand, when adults are struggling to live out their faith, how can they show their young the way? What is sorely lacking in the Youth Ministry today is adult involvement, especially in the areas of teaching and mentoring (i.e. discipling). No amount of six-star programmes can build strong Christian youth – only caring and consistent guidance from those who have walked the path of faith and who bear the scars of success can.
Do we know our youth enough? Do we know our strengths and weaknesses in ministering to them? Do we see the role of church leadership and significant adults in the process of nurturing our young?
For too long, we have been lamenting the lack of youth workers, or trapped in the illusion that a super youth worker exists. No, we cannot “quick fix” our Youth Ministry. What we do need is to see the “big picture”, i.e. of the church as a community – of young and old, foolish and wise, mistake-makers and grace-bearers.
The Rev Lai Kai Ming, a pastor of Pentecost Methodist Church, is the Director of Youth Ministry, Trinity Annual Conference (TRAC).
TRAC’s Youth Ministry conducted a survey on young people recently. These are some of its findings:
· Our youth desire a closer relationship with God. However, they appear to lack the biblical knowledge or spiritual habits to match their desire
· They communicate a lot online, but they want more time with parents, as well as guidance from an older mentor.
· In the survey on ethics and sexual values, many respondents seem to be unsure about their convictions.
· Most of them agree that sex is reserved for their spouses, but many do not see the need to get married first, and co-habitation appears to be acceptable.
· Most of them welcome teaching from church and parents on issues of sex and sexuality.