In the introduction to this series I pointed out a tension I feel in youth ministry today. Some youth ministries, it seems to me, focus on adolescent development issues. Others focus on cultural issues. I would like to wrestle with these two approaches in this blog series.
I hope you jump into the conversation with your team, friends in ministry or here in the comments.
In this post I would like to describe what each of these ministries focuses on and looks like.
When I mention that some ministries are focused on adolescent development issues, I am talking about the ways that teenagers grow during this transitional time of life. We see teens develop physically, in the ways they think (cognitively), in their faith and morals, and in their identity.
A ministry focused on adolescent development is usually very aware of the different developmental levels of different students. For example, they realize that younger teens cannot think very well abstractly and so they need more object lessons and direct applications. They usually have divided age level ministries and classes and often will have gender separated groups. They do this because they recognize that each of these age groups is at a different place developmentally and therefore need to hear different parts of Scripture emphasized and taught in different ways.
They will also spend a lot of time focused on identity development. For example, they will talk about knowing who I am in Christ based on my faith and God’s promises, versus defining who I am based on how I “feel” or my circumstances.
When I mention that some ministries are focused on youth culture issues, I am talking about being aware of the different messages, voices and influences on teenagers’ lives that are telling them how to think and believe. They focus on being aware of youth culture by paying attention to the latest trends, fads, media and messages of the current youth culture.
A ministry focused on youth culture integrates youth culture into their programming. They often compare the message of songs, movies, TV shows, etc., with the message of Scripture. They will also borrow or adapt symbols, logos, or sayings from youth culture that teens identify with to connect to them. They do this because they recognize how youth culture shapes the values of teens in their community and want to point out the places where this might be good and identify the places where culture’s message is different than that of Scripture. For example, they may talk about who I am in Christ versus what the world tells me.
Based on these descriptions which would you say the ministry you know best focuses on? What are the strengths and weaknesses of each approach as you see it?