by Jean Lehn Epp, Interim Coordinator of Youth Ministry Resources - What does it mean when we make a plea for “relevant” youth ministry? Does claiming something to be relevant make it more valuable than what we have done in the past with youth? When I think about relevance, what comes to mind are concepts like, speaking to the current culture of youth, or being attentive to the pastoral care needs of youth as we encounter them today. To claim everything we do as churches and in our communities with youth as relevant, is a bold move. When we intentionally consider the personal and spiritual needs of youth, and develope and adapt what we do and how we do it to meet those needs, we are well on our way to claiming to be relevant. We can lose our sense of relevancy when we find ourselves at a distance from the struggles, challenges and pain that youth experience. We put up walls when we fail to listen and hear what youth are telling us by their engagement or lack of engagement in our programs and their resistance to our attempts to connect.
When we are being “relevant” we earn a place to be heard and are given permission to speak into youth culture. Being attentive to how critical or judgmental our actions and words can be is paramount. Sometimes this calls for us to adopt an attitude of fearlessness, as if we have nothing to lose. Being open to change, listening to the ideas of youth and trying them on, creates a space where youth feel that they can openly and respectfully contribute to the life of the church. Don’t wait till something breaks to make changes in your youth ministry. Our default is to do the same thing we have always done because it is easier, doesn’t need as many hours to prepare or as many leaders to make it happen. Creating new experiences and trying new things can also move us to new growth, expanding our perspective as we give leadership to where we are inviting youth to go.
- Keep resources as up to date as you can. Balance examples from the past with stories and examples from people in the present.
- Explore current news items. Invite youth to share news items that have caught their attention. Engage in conversation about the impact of these events on the environment, economic implications, or their view of God.
- Include a youth representative on Church Council, Elder/Deacons group or Worship Committee. Invite them to share appropriate items with the rest of the group from the work of the church. Give opportunity for the youth to report back to the leadership on how they are feeling about an issue or event.
- Unpack current movies, books or music to reflect more deeply on the messages they are transmitting. Balance the positive and encouraging messages with what is more challenging or disturbing.
In Faith Forward – Volume 3: Launching a Revolution through Ministry with Children, Youth and Families, Dave Csinos creates another collection of the most current and deeply rooted ideas about how leaders and churches are being relevant. Through this collaborative effort, inspiration is found in the radical action of loving and engaging youth, children and families to unleash the power to heal and move toward action.
Kara Powell shares her thoughts on connecting with youth in such a way that respect is encouraged so that listening can happen. In her blog, Why Our Kids Won’t Understand Us Until We Understand Them, she challenges our willingness to enter into the world of youth to better engage in difficult conversations.