When my wife and I first came back to Wesley Chapel/Zephyrhills, we did so because we felt called to the youth of the city. Heck, we had just graduated a year before. We couldn't help but be close to this. We had no idea what it would entail, but we knew one simple thing: That churches had watered down youth ministry.
It was all about gimmicks and bad theology; "what can we do to get the kids in?". And, once they were in, the gospel was reduced to little more than a list of things not to do. Even those youth minister who would say "it's not about a religion, it's about a relationship" had no way to articulate it without sounding like a legalist. It seemed like all that youth were being taught by churches was either one of two things.
One, you're a bad person and all that God wants you to do is the exact opposite of whatever you're currently thinking would be a good idea. Or, all that you need to learn is how to do everything you do in a different way (i.e., "Kids, music is good... as long as it's performed by Jeremy Camp). Either way that it was articulated, at it's center was man; not God and His glory. Don't do this.... do that... is all the talk of a man-centered theology wherein my good works buy me my salvation. Or, that my works are my "I.D." into this Christian club. This is like Participatory Redemption which says "My actions make me a part of this group which make me a Christian." I could go on and on about what I didn't think youth ministry should be about, but when we first moved, had no idea about what it should be about.
But over the past few months, what's being called Missional Theology and a couple friends from Orlando have begun to transform the way that I think about youth ministry. In regard to Missional Theology: there have been some crazy articulations of this type of theology, but it's reincarnation under such great Bible teachers like Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, Ed Stetzer and others is amazing! And as for my friends in Orlando, Jim Collins and Jason Dukes at Westpoint Fellowship Church, they have helped me to detox from the idea of 'church' as an institution or a building and to see it as people living for God, in the daily of life.... 24/7.
To absolutely butcher the idea behind Missional Theology, it's that we must do two things. We must both contend and contextualize the gospel. So, we must contend for the truth and accuracy of what God says. And, we must say it in a relevant way to our culture. What's more, the focus behind churches that have adopted this way of thinking isn't "let's create our own Christian alternative to life" but rather "let's be a counter-cultural force in our world". Most youth groups thrive in the contending, or die in the contextualizing, but never realize how to be the church in daily life (contextualizing) while being the church of Jesus Christ (contending).
But rather than telling our teens that they need to simply be different, have only Christian friends, listen to only Christian music, go only to church... (in other words the "listology" that is fed to most youth by well-intentioned ministers) what if we told them to invest themselves in their worlds, particularly their schools? What if we told them to seek positions in student government to exalt Christ? What if we told them to make non-Christians friends? What if we told them to not to seclude themselves from their world but to engage in it? What if we went from simply telling them not to have sex, but teaching them to live that example for others? What if we equipped them to lead Bible studies on their campus'? What if we trusted them to live on mission for Christ, not compromising the gospel and yet engaging their culture where it's at? What if our youth made it their mission to make their schools a better place? What if Christian students were so heavily invested in their school that if Jesus came back to get them the school would cease to function?
What if our students lead our teachers to Christ?
Instead of telling our youth to retreat... what if we armed them to engage! That would mean that ministers would stop focusing on how to have a better mid-week program and start focusing on how to train the real stars, the missionaries to mini-cities of thousands of non-Christians. Our focus would move from doing church to being church! Could our nation be changed? Would our high schools, and in turn our colleges, and our nation be changed and turn back to God?
If we began to question youth ministry, what would we find?