25 years….still reflecting

The comment by Mike and the response from Martin got under my skin. Nothing personal because I love them dearly….genuinely, not just out of politeness. My previous post outlines my initial thoughts. I am still insistent that we should not look back on the late 80’s/early 90’s with rose coloured spectacles but I have continued to mull over these things that they have raised in my heart. 

Why did we get involved in youth ministry in this old era? There was no ‘profession’, very few from whom we could glean wisdom – we were ‘professional amateurs’, people who loved Jesus and concentrated our ministerial calling on a specific target age group known as ‘youth’! We had to learn skills in situ, often making more mistakes than we would care to admit and we were moderately successful. As the ‘amateur status’ grew, we sought to be excellent in what we did and there was the move to the professionalisation of youth ministry were people ceased to be ‘professional amateurs’ but ‘professionally skilled’. This change also transforms the framework in which people operate, the arena is so much wider, so much so that with many years of youth ministry experience, with professional skills, the lack of qualifications barred me from many roles in youth ministry. I left a salaried role. John Piper says;

“Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of Christian ministry. The more professional we long to be, the more spiritual death we will leave in our wake….there is no professional panting after God.”

Expectation upon youth ministers/workers/pastors has changed dramatically and it may well be that the professionalisation of this aspect of ministry has impacted the spiritual health of many of those who serve in this area. 

However, this is a church issue as it should be impacted by our discipleship programmes and recruitment of these workers but I am not sure that this is anything new in the life of the church. Every generation needs to understand what it means to live a God honouring life in its context. The context is changing daily and we need to work out how to support those on the frontline so that they can serve well and effectively. This challenge belongs to us all.

I am blessed to know many good, passionate people engaging in youth work who are passionate for Jesus and challenge my own discipleship journey. I do not think that it has got worse over the last 25years but I do believe it has become harder. I am so grateful to those who stand for truth and live to serve our younger generation. I, for one, stand with them and will do all I can to help them in their role….I know that this is not something I do alone.

25 years…sees quality drop! WHAT?

“The best ever…..” titles can sell music albums, provoke debate and allow for wide differences of opinion. Some things are near impossible to determine – which team was better, the Liverpool team of the late 70s or the Manchester United team of the late 90s? It is all subjective and there are so many variables that comparison is nigh on impossible.

When Mike Pilavachi says that “the quality of youth workers has gone down dramatically”, you would be wise to listen and reflect but let’s take a moment…what are the markers? What are the reference points? Mike follows by saying that many of the best youth leaders are moving on to ordination and so there is a wider context to this statement that we must consider; the ‘quality pool’ maybe more shallow because of other extenuating circumstances.

Martin Saunders, another highly credible voice, responded to Mike’s original interview with an article that sought to support and clarify what Mike was saying. This article was more troubling for me. As someone who was a salaried youth leaders from circa 25 years ago, and currently a volunteer leader, it is important that we do not compare the incomparable and we must not look back with rose tinted spectacles of the reality of those years. Some things back then were exceptional, some things not – it is no different today – some things are exceptional, some are not. The references to ‘average youth leader’ in the differing generations are unhelpful, inaccurate (even allowing for artistic licence) and prevents proper engagement with the meat of the discussion

In every generation, the same struggles exist for us all – living as Children of Light. The context of todays culture is different but the struggles are the same. If the issues of holiness, bible reading, devotional life etc. are the issues at stake (and I agree that we may need to look at this more consistently) then this is not something that should be placed upon youth leaders alone but every ministry of the Church. Discipleship is a whole Church responsibility.

In the bigger picture of life, this storm will pass. However, I hope that the heart of both Mike and Martin continue to inspire us all – they are such important figures in championing youth ministry and I value them both. I also hope that others involved in youth ministry do not feel undervalued or discouraged as they serve – you are loved, valued and are appreciated.

Thank you to everyone who engages in youth ministry – you are AMAZING!