Our models of Church and the theology that informs our youth ministry has relied on research and models of ministry based on a generation (or generations) that are no longer (and haven’t been for a long time) youth. This has meant that we now find our concepts, programs, mission and understandings no longer being effective or even connecting with those who we may name as “youth.” Our attempts to mission to/with what we now know as Generation X (of which I’m a card carrying member) has dominated our models of ministry for a long time
There seems to be very little discussion out there as to mission, ministry and models of church with young people, especially children in mind.
Churches and mission plants tend to think of children’s ministry either:
- In relationship to their parents and as an “issue” that we deal with because if we’re going to get the parents to the church we’ll need to do something with the children. In these cases ministry seems to look a lot like the Sunday school models of old, or a programmic model that looks like kids clubs or after school care (we tend to call this “family ministry”).
- As something that becomes a necessity because the youth and/or young adults that started the church plant with/for suddenly begin to have children. Churches / Plants in this situation tend to either address “the issue” by creating something that they hope will deal with the changes in their community’s demographic or decide that they’re ok with the new parent(s) and children moving on and that their mission is to youth/young adults and not families.
Our recent trip to the UK in 2008 inspired me in a number of ways and challenged me to think about children’s and family ministry in a different light. I guess, that in a way I was amazed, inspired and worried that while there are churches who are trying radically different things children’s ministry continues to be something that even the most alternative and emerging of communities sometimes find difficult.
One thing I’ve been inspired to do is intentionally think about how worship, ministry and mission with children can be something that is at the forefront of our thinking about church rather than something that comes as a secondary consideration.
A number of the “New Forms” services at Greenbelt had these things in mind, and I was reminded (once again) at how easy it is for children and young people engage with these kinds of creative, interactive, tactile liturgies, which we would commonly call “Alternative Worship,” quite simply they “get it”. The trip around the UK reminded and nudged over and over again to start putting some flesh and bones on my thoughts of how we as a church can re-form ourselves with young people and children in mind, and how this kind of re-shaping can in-turn re-shape our lives and ministry.
One of the examples of such experiences was a service that Sanctus2nds (a part of the Sanctus community in Manchester City Centre) held for us during Greenbelt titled “Plastic Fantastic” where we were invited to engage with the theme in a variety of ways by the young people who were a part of the community. Using song, rap, action, art, creativity the young people challenged the group of us (mostly families with young children) to play with the amount of plastic in our world today and to explore was in which even the most ugly rubbish in our daily lives can become something of beauty.
There is a third way that we could explore children’s ministry is to radically change the way that we meet and gather, the way that we speak and discuss issues, the way that we make decisions and the way that we worship so that we aren’t just “making space” for children in our churches, but are really opening us to the reality that they have a lot to offer and teach us about how we relate to God, how we meet each other and how we are “Church.”
What if we were to plant churches with this kind of idea, what would the worship look like, how playful could it be, how would we make decisions, how would we (or would we) teach and educate, what would discipleship look like? How would families react if we did everything together and didn’t presume that they have to split up at any point of time? What would our new faith communities look like if we explored new, interactive, artful, playful ways to worship from the very beginning? What would the church look like if the chair of our church council was 10?
Our trip to the UK encouraged me to re-imagine a few possibilities for the Uniting Church in Australia, to see that it is possible for single communities to live and worship together differently, it is possible for a denomination to radically open itself up for the possibility of change, it is possible for new forms of church to come to life, it is possible for old churches to take on radical change, it is possible to have communities that don’t rely on our old models of children’s and youth ministry.
Over the next few months I’ll be continuing to re-imagine things, all inspired by the recent trek to the UK and meeting people from all over the place who are experimenting with new forms of church and also new ways to train and disciple people in these new forms of church.