The central problem in sharing the Christian faith with young people doesn’t concern words; it’s deeper than that. The real crisis facing those of us who seek to share faith with youth is this:
we don’t know how to be with our kids.
we don’t know how to be with ourselves.
we don’t know how to be with God.
Contemplative Youth Ministry is a book that’s been a long coming, a result of the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project (http://www.ymsp.org) which has been facilitated by Mark Yaconelli. For 8 years the YMSP put together research, articles, conferences and retreats for church communities and youth workers engaging people with contemplative practices, prayer and ministry. Mark has compiled much of the lessons from the project and placed them into this fantastic book so that others may also engage with the project and the opportunities that contemplative practices may offer their ministry.
I’ve been a fan of books by Kenda Creasy Dean and Dorothy Bass that have been encouraging youth ministry to explore the benefits of spiritual and contemplative practices, and have found that their writing have benefited and challenged my ministry with young people over the last few years, yet find that their work is not as widely read here in Australia as I’d like. This book I hope will break into those networks and ministries that haven’t paid much attention to the challenges of other authors to explore contemplative practices in ministry and open their eyes and minds to the benefits of such practices in ministry with young people.
What I like about this book is that it’s written partially as a text book for leaders as well as providing some practical input as to how leaders can learn some of the practices that are spoken about in the book. This isn’t about teaching people how to get their young people to participate in contemplative practices, it’s about sharing stories and exploring ways in which people’s youth ministry may benefit from contemplative practices.
One of the key learning points for me included Mark’s exploration into what I believe to be the root problem behind most youth ministries, that they’re more about addressing either adult’s fears and anxieties for young people or the fears and anxieties that young people have of the church.
adult anxiety about teens may be the primary reason youth ministry exists.
That if youth ministry is about addressing the anxiety that adults have about young people then it’s about control, about developing good morals, about teaching people how to act and believe. Youth ministries like this develop discipleship models and become restrictive and deadening.
The other direction that many youth ministries take is to address the fears that young people have of the church. Ministries that focus on these fears will tend to focus on entertaining young people, trying to address the fear that “church is boring” they also distract young people from the deeper rhythms of the Christian faith.
Mark continues the exploration into anxieties and shares some stories and lessons learnt from discussions with parents of young people asking exactly why many adults see the need to take their children to church. The suggestion being that parents really want their children to be alive, to know the presence and reality of God, although their expectations tend to lean towards learning morality and how to conform to the life of the community.
It’s difficult for parents to trust their children to God. Look what happened to Jesus! Look what happened to the disciples! Look what happened to his friends, those we point to as saints! Parents, church members, and youth might want Christian values and assurances, but we don’t want teh life of Jesus.
Mark continues his book to explore the benefit of contemplative prayer, not only as a part of one’s spiritual life and being present with God, but also as a way for people to learn to simply be present with the young people that they minister with. As we learn to practice contemplative prayer so we learn to practice contemplative youth ministry, as he writes that contemplative prayer doesn’t move people into more silence, but instead into more authentic action.
The gifts that contemplative practices encourages in us naturally feed into our ministry with young people, allowing us to learn to just be present, to truly see the young people that we’re working with, to really be able to listen to them, to build a ministry of nurture and most of all to learn just to be present with those who have learnt that they will never get an adult’s full attention.
As I read the New Testament it’s clear to me that people felt seen by Jesus. It’s also clear that Jesus’ willingness to openly see people (particularly those who often went unseen and unnoticed) was at the heart of his ministry.
What’s so special about this book is that it’s telling us stuff that we already know to be true, i mean we allready know that young people are looking for adults who know how to live lives of love, but we still find it difficult to live it. Mark has written in a way that inspires us to take it on and be energized about altering our approach to our ministry with young people, our own personal spiritual journey and the way in which we see, nurture, notice and be with young people and with each other.
This is a youth ministry resource that needed to be written and needs even moreso to be read, I’m hoping that what we’ll see out of this is a number of youth ministries being revitalized, a number of youth workers being inspired, a number of churches being transformed and a number of young people with a new generation of ministries that is all about introducing them to the deeper rhythms and practices of the Christian faith, and the alternative life that Jesus calls each of us towards.
What does a contemplative approach to youth ministry look like? It looks like youth engaged in centering prayer as well as body surfing. It look like kids doing lectio divinia as well as critical study of the bible. It looks like solitude as well as service projects, contemplative worship as well as disco karaoke. As Jesus points out again and again, it’s not the method but the spirit – the love and awareness behind our activities – that make them Christian.