In response to the anxiety of adults (they’re the ones with the power after all), most congregations create youth ministries that are about control and conformity… Congregations want discipleship formulas that will guarantee their kids will become moral and faith filled believers.
I entered into a youth ministry in an area not too far from where I’d grown up, it was primarily a working/lower class area with a lot of social issues, many kids were at risk and the young people who attended the church were not necessarily those who would find themselves at risk, of much at all actually. I developped a number of great links with youth service providers in the area, helped out and worked on a number of projects ran in the community and became the secretary of the local youth service providers network, although it took them a while to trust a church youth worker I’d done the hard yards with a number of them, I’d earnt respect and, besides, they had heard be swear before which makes me “safe.”
The church youth group however didn’t change much, a few people came in, a few people left, youth group activities were more like drop in centres for those who wanted to come along, and it was becoming quite obvious to me that the number of people who were coming along because they were expected to was increasing rapidly. I’m not the most admin centred person, yet people were looking towards me to create programs, more programs, exciting programs, something that by this time I’d grown out of, I’d run drop in centres and events that kids could go to but the reality was that my heart wasn’t in that kind of ministry anymore. Parents and some of the more conservative young adults were worried that we weren’t providing the kids with something to do, somewhere to go, and a faith that could be taught to them.
I felt the pressure to keep creating programs for kids to attend, but to be honest with you I’d grown up somewhat in my ministry since the first couple of churches I’d worked in, I was less concerned about the program and more concerned about the relationships, and I’d grown up enough to be able to put my feelings to words. While this meant that the church kind of knew where my direction was going many of the adults didnt and kept on being worried about providing programs to keep the kids busy while they accidently learn about god.
My brother lived round the corner from the church that I worked at, he’d just married and also worked only 1km up the road from the church, and we realised that on most days we could find the time to sneak out and have a game of golf, we played a lot for a few weeks, and were so into it that we’d purchased our own clubs (note i said into it rather than good at it). The games improved our relationship as brothers, we’d walk and hit a ball, walk and hit a ball, walk and talk abotu the death of a friend and hit a ball…
After a while of keeping my clubs in the back of the car a couple of the young guys from the church queried if I actually played, I said I did, and they said they’d love to go out and play with me sometime, so we did a week later. After that the rest was history, there I was in the middle of a lower/working class community with a golfing ministry of about 17 young men and women who’d want to play regularly, I’d spend a number of hours on the course a week, just hitting a ball and listening.
There’s nothing quite like a 10km walk to bring out conversation, over the game we’d talk about everything and anything, sometimes we’d play with 9 people on the course, while other times it was just a couple of us hitting the ball around and talking about the meaning of life. Of course, people started to talk about how the youth worker spends lots of his time playing golf, but the fruits were there, suddenly many of the young adults would go out golfing without me, bringing friends, dragging along parents… just hitting and talking and walking.
I know it sounds corny but golfing in my ministry in that church became our unofficial contemplative practice, it was probably the last thing I’d expected from this group, from this community but it came out of them deciding that it was a good idea, it probably wasn’t contextual, but it did come out of God’s time, and after I’d spent a lot of time in dialogue with the young people there, somehow they found something in which they could feel free in exploring and talking about their faith…
On the golf course there’s no room for anxiety, except to ask “where did the ball go?”
Other youth ministries are created in response to adolescent anxieties… It’s a Nickelodeon approach to youth ministry that seeks to appeal to kids’ propensity for fun and recreation. This is how churches respond to youth who cry “Church is boring!” It’s the ministry of excitement; discipleship through fun, culture-friendly.