A while back, I attended a youth event/retreat/conference.
Before I continue, I feel like I have to (always) give a little disclaimer. I know that what I write often comes off as attacking/negative/critical. I try not to be both in my life outside of this blog and on this blog. But there are things that rile me up, agitate me, annoy me, etc. and I’m glad I have this venue to sort of share why. So I apologize if I’m come off as negative and judgmental. Feel free to call me out on it.
So, we’re at worship. The speaker comes on and starts giving a message about Jesus feeding the 5000.
He invited two kids to volunteer and come up to the stage. When two kids were decided upon, he handed them each one of those long french breads. And he said, “Jesus used two loaves of bread.” He then instructed the two kids to wail on each other with the french bread loaf until one of them breaks. Hilarity ensued as the two kids were beating each other.
Then, he said, “And Jesus used pieces of fish.” He then asked two different kids to volunteer and step up to the stage. He handed the two chosen ones a can of sardines each and had them see who can eat the sardines the fastest.
He then continued saying:
So Jesus fed people with bread and fish. When you leave this place, I want you to remember the awesome bread fight that we just witnessed. And then I want you to remember the funny and gross sardine eating contest. Years from now, when you look back to this event, I want you to remember how it made us laugh. I want you to remember how fun it was. And then you’ll remember Jesus feeding people. This is the time when we usually pray to end worship. But I’m not going to pray for you, because every action we do is a prayer. Everything we did tonight was a prayer. I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Good night.
I walked away… annoyed. About nothing in particular and about everything. To this day, I don’t have a specific reason of why I was (am) so annoyed. I’m sure that he reached a lot of those young kids. I’m sure that kids had a great experience and are looking forward to the event later this year.
Maybe it’s because of my background. My experiences with retreats have always been, for a lack of a better word, intense.
Or maybe it’s because I felt like we were trying to have these kids’ faith experience solely relying on experience and emotions (remember how you felt…).
Or maybe it was because of the absolute lack of explanation of a wonderful and teachable story of Jesus feeding people.
Or maybe it’s simply because I’m a hater.
Or, all of the above.
But. I think we parents and adults would flip out if that’s how kids were taught in school.
What if the teachers said, “Remember how exciting multiplication is? Remember how you felt about this problem when you look back on today during test time. I’ll see you tomorrow in class.”
Mostly, I think my beef with whole situation is, how we shy away from challenging the youth of our church. Hell, how we as pastors shy away from challenging anyone, for that matter.
I know school is intense. I know kids are overloaded with information and hormones. I know kids desperately need rest. I know kids need time to be kids.
But here’s what gets me. Over the years, both my colleagues and myself have heard things like this when it comes to church and youth:
“These kids need room to play and be kids.”
“No, no Bible study. Ever. They’re so overworked the last thing they want to do at church is open another book.”
“We just want them to come to church and not be bored.”
I totally, totally get that. At the same time, I know that Bible study and nothing but Bible study doesn’t really work either. Youth need games. Laughter. Fun. And so do the youth leaders.
But, are we to build a youth ministry based solely on games, laughter and fun?
You have all these secular institutions challenging kids to make a difference, challenges that kids have responded to.
There’s something out there called The Do Something Awards, where youth are challenged to do something that changes their world. And these kids that end up on TV, they did some amazing, amazing things. (And yea, maybe money is a motivating factor).
There are other places out there that challenge kids to make a difference in their communities. Schools have kids serve in various ways (often times through mandatory community service hours for graduation/club).
But these non-faith organizations are pushing kids to be active in loving their neighbor and the world.
Yet, when they come to church (where faith leads to action… where we’ll called to love our neighbors), we want them to do nothing but laugh, play games, and have fun. Oh, but once a year, we go do a mission project.
Aren’t we doing young people of the church a disservice by not challenging/pushing them to be and do more?
I’ve had someone share with me that a parent once came to her and said, “Yea, yea Bible study, is all that necessary? You should do more of those crazy, wild games! My kids want way more of that and much less of the all the other church stuff. They got Sunday mornings for that.”
What are we to do with that? I would’ve had to bite my tongue so hard that it would bleed to not say something snarky back.
Do churches see the role of the youth pastor as a court jester? Sure, the church would never say that… but what about through their actions and expectations?
Do they see us as someone who dances on command and makes everyone laugh?
To be honest, some youth pastors love to take that role and nothing more.
Oh… but we’re called to be so much more than entertainers…
I see how the youth all over the country and world rise up to challenges.
All throughout scripture, there are stories of how young people responded to God’s Words.
The youth of the United Methodist Church can set the whole denomination on fire.
But I believe that their potential is related to how they’re being challenged by the church.
If they come to church solely to be entertained, you may have the funnest and funniest youth kids in the world… and nothing more.
United Methodist Churches, please do not be afraid to challenge your youth to go deeper in their faith. Don’t stop doing crazy, whacky, “youth” things, because they are essential in youth ministry. But our youth were created for a bigger purpose than to be entertained. They can do so much more… they deserve so much more.
But we as a church may never see the potential and the power of what the youth can do/accomplish/change in God’s grace and name, if we never gently, gracefully and lovingly challenge/push/nudge them to do/be more.