See what I did there?
I’ve gone on a bit here and other places grousing about the lack of a standard of youth ministry, particularly within the UMC. “Particularly” because I’m in the UMC, not because they’re worse than anybody else about it. It irritates the hell out of me. Our clergy, in order to become ordained and therefore capable of ministering to the church, have to endure a torturous, meticulous process of crossing Ts and dotting Is and answering deep, probing questions in just such a way before they’re “in.”Our youth ministers, for the most part, have to be interviewed by a committee that acts as the human resources department of a given local church (SPR, or whatever your church is still calling it/moved on to calling it). That’s it. Vetted by volunteers, provided they all showed up. I don’t mean to berate SPR committees–volunteers are wonderful people, whatever they’re doing. But most SPRs I’ve encountered in my own experience or that of other youthworkers simply aren’t equipped to make hiring decisions about any job, let alone figuring out if someone is qualified to lead others spiritually. From a Wesleyan perspective, in our case.
So that’s my usual irritation–churches handing off a critical role in childhood spiritual development to the most personable interviewee. And even if they wanted to check with the conference for the “conference standard” of youth ministry, there isn’t one. We have certification for specialized ministry to youth, but that hardly tells the golf pro that’s SPR chair this year what she needs to know about what to look for in a YM candidate.
So churches don’t realize when they’ve undersold themselves and signed up for insufficient or just plain bad youth work.
But this week a counterpoint to that occurred to me: with no real standard for youth ministry, churches don’t realize when they’ve got good youth ministry happening either. No standard for youth ministry forces churches to fall back on insufficient markers–how many kids were at any given event, how good the senior slide show was, or how many kids came to any given event. Because people that aren’t directly involved in youth ministry can rarely come up with a set of 3 things that define its health.
So what happens is the ordinary ebb and flow of attendance can tank the career of a great youthworker. Growth, at some point in the life of a church, becomes seasonal. What should be happening in between is a great awareness of how ministry is being done. Yes, acknowledge the changes in attendance, whether they increase or decrease. Not all increase is good. Not all decrease is bad. It may be that a percentage of your crew finally realized they just weren’t committed to a life of discipleship. That’s fantastic news–at least they’ve realized there’s a difference. They’re growing, even as they leave. Be aware of where your youth ministry needs renewed vision, but also be aware where it’s transcending expectations–even if that’s not generating butts in seats yet. Patience, grasshopper.
It’s a big messy mess, and there aren’t blanket answers to every situation in every church. But there should be a general sense of what United Methodist youth ministry needs to be doing and a critical awareness of what qualifications a person needs to work to those ends. Making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world, sure. Does a Liberal Arts degree cover that?
How does your church go about defining its standard for youth ministry?