My 17 year old is studying multiple languages and chemistry over summer break just to get a jump start, she thinks calculus is fun, and she reads complex literature in her spare time. The truth is that she’s really not that unusual. This is what today’s high school students do.
And yet in youth ministry, not hers specifically but our space more generally, we tend to avoid teaching our subjects to the depth they find in school. We tend to assume they don’t want to know about theological nuances, to go down rabbit holes like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, to explore how different people interpret scripture differently while still acting faithfully, or even the freedom to explore other faith traditions.
Sometimes we actually forget to teach them how to read and interpret Scripture for themselves. We inadvertently make their faith development dependent on our programs. We rarely ask them to go deeper, to commit things to memory, and we almost never test them.
Seriously, what would be different in your ministry if there were a test? Everything.
Whereas our task is to free their minds to the depths of the love of God we often just hit the high points, quickly moving from topic to topic, series to series.
Instead of focusing on depth we tend to focus on fostering relationships.
This reduction, this anti-intellectualism, this desire to focus only on the main things… it sends a message. A loud message delivered loudly and clearly: Whereas in other areas of their lives they are being challenged to go big, to challenge themselves, to see learning as a never ending pursuit, they just don’t find that same depth in the church. Which is sad.
For some this is reason enough to set faith aside for more interesting pursuits.
I’m thankful for my youth pastor, Dan Evans, who opened up the Bible to me in high school as a lifelong pursuit, who didn’t pretend to know everything, who asked questions I’m still thinking about 25 years later. And my hope is that the stuff that we do at The Youth Cartel doesn’t fall into the same trap. Yes, we want youth ministry to be fun and relevant. But we also want it to be deep, to challenge them to know that whatever academic path they chose in life, whatever intellectual pursuit they’ve been made for, whatever rabbit trail life leads them down… that God is there.
May we go forth and challenge both the hearts and minds of our teenagers.