I follow quite a few blogs, just like most people who have now convinced themselves it is a necessary part of their ‘professional development’ and, dare I say it, existence. (What did we do with all that time before? How did we ‘develop professionally’ before the blogosphere?) Anyways, a book popped up on my radar called ‘Inside the Mind of Youth Pastors: A Church Leaders Guide to Staffing and Leading Youth Pastors’

This is one of those books that causes you to wonder and ask, ‘How do they know what’s going on in my mind?’ (I hardly do sometimes) and ‘Is this a book a youth pastor wrote to try and ‘reprogram’ senior pastors to understand youth pastors?’ Either way, it’s not normally a book I’d get that excited about.

But then I was reading an interview about it on Marko’s blog with the author Mark Riddle. Read the interview by clicking here. The author, Mark Riddle, nailed something that I think is really common in youth ministry and is too common of an experience in my own work as a youth minister. He deliniates between two types of churches. Church A which makes the youth ministry/minister the center of all spirital formation of adolescents and Church B who believes the responsibility of the spiritual formation of adolescents belongs to the whole church community: parents, volunteers and youth ministry staff. Well yeah…DUH! is likely your response.

But then he says, “While most youth pastors complain that parents drop kids off and have given up responsibility for the spiritual formation of their kids, youth pastors gladly take that responsibility upon their shoulders and in many ways enable parents.” This is too often me on both counts and as long as I’m enabling the lack of participation (from my viewpoint) I can’t point the finger. And by the way, how arrogant, self-righteous and pompous am I as a youth minister if I actually think too many parents are abandoning their role of discipler of their children and leaving it to me as the youth minister. I don’t get to look in their homes 24-7. I don’t hear every conversation with their kids. I don’t hear every prayer they pray for their children.

As I moved from the US to England and am working in a church as a youth minister in a very post-christian culture, I’ve never been more aware that the youth minister at a church can not be the center (centre, since i’m in the UK) of every student’s discipleship process. In the States, youth ministers can sometimes convince themselves that to be at the center/centre is somehow still manageable and a feasible way of making disciples of Christ. There is an extensive infrastructure in place: churches have established systems, there are big summer camps everywhere, christian music and christian bookstores are major players in the market and always wanting to come to your church for a concert, there are endless conferences, if you need a tool to make the ‘youth minister at the center/centre’ job easier there is a tool to make it happen.

Not so in the UK or in Europe. And if there are fewer tools here to make that job easier, there are even fewer youth ministers working in churches and fewer churches who either have a vision for youth ministry or have the capacity to have a youth worker. In our diocese, there are 44 youth workers in over 370 Anglican churches. Just 11% of churches have a youth worker.

I must be a Church B youth worker. We must involve as many people as possible in the process of discipling adolescents. Doing anything else smacks dangerously of a youth worker finally being the cool kid at the center of everything in a way that seems like some wierd high school social fantasy.

I’ve been re-reading a book I’ve had for awhile and always liked, ‘God At The Mall: Youth Ministry That Meets Kids Where They’re At’.  I always liked it because it was a lot smarter than the title makes it sound.  Too many youth ministry books are fairly shallow, mostly about methodology, too anecdotal, and not nearly theological enough.  Despite it’s title, this book was deep, provactive, and very theological.  Which is why the title always struck me as a little odd…too much like the cliche overly anecdotal youth ministry books I’ve come to expect.  Especially since it’s written by a Brit and the ‘mall’ is not core to English culture like it is in America.

Imagine my surprise, moving to England, and finding out that the book had a different title once upon a time.  It used to be titled ‘Youth Work and the Mission of God’.  Apparently, the publisher required a title change before publishing and distributing the book in America, because with that title they didn’t think it would sell!!!  So they came up with ‘God At The Mall’.  How sad that that is the title they thought would sell to North American youth pastor.  Are we really that cliche?  That predictable?  That simple?  I guess so.