Greetings to you! I hope that this finds you well. In the weeks ahead we have questions about boundaries and sermons. Do you have a question? E-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
On to this week's question.
I just received a call this morning that my youth group leader (lay volunteer) needs to resign to devote more attention to other areas of her life. I can thoroughly understand and sympathize with her, as she's been the leader now for about 10 years, is a teacher in the local school, and has two teens and one in college.
I'm in a small four-point rural parish; our youth numbers are small, and cover three school districts. This past year we had a good, active group--doing something about once a month--but it sort of fell apart as the end of the school year approached. We have good participation amongst our junior high/confirmation age group (a total of 10 youth), but only two high-schoolers attend with any regularity (out of about 14 potential folk). What's a relatively new pastor to do? I've been here just over a year, and one of the key areas of my call is youth work (the others are visitation with the elderly and homebound and worship leadership). I'm already spread pretty thin, so I don't want to mess this up for lack of time and energy. I did think about restructuring and forming a parent/youth board to oversee and make decisions and implement programming, but I don't know....
Wow. You do have your hands full. I think a parent-youth board is a great idea. I also think that it's important for you (as well as the parents/judicatory members) to be realistic about what is feasible in your particular setting.
First, youth ministry is a ministry, not a club. So if you are ministering to the kids---getting to know them, going to the occasional school play or basketball game--THAT is ministry. Plugging them into the broader life of the church is important---serving as readers and liturgists, taking their turn in the nursery, participating in committees, etc. ---that's all key to reminding them that they are both valued and respected.
It may be that you need to re imagine youth "group" for your church(es) and area(s). Can you do an ecumenical youth group in one or more of your churches--team up with the Lutherans or Presbyterians for monthly events? Can you let yourself off the hook for monthly stuff and instead plan quarterly events that are "bigger"--retreats, mission weekends, lock-ins? If you're feeling stressed and pulled in many directions, the kids probably are, too. Just because they go to smaller schools doesn't mean they are less pulled than kids in suburbia are (when there are only 250 kids in a high school, imagine the pressure to be in a sport or play or choir---just to get the minimum bodies needed to pull something off).
I think one thing that the church can model in such a setting is that more isn't necessarily better, and quality and particularity matter.
From Singing Owl:
I sympathize. I’m also in a small parish and my youth leaders are lay people. It is a challenge! I’m pondering the implications that one of the key areas of your call is youth work. Not everyone can say this! If that is the case, are there other areas of church work that you can delegate to lay people so that you can focus more on this area of gifting? I once told our deacon board that if I had no one to disciple the children and youth that I would turn the Sunday morning service into a youth service. They were a bit shocked, but I was trying to make the point that youth should be a major priority. If the church loses the younger ones, the church dies, and I had already been in one church where that happened. Visiting the elderly is not unimportant, but they likely have a more formed faith (we hope) than the youth.
I like your idea of forming a parent-youth board. Perhaps that would help them take some ownership. How about meeting over pizza with as many of the older teens as possible and brainstorming—finding out why they don’t come, what would encourage that to change, and so on. Get them talking, and I expect they will tell you the truth. One other thought—are those two older teens people who could help with the younger ones? That sometimes works well and sometimes is a disaster, depending on the kids. Are there any 20-somethings that could help as well?
And from Abi:
Dear Spread too thin...I am not sure what you mean about your "call" includes the youth work? Are you saying that is one of your responsibilities along with the other areas as assigned? I think given you got three school districts, four churches, two sets of age groups, that's a task unto itself. Sounds like juggling balls. It sounds like it calls for a Superwoman. Your idea of a parent/youth board to oversee and make decisions and implement programming sounds like a good start. Talk to the present youth group leader, get her ideas, thoughts of what might need to be done and what kind of leader it needs. Talk to the youth themselves. If you have a nominating committee that selects persons to be the leaders, Utilize them. If your council or board has a say, get them involved. This in some ways goes back to last week's question and answer, that our job is to equip the laity, and if we are doing all the work, we are not equipping the laity. So that even if one of the key areas of your call is youth work, you are to be equipping those working with the youth.
My own thoughts? It’s been a while since I’ve been in that position, but I remember really being challenged and excited by a book called Family-Based Youth Ministry: Reaching the Been-There, Done-That Generation by Mark Devries.
Anyone else have texts or ideas that help present a new paradigm that might be helpful?