Over time, I’ve noticed that ministry with those in the first third of life seems to be kind of “trend driven.” There are new ministry concepts…thoughts and ideas that tend to bubble up. They become a big deal…they become mainstream…they fade…they are replaced…
When I first started doing this work, congregational youth ministry was all about relational ministry (the Young Life type). I totally drank the kool-aid and was convinced that this was “the thing.” A few years later, we were told that we need to be doing to get kids into small groups. It was there, that faith would grow. Then, small groups refocused around how to create meaningful confirmation experiences (actually, large group/small group models.)
Then, everyone jumped onto the mission trip bandwagon. A couple of years later, good ministry was all about leadership development. That then morphed into peer ministry. We were then told that “if you’re not doing family ministry, you’re not doing ministry” (even though no one could define family ministry.) This was not to be confused with the trend towards “faith in the home.” Most recently, the “big thing” seems to be all about the integration between theology and ministry with young people.
Now first, let me be clear. I don’t want to diminish or belittle any of these things. Each is good. Each is important. Each is legitimate. And each has champions who have done good work to develop them. And my congregation has or is participating in pretty much all of them. But sometimes it feels like I’ve just chased these things around from one to the next, trying to do “good stuff.”
This can be a problem. And I believe that the problem lies not with these concepts, but rather the way we have gone about them. We have become experts at chasing the tail that is wagging the dog. We in the church have done these things, assuming that if we do them “well,” then we are doing good ministry, that we are being effective.
However, effectiveness is not about programs, trends or fads. These ministry areas are not ends. They are lenses through which we look at something much greater.
Ministry is about the cross and Christ crucified and resurrected. It’s actually simple. It is about yoking ourselves to Christ’s journey, and accompanying others on their journey. It is about pointing to the cross and naming Jesus in the business and mess of people’s lives. It is about speaking a word of hope to those who might feel hopeless. Ministry is about Jesus. Jesus is the end. He is the subject of our sentences.
Thinking about ministry theologically is crucial. Peer Ministry is a powerful ministry tool. Faith in the Home is a vital and dynamic ministry strategy. Leadership development is crucial and mission trips are powerful. These ministry forms are all vital and can be a part of good ministry insofar as they reveal Jesus in the midst of our community and our relationships. They create space for God to do mission. But they are not an end. They are not a result.
Jesus is the thread that ties this all together. And if we lose focus on him, if we begin chasing trends, and if we evaluate our effectiveness on how well we do these “things,” I fear we’ve just been chasing fads.
Peace in Christ,
(Note: Much of this line of thinking was inspired by a conversation with Dr. Jeremy Myers at Augsburg College. Thanks Jeremy for the good conversation!)