A Youth Ministry with Staying Power

Originally published May 15,2010.

High schools don’t have staying power anymore.What I mean more specifically by that declaration is the senior year has become a joke.Some of the education programs have become a joke.Just ask the students.Forty-nine percent of high school seniors want their senior year education to be more meaningful, especially in the area of practical programs and skills that could help them better prepare for college or a job.Twenty-nine percent say their senior year is a waste of time.And interestingly, 59 percent say they would work harder if their school offered more demanding and interesting courses.I have taught seniors when I’m in my role as a substitute teacher.From my view, very few want more demands once spring hits or even before.But I may be wrong.Read more about these numbers at Ypulse.com

From that “read more,” here are two comments from high school students that stand out to me:“School does not teach us many practical life-skills.I do not need to learn trigonometry.I don’t need to know how to structure an analytical essay on some boring bit of literature.School is a waste of time.Property development and multi-level marketing is where the money is.”

 And: “I’m in high school, 10th grade, and honestly I have to agree here.High school is just a mindless barrage of trials to see how low you’ll sink to get an A+.There is literally nothing I am learning right now that I can or will use in my future life, except maybe algebra.I want to be a concept artist for a video game company.I’ve been dedicated to this decision for years now.But in the last two years of my academic life I have learned exactly nothing that would help me become that.And it’s precisely because of that I’ll end up working in a McDonald’s for the next 30 years.Thanks high school.Seriously, I’ve had to do my own research and teach myself about the gaming industry, and to me that’s all I should be doing right now.But apparently, doing menial projects week after week about a book that relates in no way to the present day is more important.Once again, high school, I can’t thank you enough.”

Here’s an educated opinion on this same line of thinking.Robert Epstein is a renowned psychologist who is raising the question that teenagers or adolescence is obsolete.Not just the high school education but the life stage of adolescence. This paradigm-thought was birthed in him from observing his sons.“I just got curious about it because my second son was very mature. I recognized when he was 14 or 15 years old that in some ways he was more mature not just than his older brother, but he was more mature than I was. That made me curious. I began to wonder why my son was getting in trouble for stealing my truck, when in fact he could obviously drive. Why couldn't he just drive? Why was he stuck in high school where he was doing well when it was obviously a waste of his time? Why couldn't he start a business at 14 or 15, which he was obviously ready to do?”From this viewpoint he did his research and is actively raising the question to every audience if adolescence is a myth. (“Teenage Turmoil?Not So Much, Says Author of Teen 2.0,” U.S. News & World Report, April 2, 2010)

Did you realize that the creator of Chatroulette is a 17-year old teen from Russia?The creator, Andrey Ternovskiy, says he has been coding since age 11.His dad taught him.He’s Russian and I’m not familiar with their education system, but what does our education system have to offer someone like Andrey other than a paper diploma?The Russian education system didn’t have staying power to offer Andrey because he’s a high school drop out and that paper diploma is not necessary for his bright future.I have an 8th grader in my youth group who is reading A Brief History of Time by Steven Hawking (physic theories behind quantum mechanics, relativity, etc.) as pleasurable reading.What does my youth ministry offer someone like that?

Right now the top ten jobs in-demand in 2010 did not exist in 2004.How does a public school education keep up?Teachers are currently preparing students for jobs that don’t yet exist which will use technologies which don’t yet exist to solve problems we don’t know are problems yet.And too often these teachers are teaching with science equipment from the 1990s.

I have a now-grown-youth who is one of those called-by-God teachers extraordinaire.She teaches high school seniors—and not those high school seniors who want the more demanding work.She has the ones who want to pass her English 12 course just to get that diploma.I asked her these questions and Syn-D Lazo’s response is, “They (her students) have little use for Macbeth and The Canterbury Tales.It is not good to fill their minds with information that will just take up space where useful ‘career’ information can go.So, I typically try to go light rather than have them memorize things that will just take up valuable brain space (and let’s be honest, can be Googled later if necessary).I’ll be honest, the math I learned in high school is only good for figuring out sale prices and making sure I have enough money to pay my bills.”

High school education is broken.This matters to youth ministry because we model youth ministry somewhat to the education system.They enter when they enter middle school and they exit when they graduate high school.One of the results of this modeling we youth workers are finding and everyone has an opinion on (including us) is that youth ministry does not have staying power.By the time graduation comes, how active are your seniors in your youth ministry program?

So here is my Wild Frontier thought for you.What can we do differently with our mini-adults who are yet minors and are also living in delayed adolescence yet are able to make life-impacting differences?What do you do with a rebelutionary in traditional youth ministry?

Another thought. I’ve had this item for so long that I don’t remember where I got this from.It is from some youth pastor’s blog from about four years ago.Apologies to the author.To quote this anonymous thinker, “I think youth ministry must reconsider the fact that it has embraced a power-structure that subjects adolescents to ‘giving their all to Jesus’ with little risk to the youth ministry or the youth pastor.

  • We monitor their behaviors.
  • We channel them toward our events.
  • We use them for our purposes.
  • We often separate them from family and school relationships.
  • We shame them into uniformity.

“And we wonder why they don’t stick around after high school. Let’s just say, we can’t blame the senior pastors. We maybe have to look at ourselves.”

Chap Clark also mentions this in Deep Ministry in a Shallow World:“Church and parachurch youth ministries tend to be far more supportive of adolescents and less agenda-driven than nearly every other system in their young lives.But we still represent a huge, often faceless organization—the Church.Kids perceive us as being more committed to getting them to participate in our events and trips than to them as individuals.In my discussions with thousands of students, many have confirmed that this is one reason for their apparent spiritual lethargy and lack of consistent, free, and passionate growth.They simply do not trust the adults who run programs.As much as they may like us, most will hold back at some level because they see us as adults with self-serving agendas.”(Chap Clark, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, p. 71)

Teens are a part of a youth ministry with a power-structure that benefits the youth leaders and the other adults in the church family.Teens are a part of a school system with a power-structure that benefits the teachers.Those SOL tests are not to test the proficiency of the student but that of the teacher.Is it no wonder that they check out when they are approaching self-reliancy?

Ponder.Pray.Let these Wild Frontier thoughts sink in.

And don’t let that pondering lead you into a programming panic.With all of these ideas which are swirling around in your head and maybe in your journal, take a look at your resources in your church family.You don’t necessarily need to offer something new for this age.You can direct members of your church family to further the staying power of the church family’s youth ministry.Whether it is offering a Bible study for just seniors (yes, a program) or finding an internship/mentorship for a certain teen.By opening the resources of the church family, the Holy Spirit will lead you to some great options to challenge the mini-adults who are minors and live in delayed adolescence yet are able to make life-impacting differences?And this may give your youth ministry staying power.