One of the biggest challenges in youth ministry is staying current. Youth culture changes so fast and it seems like every new development in technology, medicine, or education, brings with it some sort of delinquent behavior in teenagers. Maybe kids are cutting, bullying, sending dirty pictures on their cell phones-or as I’ve even heard-drinking hand sanitizer to get drunk. There are many youth culture institutes whose mission is staying on the forefront of youth culture and serving as watchdogs for youth workers, parents, and guardians. You will not see me knocking these organizations because they serve a very real and valuable purpose in our society as we seek to help teens make better choices.
But somewhere recently, I had an epiphany. It seemed that my youth ministry lesson planning was a series of knee-jerk Bible studies addressing the latest major teen issues. When I did that, I realized that while hot-topic lessons were often timely and relevant, they provided no long-term spiritual nourishment. Fast forward a year and a half and I was asked to do a training session for youth workers in our district of the United Methodist Church. Not knowing what they wanted or needed to hear, I passed out some curriculum ideas, with some helpful online resources. Then I talked about Whack-A-Mole.
If our youth ministry is a series of knee-jerk lessons on the latest youth culture trends, we are playing Whack-A-Mole! Each lesson is a hammer-handed attempt to stomp out the latest youth culture trend that is rearing its ugly head. And so we have lesson series on why we shouldn’t bully, or cut, or drink hand sanitizer. And then when our students leave our program, they don’t know how to follow Jesus. They just know why they shouldn’t drink hand sanitizer…maybe from a biblical perspective…but there is no discipleship.
But when we teach kids to follow Jesus, these cultural issues take care of themselves. When they can see themselves as God loves them, they don’t bully, or cut, or…wait for it…drink hand sanitizer! Every now and then, something comes along that I feel is important that needs to be addressed. But for the most part, the most important thing we can address is helping them follow Jesus. What do you think?