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Jay Huff
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Friday, November 21, 2003

Power; Starting A-New; What to do, what to do?
I was, for a while, an advocate for my role as somewhat of a turner-arounder in a mainline congregation where I was already working. Some of the problems I ran into, while trying to move my ministry toward a more credible youth ministry approach (intergenerational without pandering to 'peace of mind ministry', elemental experiences rather than program, relational friendship and personal spiritual practices rather than pie-throwing) what I ran into was a group of people with such expectations for what the youth ministry needed to LOOK LIKE (this was VERY much an image thing) that many of the aspects we worked for were not achievable. What interested me the most was the majority of youth who WERE on board; the majority of parents who WERE on board, and the tiny handful of sticks-in-the-mud who ran that church despite the thirst of a majority of active participants who were ready for something greater. It seemed, however, that reconstruction, deconstruction, and reformation were not welcome in the eyes of these powerplayers. We changed over many of our components during that time to what I would call "elemental youth ministry" -- this was, in my mind, the first step, to give people a taste of what "the fundamentals of spiritual practice experiences" look like in youth ministry. This meant replacing the "talksheets" and "powerpoint" with candles, simplified Bible study, prayer practices, and raw guitars; replacing huge outreach events with 'hanging out'. It wasn't for everyone, but it was for us. And lo and behold, when we pulled the focus off of numbers and program, we actually grew. But we weren't finished. And prior to any integration into congregational life with the 'bodies of the congregation', we had already rattled too many cages, set off too many alarms, and led the wrong powerplayers to question what we were doing (but only through their gossip networks.) But that was just my context.

I have, for a long long time, struggled with "what do we do in order to reimagine?" -- after all, we are each in a different context. We each have a unique calling on our lives: paid youth ministry staffers; volunteer youthworkers; pastors; businessmen, bi-vocational, tri-vocational, etc. -- so the other thing is separating each solution (or lack thereof) from each individual calling. But there are other questions of process. Some of us can't up-and-quit and start a new thing. Some of us can. Or should. For paid youth staffers in many denominations, some of us have some serious work to do, in both remaining humble and servant-like with our clergy and governing bodies while trying to move things forward. And how do you lead the people who hold the carrot in front of YOU? That's difficult indeed. That's one of my biggest areas of respect for clergy. I have learned many times that trying to reform a church as the youth director is not what I'm called to do. That's for sure. In fact I got so tired of people-pleasing, that I completely stopped hiding my feelings about what was going on in church, and it helped me find the door to change vocations. (painfully, but progressively.) Maybe for me it's a question of bivocationalism or starting something new. I was thinking about the post by Jay Huff below; I want to explore that. I've seen the "church within a church" model... the "new church plant" model... and the "house church" model... (I bet someone out there is disappointed that these are being called models... here we are trying to break out and I'm using the word "model" again -- can't I learn?! ARGH!

So the question is... what do we do after we have arrived at this picture? If we go the house-church route, which is attractive to me, and has been a good experience in the past, then we gather friends and begin in community. If we go the church-within-church route, then we act to construct something within a present congregation. (This is a sticky one due to our commitment to intergenerational ministry, unless there is a mechanism for one to move into the other!) Finally there is the new church plant model, which is dangerous because how do you build a new church congregation without the things that made the institutionally challenged churches the uncontrollable animals they have become? (or perhaps they are uncontrollable animals because they are so controlled?) For instance, I know of two Lutheran church plants in the North Carolina Synod who are trying to figure out how to do the required constitutional bits of accountability and governance without turning into the other Lutheran churches from which they were meant to differ. They have my admiration.

What are some stories of those of us here who have tasted grace in this area? How has providence led you? What's your anti-model? How did you begin? How are you now?

There's my big 'ole pile of thoughts for the day.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

I am beginning to think that it is not youth ministry that needs to be re-imagined, but church. I am a product of youth ministry. I am able to develop meaningful authentic relationships... I learned about scripture.... I learned how to have fun... I learned how to share my faith... I learned that reaching out to others through service is a act of worship. I learned about being real with myself, with others and with Jesus.

These are all things that I feel youth learn in the church I am at. The minute they interact outside of "youth ministries," they change. They feel a disconnect. Worship service is not meaningful. People interact in an artificial environment. People ask, "How are you doing?" but the response is always "Fine, how are you?" And that is what most people want to hear. They don't want to hear "I feel like hell."

I have tried a lot of things in the past year to intermingle the different groups in church... tried to bring in people with no connections in youth anymore. It is ok for a while, but nothing real happens.

I think what youth ministry does is to allow the youth to experience what community can be like and when they leave the group, the church community is nothing like that.

Maybe youth ministry has it right and the Church has it wrong. Just some thoughts from a weary youth worker.