Our confirmation program for this year is starting again, and during our informational meeting, I handed out a short questionnaire for students to fill out.  It had questions like ‘What is your favorite memory of church’, and ‘What do you most want to learn about this year’ as well as ‘who are your role models at church?’.  I thought that the questions would be helpful for our team to see what our youth most wanted to know and to learn a little bit more about them.  The one set of answers from the youth and their parents that I thought was most exciting was the question about their role models.  For most of our students, they saw their role models as their Sunday school teachers and confirmation leaders.  As a youth minister that works in a team ministry, this was super-exciting for me, because it meant that our youth ministry team was making great connections with our students.
     So at our next staff meeting, I raised this as a joy—that our congregation is blessed with great youth leaders both in Sunday school and confirmation and youth group.  And an observation arose that of all of the folks teaching our youth during Sunday school and confirmation, only a couple of them are parents of current students, and it made me pause…
     I’ve been reflecting on that fact this week—in most of the congregations that I’ve served in, it was either myself or other parents who had a majority of the responsibility for working with the youth, and yet for this congregation, it is so not the case.  (And no, the majority of my youth leaders are not the 20 something young adult type with a red bull in one hand and a guitar in the other.)  Actually, I am the youngest of the bunch (and I’m old enough to be a parent of some of them. :0 )
     This interesting quality of our team reminds me of when we went to a Youth Specialties Team Training last year.  One of the topics of the day was on Keeping Teens Safe.  As a good United Methodist, I assumed we would be talking about Safe Sanctuaries policies, background checks, etc, etc… and yet, the conversation was centered more around how not to create crazy games that will end up injuring your students (or worse), and other issues around general safety.  As we heard some of the stories my team and I looked at each other like: ‘These things happen?!?’ and as we discussed and reflected on the day, I realized that one of the things I love about our team and our youth is that I fully trust them to keep our students safe both physically, emotionally and theologically.  And perhaps, one of the reasons that doing dangerous games or making iffy choices in working with the youth wasn’t an issue was because most of my volunteer team were more seasoned.
     When we think about what makes up a ‘good’ youth leader or volunteer, I hope that more youth ministers and churches consider a wider range of people.  There really is no specific type of person who works best with youth, except for someone who truly cares about students and has a desire to help them grow and mature in their faith.  This is why I love our leaders—they are parents and grandparents, older adults and middle aged, business leaders and organists and yogis, people who value their faith and see and understand God in their own unique ways, and most importantly aren’t afraid to share that with our students and learn right alongside them.
     So if you are looking for volunteers for your youth group—don’t just stop with the parents of the youth—look to the grandparents, look to the older adults who don’t have kids in the program, look to the people in the congregations who’s faith you admire and who YOU see as a role model for your faith and the faith of others.

-t.

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AuthorTina Itson
CategoriesGeneral

So back in March I attended the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference that was put on by the JoPa Group and hosted at Fourth Presbyterian in Chicago.  Besides getting the opportunity to spend a few days in one of my favorite cities and practice some ‘urban mindfulness’, I was also able to hang out with a group of folks that I can definitely call my ‘people’.  I’ve been to more youth ministry conferences than I can count, and I would say that this one was pretty much the best one I’ve ever attended.  Besides the fact that I wasn’t irritated throughout it (normally I have to spend so much energy filtering what I am learning through a theological lens that is different than most folks), the conference challenged us with the idea that if we take youth ministry seriously, not just as a place where we entertain, babysit, or ‘hang out’ with teenagers, but as the place in which we can challenge the church to be more relevant, more theological,  and more like Jesus, we must do some things differently—take more seriously what we teach, how we teach it, and frankly, put our money where our mouth is and get to it!

            I definitely had a fire put under me when it comes to doing the kind of ministry that I know I am called to do—one that is progressive, that believes that youth can challenge the status-quo, and that youth are capable and clammering for an opportunity to make a difference in their communities and their congregations—and I feel grateful that I am in a congregation and a place where that is truly possible.

Tony Jones challenged us at the event to ‘write our books’ and to put our names out there, not for the sake of ourselves, but for the sake of the progressive voice that often seems so hidden.  So, this idea of a blog has been simmering for months (maybe years)—I’ve been talking about it forever and haven’t gotten things going, and in the past couple of months, there have been more and more instances of people talking about the need for more progressive voices in youth ministry and so it is time.  So, here is the blog—an opportunity to keep the discussion going on what progressive youth ministry is, both in my current context, but also hopefully through the voices of other youth workers, Pastors, Deacons, etc.  I am not the expert, but I am hoping this space can be a place to ask good questions, bring new voices and insights, and share resources with those who are interested in being a part of the conversation.  I hope that you all enjoy this journey with me.

-t.

Posted
AuthorTina Itson
CategoriesGeneral