Advice to youth workers:<br>Involve teens in meaningful ways

5/17/2013

From left, Stephen Cady, Claire Smith of Saint Paul seminary, Conference Youth Ministry Director Diana Northcutt, and Kenda Creasy Dean.

A hailstorm punctuated bold teaching at the 2013 Youth Workers’ Gathering in late April. The youth ministry leaders who attended surely were inspired to weather challenges and revived to reach more young people.

They heard Kenda Creasy Dean debunk two myths about young people in church and Stephen Cady dare churches to offer inclusive, intergenerational worship experiences.

"Youth Ministry That Goes the Distance" was held at OKC-Church of the Servant and sponsored by the YouTheology program, Saint Paul School of Theology, and the Oklahoma Conference Youth Ministries.

Rev. Cady has researched teens’ attitudes about worship services. The word "bored" prevails, he said. But they also used that word to describe adults in worship.

"Young people don’t know why worship matters. Does it matter to us? How do we help them know it matters?" Cady inquired. "Youth consistently said, ‘I just want to be someplace where everyone else wants to be there.’"

He insisted that meaningful worship is not achieved by entertainment, technology, or musical style. "We mean well" with those approaches, he admitted.

Cody stands firm on his message that corporate worship services must be at the heart of youth ministry, not services segregated by age. Youth ministry must be connected to inclusive, intergenerational worship or "it doesn’t make sense" to teens, he concluded.

Rev. Dean wrote "Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church." The book draws from a national study of 3,300 students.

She said young people claim Starbucks as sacred space, the "Burning Man" desert festival as ritual, and buying TOMS Shoes as mission. They vie for an "epic win" in the interactive online game "World of Warcraft."

"Church has epic meaning because of what God did," countered Dean. "Christ is an epic win."

But churches too often fail to show teens the worldview from God’s perspective, she said. Instead, churches embrace two myths:

n Young people will save the church; and

n Appealing to youths means acting like them.

Only Jesus Christ saves the church, Dean reminded. Churches anxious for "young blood" are in survival mode and practicing "vampire theology," she said.

And a youth praise band is not what draws the Milllenial Generation, according to her research. Dean said churches that successfully appeal to teens involve them as participants, not just consumers, in the epic story of Jesus.

Dean is professor of Youth, Church, and Culture at Princeton Theological Seminary. Cady is a pastor in New York and a Princeton doctoral student.

Preaching at the April event was Stillwater District Superintendent David Wiggs, a former church youth worker. He noted high turnover rate among youth ministry leaders.

The "Opportunities" section in each Contact newspaper illustrates that.

Rev. Wiggs read from Luke 24. He encouraged those present to "be youth ministers who go the distance." He affirmed the value of meeting with peers to help sustain them as Christians and their commitment to the ministry.

— Holly McCray


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