Photo: Art Babych
“Why are you wasting your PhD doing youth ministry? You should be out there doing real ministry.”
This view, encountered by one of her youth ministry colleagues, is all too common throughout the church, said Judy Steers, the co-ordinator for youth initiatives for the Anglican Church of Canada.
“It is up to you to get rid of that attitude anywhere you see it,” Steers told delegates to General Synod 2010. “I am sending you out as 350-odd prophets advocating for youth ministry.
Quoting from Kenda Creasy-Dean’s book The GodBearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry, Steers asserted that “Youth are looking for a heart-waking, soul-shaking, world-changing God to fall in love with.”
Seen almost as a luxury, youth initiatives “are often the last thought of and first eliminated,” said Steers. A couple of years ago, she pointed out, a lot of dioceses renewed their commitment to youth ministry. Then came the economic crisis, which was felt strongly at all parish, diocesan and national levels. Youth positions were among the first to be cut.
“There has been a pattern of sporadic youth ministry commitment, which is damaging and more counter-productive than no youth ministry,” said Steers, adding that it can lead to disillusionment. “This is a challenge to the wider congregation,” she said. “If the ministry of the community…is focused on self-preservation, is disconnected from the world around it or is lacking in passion, congregations shouldn’t be surprised if young people aren’t excited about coming onboard with that.”
Often, youth ministries are cut with the idea that volunteers can step in to replace them, said Steers. “… if you don’t have anybody who’s got the training and experience in youth ministry to direct projects… to provide leadership to committed volunteers, [there’s] a big gap.” The national church can help by providing training and resources for people to do good ministry, she told the Anglican Journal.
The good news? Some of this training is already taking place, and Steers highlighted recent successes and upcoming events made possible with funding from foundations, grants, fundraising, cost-recovery based programs and “massive amounts of volunteer energy.”
*the first national Anglican youth ministry forum, Generation 2008. “Ties and relationships were forged that led to many new initiatives, training opportunities, collegial networks of support and more, right across the country,” said Steers.
* the National Anglican youth website www.generation.anglican.ca, launched in 2006, now provides resources for youth ministry in more than 40 countries;
* Five annual Justice Camps have been held to support a new generation of young people committed to social justice;
* The national youth leadership program, Ask & Imagine, which is operated by Huron University College in partnership with the Anglican Church of Canada.
* Common Ground 2011, a forum and training opportunity, will bring together Anglicans with a passion for youth ministry as well as Lutherans, Presbyterians and United Church members.
In the fall of 2007, Council of General Synod (CoGS) established the Youth Initiatives Task Force, which recommended that youth ministry not be limited to youth groups. “Youth ministry is what you do, whatever you do. Invite a young person to come alongside you, whether you teach, preach, visit, plan, act, work for justice, whatever it is that you do,” Steers said.