Mickey Mouse youth ministry
The picture of a one-eared Mickey Mouse is an image that has been used to describe the relationship between youth ministry and the rest of the church.
A large circle represents the life of the church and the adult congregation (Mickey Mouse's head), with a smaller circle, the youth ministry (Mickey's one ear) loosely attached, off on the side.
The same observation reminds me of the story of Abishag the Shunammite from 1 Kings Chapter 1:1-4.
Is this a metaphor for youth ministry and the church? Every church wants to have a lively youth ministry - but is it merely seen as something to come alongside the dying body of the church to keep it feeling warm and happy while making no demand for any actual physical involvement?
Last year the Youthworks College Theology of Children's Ministry Conference welcomed Dr Timothy Paul Jones, Professor of Leadership and Family Ministry at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the United States as our keynote speaker (here's the Southern Baptist report on Dr Jones' visit to 'a small school in the Australian bush')
Speaking at the Conference, Dr Jones quoted a prediction made in 2006 that, at some point in the future, churches would begin:
[to] build buildings to support segregation"”and they will do it with excellence. They will not build for racial segregation, but to support age segregation. . Both the natural appeal of such buildings and the programming centered there will guarantee [that] teenagers will only experience church life with people almost precisely their own age. Adults will find no ways to bless children, much less even see them. Young people will be cut off from the richness of almost all adult relationships. And, most importantly, they will not see members of their own families until it is time to meet at their cars to go home.
(Richard Ross (2006). "What Will Church Be Like in Ten Years?" Presentation to the NNYM Executive Council; in T P Jones (2009), TCMC Paper, Youthworks College)
The title of the essay was "what will church be like in 10 years?"
The mistake was that what Ross predicted would happen in ten years, happened in two.
Dr Jones' observation is that churches in Sydney are actually more segregated in terms of age than those in the US - here the grandparents go to church at 8am, parents and young children at 9:30am and teenagers and young adults at 7:30pm. We don't even get to meet in the carpark!
Problem or Reality?
So is this a problem or simply a cultural reality? I suspect it's both.
The cultural reality is that there is an increasing isolation of young people from adults in most parts of our community.
But there is also a problem here. By fitting in with this society-wide pattern of community relations (or lack of) churches miss the opportunity to fully express and benefit from the reality of God's new society in Christ.
At Youthworks College one principle we've been thinking through in relation to children's and youth ministry is “the church as second family”.
As a family, or the Family of families, the church community is where teenagers can see models of godly decision making in the young adult 'older brothers and sisters'; where they can learn from models of long term faithfulness in the elder 'grandparents in the faith'; where young people from broken and divided homes can find role models and advocates in spiritual parents.
But the traffic isn't all one way.
Young people often have an optimism, creativity and energy that can energise the whole church. Adults who have no children of their own can, along with those whose family relationships have been broken as a result of their commitment to Christ, receive 'a hundred times as much now in the present age. brothers and sisters. and children' (Mark 10:30).
There is much to be gained from connecting young people more fully into the life of the church as a whole rather than being left out off to one side.
In future posts I want to explore more the question of why we've ended up with this sort of separation along with various models of how to overcome it. I also want to reflect more on the second principle guiding our reflections on children's and youth ministry - that of the family as first church.
For now, am I correct in suggesting that though a separation of age groups in the church is a reflection of our culture that it is a structure that is undermining one of the great blessings of the church community?
I'd be interested to hear whether this is evident in other churches and what others might see that we're missing out on as a result.