A rector recently asked me why youth ministers seem so obsessed with models of ministry. He wanted to know why we are so zealous in defending our strategies and the form of our programs at church and at school.
After some reflection, I realised that it all stems from our flexibility. Youth ministers have far more potential to innovate than most rectors because the options are far wider. Indeed, when it comes to youth ministry, nearly everything is "up for grabs.'
You see, despite the healthy diversity within our diocese, the normal Sydney Anglican "model' of church ministry is relatively homogenous. Most churches meet on Sundays, and resemble the Prayer Book structure of Bible reading, prayer, sermon, announcements, punctuated with songs or hymns (even if it's rare to actually spot a prayer book in use).
Furthermore, the "normal' church model usually sees the average age (and level of formality) lower as the day progresses. Indeed, the only real structural innovation consists of the use of small groups, socials and events.
In contrast, the youth minister has far more opportunity to innovate. He or she can choose the time of the main youth group meeting (whether Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday night or Sunday); the prominence of games in the program; the format of the Bible teaching (whether Discussion groups, talk, multimedia or forums); the frequency and purpose of socials (whether weekly, monthly or once a term); the use of camps; and the choice of how and when evangelism should feature in the program (the combination of main meeting, small groups, camps, socials, and schools).
With such flexibility comes the opportunity for innovation" and with such opportunity comes diversity.
In many ways it's just like the difference between school uniform and casual dress. When everyone dresses the same at school then no one really worries about what others are wearing. But when the students are free to wear any outfit, (for example on a non-uniform day), they then have the opportunity to make a statement by their clothing. To apply this analogy to our present discussion, youth ministers can make a statement by the kind of model of youth ministry they "wear', but because the model that rectors "wear' is so similar to each other, the issue of ministry model rarely comes up in conversation.
It is important that our passion for a right model should stem from our desire to give form to our ecclesiology. We need our youth groups to match our theology of church, so that it is consistent with how we are ministering to people older (and younger) than youth.
This means that we must be vigilant in ensuring that when we import the latest creative ideas in youth ministry that we do not unwittingly implement an ecclesiology that is dissonant with our own theology. Indeed, ministry models can be a Trojan horse for bad ecclesiology"”and we need to be vigilant in maintaining a consistency in belief and practice.
Yet this doesn't mean we should ignore new ideas and ways of doing youth ministry (or indeed any form of church ministry.) Pragmatics is a helpful and vital consideration in ministry. However as we innovate we must choose to restrict our freedom by operating in a way that is in accord with our theology of church.
Jodie McNeill is a Youth Ministry Trainer and Year 13 Director at Youthworks College. Contact him at email@example.com