In the recent NCLS survey I couldn’t help but feel there were a disproportionate number of questions about our perspective on innovation and change and willingness to try something new. I also felt a self-induced, almost moral obligation, to tick whatever box most conveyed the message “Yes, I want to be a modern progressive Christian”. I don’t think I am unique in this feeling and I don’t think it is unique to Christianity; entrepreneurs have become for many the heroes of our age. Part of the appeal of church planting is the opportunity to try something new without the baggage of past cultures, gate keepers or expectations.

My inner optimist wants to support innovation. It pushes us to find the best way to help people hear the gospel, respond to the gospel and grow in Christ within our current cultural context. But we need to recognise that progress is only progress when it achieves something greater than what came before.

Youth ministry has always had the freedom to innovate; young people like to create their own space, there have been very few theological expectations placed on the ministry, and generally anything that gathers a large numbers of young people is considered successful. The problem is most innovation is not progress. In our search to be culturally relevant and engaging we often neglect the most important things- planting and watering deep, lasting disciples of Christ.

If you walked into most of the large youth ministries in our Diocese you would see a committed team who put an enormous amount of effort into doing the fundamentals well.

  1. They are highly committed to teaching the bible- both truthfully and in a way that is culturally engaging.
  2. They pray, unashamedly, in large groups, small groups, the leaders, the youth.
  3. They build a sense of community and ownership amongst the youth rather than appealing to the youth as consumers. Many of the groups would consider themselves a body of Christ community within the bigger body of Christ community of their church.
  4. They talk about evangelism constantly. They actively encourage the youth to be reaching out to their friends at school and to get involved with the Christian group. They welcome new people each week and they teach in a way that engages the Christian and the new person. Most of these groups don’t run many evangelistic events- instead they encourage the youth to see every week as an opportunity.
  5. They find active opportunities to grow together outside of youth group. It might be bible studies, meeting at a coffee shop to read the bible before school, going on camp, talking together online.
  6. The leaders are deeply and sacrificially committed to being role models. The groups having the most impact expect a lot from their leaders and the leaders last because they see the value of their contribution.

I do want to see us innovate and I actually like change, but not innovation at the expense of our biblical fundamentals and not change for change's sake. Rather than always celebrating the new let’s celebrate the good and work hard to make the good better. Perhaps that could be the latest innovation in ministry.


Feature Photo: Matt from London

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