Youth Collective was the subject of my master’s thesis. I’m so thrilled that I was able to delve into something I’m so passionate about, and that has the potential to become a real and meaningful development in the world of youth ministry.
As I was asked to reflect on where Youth Collective / my thesis came from, I wrote this:
I hope I will always be a youth pastor. I think it is a part of me now, inherent in the way I see the world. I’m sure this is what I was made for. I also doubt it. I’m excited and full of ideas and schemes and visions while all the while absolutely terrified.
Youth Collective is the expression and dream of one such vision, a new way of forming and loving students through a local, collaborative, ecumenical student ministry initiative. Coming to this place has been a personal and professional journey.
Most of the emphasis during my youth ministry experience and training revolved around production and programming, structuring and planning, doing everything in a way that would guarantee numbers and success and students devoting their lives to God by the dozens. I did well with the theory, exercises and events. I understood how teenagers developed, what tactics, words and illustrations would “meet them where they’re at.” I also had no idea who I was, how I related to God, what questions to ask, or how to be with these students in a way that drew them to Jesus sincerely.
This process has led me through a myriad of ministry and education experiences. Collectively, by way of challenge and encouragement, they have refined my gifts and solidified my calling. Through internships at churches across the country, formational seminary education at The Seattle School, and a total of almost 10 years in youth ministry, I have gained a deeper understanding of the privilege it is to walk with students as they try to follow in the way of Jesus.
I believe student ministry can be done well theologically, creatively and relationally so that students are encouraged to become more and more the people they are created to be. I believe students are an essential part of the church’s identity as the body of Christ, pursuing justice and compassion as we partner with God in restoring the world. I am passionate about recruiting, equipping and encouraging a team of caring adults to love students by inviting them into authentic community, embodied liturgy, and conversations around faith & doubt.
I have become the sort of youth pastor that knows students and pursues them in mentoring relationships, engaging them in conversation and creating space for us to wrestle with our faith and doubts together. I believe every effort should be made to connect students with the larger life of the church, and that intergenerational relationships are mutually beneficial and priceless for both teens and mentors. My students are encouraged to participate in the kingdom of God in their everyday lives, and on their good days they know that God loves them. They are safe in their imperfection and doubts, crave the compelling stories of the biblical narrative and bravely express themselves in creative ways.
This is not sexy ministry. It is messy, ambiguous, and students don’t dutifully report the three points of my youth talk in the car on the way home from church. Students aren’t showing up in droves to give their life to Jesus in a David-Crowder-induced worship frenzy. Our conversations aren’t crafted to coerce students to faith out of fear or obligation. Students aren’t even guilted into attendance, but rather encouraged to get rest, to participate in the activities they love, and to remember the presence of God during their normal day. This approach relies on cumulative formation rather than instant gratification.
I love the church. I desperately want to be a part of helping her love students and serve them in meaningful ways. I have had the privilege of meeting some incredible pastors during seminary, women and men who are asking brave questions about what it means to be a community of faith that participates in revealing and creating the kingdom of God in our midst. I would work with them in a heartbeat, but they lead churches that don’t need to spend funds on hiring a big, nuanced staff. They either can’t, or don’t wish to, hire a youth pastor for the students that belong to their communities.
Of course, they want their students to be well cared for, and not all well-intentioned and generous volunteers are trained or prepared to intentionally form teenagers in the way of Jesus and cultivate their desire for the kingdom. They just aren’t sure what that looks like for their particular community yet. They are drawn to the authentic, ambiguous, messy process of formation that students are especially receptive to, and distrust programs as anything other than a vessel for meaning-making.
What would it look like for local churches to partner together and jointly support a youth pastor? How might a shared student ministry revolutionize the way we pursue formation with our students? What if churches, volunteers and parents were supported, equipped and also empowered to love teenagers in their community?
Youth Collective: Collaborating with local churches to love students.