I don’t know about you, but as an adult, I have a lot of anxiety when it comes to ministry with kids and youth. I always have some kind of worry or fear or sense of inadequacy when it comes to teaching them the faith. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in this. When anxiety is driving the bus, we tend to focus on the wrong questions and the wrong actions. In his book, Contemplative Youth Ministry, Mark Yaconelli points to the differences between ministry driven by anxiety and ministry driven by love:
When I think about what it would look like to have a children’s and youth ministry that is primarily driven by love rather than anxiety, I feel a great sense of relief, but also of hope. Anxiety leads us to do our best to impart the right religious knowledge to our kids and youth, hoping that that will make them into moral people and church members. These aren’t bad things, but they aren’t everything. Love leads us to create space for us and our kids to encounter Christ. It isn’t a curriculum, per se. It isn’t about imparting right knowledge. Instead it is about providing a space for them to not just know about God, but to know God.
Last night during a gathering to talk about where God is calling us as a church specifically regarding our kids and youth, we identified a number of struggles we have been dealing with for a long time that are really hindering our ability to help them encounter Christ:
- real, deep, spiritual formation of our kids often isn’t happening
- there is no intentional or cohesive plan of formation/discipleship
- kids don’t have enough interaction with mature Christian adults who can model discipleship
- Adult leaders get “stuck” in a role indefinitely and are often left out to dry
- there is a real sense of isolation and disconnection from the rest of the church, for both kids and adult leaders
- over the years, we’ve inadvertently created a culture of weak expectations
We had no problem naming the struggles and the frustrations and the real sense of anxiety that exists around kids and youth ministry at Dunbar UMC. The time has come for a shift. This year, we have the beginnings of a plan for Wednesday nights. While we all recognize that these issues stem across the board from Sunday School to Children’s Church to Wednesday nights, we need to start somewhere, and that somewhere is Wednesday evenings.
Imagine Wednesday evening becoming a hub of sorts where kids can encounter Christ in a deeper way. Imagine Wednesday nights being a place where kids can step away from all of the programs, from all of the busyness of their over-scheduled lives, to a space that doesn’t just impart religious knowledge to them, but that creates space for them to meet with Christ.
We’ve begun to envision Wednesday evenings like this:
- A time and place where kids from birth-18 gather and is centered on these values:
- a shared meal
- spiritual formation/discipleship/space to encounter Christ
- set themes for each age group to focus on, to be repeated each year (provides a sense of cohesion and intentionality)
- adult leaders not as teachers giving knowledge, but as guides, helping the kids encounter Christ
- a rebranding of the ministries to draw focus on the purpose of each (ie. “Middle School Youth” doesn’t really communicate any type of purpose, but something like “Altared: Being Changed by Christ” does communicate purpose)
A resource that we may use during this first year for the elementary age kids is The Way of the Child. This can be a good starting off point because it is created to help kids develop an intimate, personal relationship with God by giving an opportunity to experience and practice spiritual disciplines that nurture a relationship with Christ. It is driven by encounters, not by traditional teaching methods. It is also a good resource because it is extremely well laid-out, and even scripted for those leaders who need to know exactly what to say and do. Here is a sample to give you an idea of what it is like.
We also talked a bit about adult leadership. In identifying the struggles associated with adult leadership, we realized that there is a real sense of isolation and burnout that has been very present over the last number of years. Adults who step into roles with kids fear that they will be stuck there forever because no one else will step up. They also feel alone and are being forced to do the best that they can to come up with something to do with the kids when they have them. This is not healthy for the leaders or the kids. In order to address some of these struggles, we talked about these things:
- Adult leaders will only be asked to commit to weekly responsibilities for 1 school year at a time. There will be no shame or guilt if after 1 school year a leader says, “I don’t want to do this another year.”
- All adult leaders will be a part of the larger kids/youth ministry team. This team will meet regularly (over dinner or otherwise) to share, encourage, and help one another out. This will help deal with the problem of disconnection and isolation.
I believe that God is leading us in a new direction that will help all of us to find the space to encounter the living Christ, and I believe that as we make this shift with the kids, that they will help lead the rest of the church into finding this space.
Our next steps are to have our weekly leaders in place. We will need 2 for the nursery, 2 for preK-K, 2 for 1st-3rd grade, 2 for 4th-5th grade, 2 for middle school, and 2 for high school. That is 12 people. That sounds like a lot, and it is, compared to what we have had. But some seriously awesome things are coming, and I believe that God is calling some new people to leadership as well as continuing to call some of those who have served our kids for a long time. If you feel like God is nudging you to be a leader we can have a conversation about it. Know that having a conversation is not the same thing as making a commitment and it will not be confused as such!
Finally, here are the current rebranding/logo ideas to help focus on purpose: