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"Youth in churches actually want more from their youth ministry experience," said the Rev. Joe Ball, who works with the Youth Ministry and Sunday School Department at the Kentucky Baptist Convention, as he talked at Campbellsville University's Youth Ministry Conference on Nov. 15 in Ransdell Chapel.
Forty-two youth ministers and others interested in the field from Kentucky and Indiana attended the session.
The Rev. John Chowning, vice president for church and eternal relations and executive assistant to the president at Campbellsville University, presented certificates of appreciation to four youth ministers for their valued contributions to effective youth ministry among Kentucky Baptist churches.
They included Matt Flanagan of Parkway Baptist Church in Bardstown; David Levee of Crestwood Baptist Church in Crestwood; Jay Montgomery, a 1993 graduate of First Baptist Carrollton in Carrollton; and Dewayne Gibson, a 1992 graduate of South Fork Baptist Church in Hodgenville.
Three of the youth ministers, Levee, Montgomery and Gibson, are graduates of CU, and Flanagan attended CU.
Ball, a 1985 graduate of Campbellsville University, said youth want to be involved in service projects, deep conversations about faith and life, mission trips, accountability and, significantly, more time spent in worship.
He encouraged attendees to think again about youth ministry in light of such promising solutions.
Ball led attendees to consider Steven Wright's new book ReThink, which deals with the role of parents in youth ministry. The book was given to all participants.
Ball discussed how the family, not the church, is the primary institution created by God for the discipline of teens. The church, as a secondary institution, acts as a partner to parents.
He discussed what he has seen in churches all across Kentucky where parents are completely disconnected from their teenager's spiritual life.
He said it is not that parents do not know how to spiritually engage their teenagers, but they have never viewed discipleship as part of their parental role. Ball said, instead, they expect the youth pastor to do all the work.
Ball said, "In light of significant low student retention rates (students leave church after leaving high school), low baptism rates, low pastor tenures and low biblical literacy, it is no wonder that student ministry is facing a great crisis.
He quoted Alvin Reid who said, "Youth ministry in America has not produced a generation of young people that are passionate about the church." At the heat of Wright's "remodeling" of youth ministry is the principle that the primary institution for discipleship is the family.
Ball said, thus, youth ministry should place parents more centrally in any strategy for training youth. A second, and related, principle is that the primary institution for discipleship is the church. Thus, Ball said, youth ministry should produce youth who are passionate about the church.
He said youth ministry should teach youth to champion the church, to serve the church and its mission.
The Rev. Shane Garrison, instructor in educational ministries at CU, who is also a 1999 graduate of the university, gave the first presentation, laying out various paradigms (or models) for youth ministry.
He said five promising paradigms are as follows: missional youth ministry - go and tell, not come and see; global-humanitarian youth ministry - where youth become part of the "Jesus Peace Corps" by helping and serving others in Jesus' name;
parent-centered youth ministry - where parents learn to lead their own teens in spiritual growth (with or without a "youth minister"); peer-to-peer youth ministry - which consists of youth ministry led by students for students; and campus crusade youth ministry that produces student missionaries sent to minister to their own school campuses.
Garrison said, "These paradigms are challenging and difficult to implement, but they do show significant differences in student retention and discipleship patterns."
He talked about three popular youth ministry paradigms including pragmatic youth ministry, which is a purpose-driven youth ministry that isn't clear about how the various purposes are connected; needs-driven youth ministry, which focuses only on meeting a certain need; and overly-calendared youth ministry, where the focus is on keeping the calendar full and youth occupied.
Three failing youth ministry paradigms Garrison discussed are: Joke and a Coke, a youth ministry that is often solely event-oriented with no larger role to disciple youth; youth room phenomenon, where youth ministry exists to separate youth from the life of the larger church, and Joe, Joe, the Circus Clown youth ministry that centers solely on the personality of the youth ministry.
Following his presentation, Garrison led in group discussion after smaller groups had the opportunity to talk about which paradigms they had most used and which they thought might lead to effective youth ministry in their own ministry settings.
Dr. Michael V. Carter, president of the university, greeted those attending and related the story of the pivotal role that a youth minister played in his own conversion as a young teenager.
Garrison said the conference "brought together youth pastors for a day of equipping combined with time to spend with their students on campus."
- Joan C. McKinney is news and publications coordinator at Campbellsville University.