Part 2: “The Interpretive” (why is it this way?)The Great Emergence & Youth Ministry

Posted: June 7, 2009 in Thesis
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Youth ministry first began to notice Youth Ministry 2.0’s (see what Marko calls this in Part 1) failure when one of it’s champions Mike Yaconelli told us, “the youth ministry experiment has failed” in an article in the Youth Worker Journal in 2003. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Statisticians and neighbors in the church had already felt the high powe vacuum that seemed to suck youth shortly after high school or in traditions like Lutheranism (thats my denomination) not long after confirmation (before the next Sunday for example).

Researchers like Gallup, Barna, and denominational sponsored studies like Lifeway began noticing that 50% to 70% of our youth are exiting the church after high school. The Youth & Religion Study sponsored by the Lily Fund observed that more than 85% of those youth had participated in youth group at least once. Researchers in the same study found these absent youth didn’t leave as an act of rebellion and if anything they had fondness for the Church they just found it vacuous of meaning. With data like that confronting present day realities that twenty something males and twenty something females are absent from the church at a rate of 90% and 75% respectively we can no longer claim these rebellious youth will return when they have kids. as a whole these voices (read part one to hear all the voices I’m talking about) become part of the chorus of a world that seems to change systematically every 500 years or so. Theologian, historian, and author Phyllis Tickle says we don’t need to wait for another shake up to occur because we are in one right now! Quoting Anglican Bishop the Right Reverend Mark Dyer she writes, “the only way to understand what is happening to us as twenty-first-century Christians in North America is first to understand that about every five hundred years the Church feels compelled to hold a giant rummage sale.”

If one were to do a track back through the blog of history we would see Luther and the Reformation on October 31, 1517 AD wrestling with the Christological question of what does Christ do and by whom are we saved; ontologically? Track back 500 more years to the Great Schism in 1054 AD as they debate and part ways over the theological identity of the Godhead in the filioque controversy. Keep clicking backward to the dark ages, Gregory the Great, and the fall of Rome as the church debates the nature of the incarnation. The next 500 year journey takes us to incarnation and Passion itself or the beginning of the Great Transformation as some historians have come to call it.

Often these 500 year markers are just a convenient way for us to understand the questions that led up to major shifts in Church and society. Like the Karate Kid it may be that after days of painting fences or washing cars we may only learn what we learned after the fact. However when we scroll ‘back to the future’ we find the same kind of convergence of questions, symptoms, and cultural tidal waves the emerging Church notes today. Listening to God’s work through this history will lead us to the swirling theological questions of our age. Ecclesiology. Or put in the form of a question, ‘What does it mean to live in, become, and be the body of Christ today?’

In youth ministry this ecclesiological question is expressed in the life of an adolescent as vocation. Listen to how these voices can be heard in light of this larger reality: The incarnation has been removed of it’s passion as Root would say, Clark might describe ignoring these ecclesiological and vocation questions as an experience of abandonment, Dean puts flesh on it when she says, “youth are looking for something to die for and we give them pizza.”

Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Dentonin in the study of Youth and Religion articulate the ramifications of not paying attention the new era of emergence in their book Soul Searching. They discover that both youth and their parents don’t know what their tradition believes and have adopted instead what they coin as the moralistic therapeutic deism of culture rather than the cross-shaped lens of the God incarnate. This cultural religion is a “belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order but one who is not particularly personally involved in one’s affairs.” In light of Clark’s work in Hurt we begin to understand that this belief system assumes God abandons us in daily living. Interestingly the Youth & Religion research revealed that 8% of religious teens do know the story. Who are they? These are teens who have been given a vocational leadership role in the church.

Translate that to a process of understanding the Passion of Christ as the meaning maker in the daily life of teens. Smith contends that youth and families actually believe the church is a participant in rampant ‘whateverism’ that YM 2.0 shaped by consumerism mistakenly models. In light of an age of an emergence whose fundamental question is vocational meaning it’s no wonder Clark concludes, “Once students begin to see youth ministry in the same light as other institutions that have abandoned, it becomes something to experience only in inauthentic layers…if at all.”

  1. […] of youth and our youth ministries? What does it mean in light of the Great Emergence? (see Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 where I’ve written about the Great […]

  2. […] this in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, & part […]

  3. […] Part Two is Empirical, Part Three is the Normative, and Part Four is the Pragmatic. part 1, part 2, part 3, & part […]

  4. […] part 1) in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, & part […]

  5. […] part 2) in 2007 parts of which are included in my thoughts on the Great Emergence: intro, part 1, part 2, part 3, & part […]

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