Monday, April 06, 2009

Kid Stuff

Fellow Traveler has a way with the kids in our congregation -- I think because she exudes a combination of respect and toughness, like a good coach, that the younger folks in turn respect. (My observation is that kids don't want adults trying to be their pals; they want, as Gertie's guru Cesar Milan might put it, calm assertive pack leadership.) Anyway, one day one of our high school kids confided to FT that she and her peers were very unhappy with the adult leader of their rather moribund youth group; that this individual never organizes activities, at least any that the kids want to participate in, and instead spends most of the time burdening them with her own personal adult issues, and then scolding them for not being more interested.

"I wish you'd take over," the teen murmured wistfully. You and LutheranChik are fun."

When I heard this, and wondered aloud what sort of youth group these teens envisioned, FT looked at me with horror.

"Don't even," she warned. "No."

And truth be told, we have enough church responsibilities on our respective plates without taking on a handful of hormonal adolescents.

But I do think these poor kids need a voice -- someone to advocate for them. Because they're the church too.

In the church where I grew up, our high school teacher was a 70-year-old church lady, and our youth group leader was Pastor. Our group activities consisted of stuffing Wheat Ridge stamp envelopes, once, and a trip to Higgins Lake for a picnic where we got yelled at by El Padre for playing Anarchist Volleyball. ("You have to have a score! You can't just bounce the ball back and forth! Ordnung muss sein!") Our supposed status, conferred via confirmation, as members in good standing of our congregation was a joke; the expectation was that we be seen and not heard until we were ready to "match" and "hatch." So my own experience of youth ministry was pretty dismal until I left home and got hooked up with Lutheran campus ministry, which was truly a valuable part of my religious formation.

How might I take some of the positive experiences I had as a young adult, translate that into the milieu of our church, its surrounding community and a slightly younger demographic, listen to the kids and find out what they want in a youth group (quelle concept) and then make informed suggestions to the people who can make them happen?

Or should I just mind my own beeswax?


Anonymous said...

Please take my comments with a grain of salt (or even a whole shaker full). My worship group experience is primarily with preschoolers, but I have an older child and a middle schooler, so I do have a little insight.

Most of the youth group leaders my church has had desperately wanted input from the members. The leaders wanted to know what activities the kids wanted to do for fun, what ideas they had for mission work, what parts of the Bible they wanted to learn more about, etc. Now, the kids didn't run the show, but they had input.

You don't say how big your youth group is. If they don't have much time to meet at church, is there another place they can meet? Do they have just "hang-out" time at church? Our church established a "rec room" that's open nearly every afternoon and evening after school so that the kids have someplace to go. Anyway, the kids should get together themselves and brainstorm some ideas for mission work and projects. Our church has a program for placing teen "buddies" with young special-needs church members, and that program idea came from the youth group. It's been a huge success.

I guess the point is, if the kids come up with some ideas for mission work *first*, and can get the leadership to buy into that, then they ought to get more say into the "fun" activities for their group.

The fact that these kids came to you, to me, means that you shouldn't "mind your own beeswax." They obviously trust you. How about this: tell the youth to come up with some ideas about what they want, and then you look them over. You can role-play the devil's advocate for them for their ideas, so they can prepare responses. Then the youth should bring the list to their leader. If the kids put the right spin on things ("We got to thinking among ourselves...what can we do for the church?...), their leader will hopefully be impressed by their initiative and will listen.

Please keep us posted on this. I have been overwhelmed by the compassion and caring some of the young folks in my congregation have shown. Society tends to write teens off as just rotten, but that's not true for most of them. The young folks are just as much a part of the church as us old folks, and they deserve a say.

Tell them a Methodist in Texas wishes them luck!

LutheranChik said...

Thank you for the input!

We actually do have an afterschool program for teens. We've arranged it with the local school that the kids can get off the bus at church and spend the afternoon doing their homework; we also have adults who come by to tutor them if they want help. And our quilting group, which has been around since the 1920's, is teaching quilting to interested kids. I think that both these programs were adult-generated, not kid-generated.

I see a need to give them some compelling reason to be in church on Sunday morning, when we tend to lose most of them. But again that's me as a middle-aged adult speaking.

We're Facebook friends with one of the kids involved, so today I wall-to-walled her asking her what kinds of activities she and her peers have in mind; I said I couldn't promise anything but I'd try to put a bug in the ears of people who can maybe help them make those things happen for their group.

Widening Circles said...

I read two terrific books last summer by a guy named Mark Yaconelli: "Contemplative Youth Ministry: Practicing the Presence of Jesus," and "Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry." It's hard to begin to imagine how to sum them up, but I thought they were powerfully wise. The Amazon thumbnail says: "Youth ministry isn’t about what to say, what to do, or how to be; it’s about serving the needs of the students God has put in your life. This book is an attitude overhaul that creates a more organic approach to youth ministry that helps you create meaningful silence, covenant communities, and contemplative activities that allow your students recognize the presence of Jesus in their everyday lives." That touches on some of the points Yaconelli makes, but it doesn't really sum up the whole book as I remember up. I think maybe his main idea is that young people don't just need a bunch of fun, age-segregated activities to keep them occupied, they need adults to respect and walk with them. Read on if that sounds interesting.

Mary Sue said...

Even if you and FT can't take over, it's a fantastically great thing you're trying to cattle-prod other people into action.

Tom in Ontario said...

I say, if the kids want you two, and if the kids actually want something to do with church, and if they kids aren't getting what they want or need right now, then you and FT should drop something else if you're spread too thin and give these kids what they need. Talk to your pastor about it.