Would it be appropriate to:
Close the church to youth programming if they tagged the bathroom two times?
Ask students to leave the youth ministry if the teens were smoking weed in the cemetery across the street?
Forbid a pregnant church teen from attending the youth group?
What if teens are using callousness and indifference to simply veil the real adolescent behind the mask? Research indicates many adults are scared to relate to teens. I wonder if our rules are more for our protection and not for the good of the people we serve. We are prone to think that the teen we see is actually the whole teen. We fail to recognize that there is a veil the teen is hiding behind.
I have worked with churches that have done all these things listed above. Let me tell you a story why I think they were missing the point.
My parent’s church never had an official youth program. We had some denominational retreats and a few BBQs, but it was sparse. Yet my childhood church had a youth ministry.
I remember one poignant model of Christlikeness from my teen years. My church was along a popular cruising strip. The community was in an uproar, laws were passed, police patrolled and businesses put up fences around their parking lots to keep teens out. Not my church. Several elders went to the bakery, bought tons of doughnuts, and spent hours on the parking lot every Friday and Saturday night.
Here’s one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned in ministry: programs cannot make disciples.
Think about natural reproduction. What makes a tree? Only trees. What makes a giraffe? Only other giraffes. Following this logic (and the very definition of disciple), what makes disciples? Disciples make more disciples. Programs? In my experience programs breed more programs.
Jesus’ life and ministry teaches us an important lesson. His method flung disciples into every city in Galilee and eventually every region of the world. Many programs tend to be Centripetal: inward moving and focused on the core. They attempt to draw into the center.
The difficulty lies in that we try to form and fit hurting teens and families into the mold of the program. We want them to come but they have to play by our rules and not spill sprite on the library carpet. Then we ask them to leave if it gets a little scary.
There is a place for centripetal ministry yet Jesus’ ministry was distinctly centrifugal. The core was a training ground for the purpose of launching a disciplemaking movement out into the world: Into the parking lot with donuts.
My elders when I was a teen taught me that ministry is using the overflow of your life to impact other people.