This week, there seems to be an unusual number of job postings in the areas of children, youth, and family ministries. I’ve seen several on my social media feeds and in mailings I am regularly subscribed to. Out of curiosity, I decided to read through some of the job descriptions to see what churches were looking for in the person who would lead faith formation ministries for the next generation and the homes they are growing up in.
Here are a few of the requirements for applicants:
- Ability to lead an irresistible student ministry
- Ability to create awesome environments that children can’t wait to be a part of
- Bring fresh and vibrant leadership to a good program
- Experience, education, and high character.
- Relational gifts & commitment to be present in the lives of our church members and in the community.
All of these desired qualifications are… great! I mean, there’s nothing inherently wrong with any of them. But the job descriptions these were taken from (and several others that I did not draw from) left out one crucial qualification – That the person applying loves Jesus. Not only was this not mentioned, it was not even alluded to in the “what we look for in a candidate” description.
Now, you might say, that’s a given. Of course, whoever is applying for this role is going to be a Christian. Perhaps, but, let me share another experience I had this week.
I am part of an online community group and in it a mother of young teenagers asked, “Is there a place where my kids can hang out that isn’t religious? We are not religious and don’t really want our kids to be indoctrinated in a faith but we are having a hard time finding groups for them to be involved with that aren’t religious in nature.” I read through the conversation, mostly out of curiosity, and was shocked to read the replies.
“You should send them to (insert name of local large church)’s youth group. They don’t really talk about God or anything; they just play fun games and eat pizza and talk about relevant stuff but not really Jesus stuff. That happens at camps and missions trips but not regularly.”
“I agree about sending them to (insert name of local large church). They say they’re Christian but really my kids fit right in and they don’t really push the Jesus stuff.”
I could go on. The consensus was clear. Sending your kids to this church’s youth group would in no way influence them to become Christian.
Are we surprised? Should we be?
If there is no up-front qualification for a youth or children’s minister to love Jesus, why should we be surprised when we have an outstanding program where kids want to be and an incredible environment where youth can hang out and all the programming bells and whistles but no discipleship, no transformation, no relationships with the larger faith community and no lifelong faith formation?
Is it wrong to have a place where kids and teens can gather and hang out and have fun without religious overtones? Absolutely not. I think that’s probably even needed. Should it be during the time set aside for worship, discipleship, and faith formation within a faith community? Probably not, unless those things are our measure of success. A big youth group. An amazing kids ministry. A record number of attendees. A place where the predominant question being asked by parents/caregivers is “Did you have fun today?” instead of “What did you learn about Jesus today?”
Last night, I was asked to fill in for a youth volunteer. I sat in a room with just a few youth ranging from 6th-9th grade. They watched a video on the characteristics of God and then dove into a conversation about the tension that exists between the love of God and the justice of God and how they see that tension play out in how they interact with their classmates and with each other. They asked about how to love well when they see someone making poor choices. How to respect others even if they don’t agree with them. They prayed for each other and at the end, one of the girls said, “I’m so grateful to have a place to come and talk about these kinds of things.”
They also played a fun game which dissolved into piles of laughter and devoured more pizza and soda than their small number should have. Because discipleship doesn’t have to be boring and bland and without fun. But the heart of it must be Jesus.
It is unusual for me to come to my keyboard to write a blog post with trepidation and a bit of nervousness. Generally, I am fairly confident in what I have to share and, while I know not everyone agrees with my views on intergenerational ministry and connecting generations in church, it’s rarely enough of a disagreement to cause people to be genuinely upset.
But this post? This definitely has the potential to ruffle some feathers. But maybe that’s okay. If it doesn’t apply in your context, then simply move on. But if it ruffles, maybe it would be worth it to pause and consider how we can center all that we do on Jesus Christ and as his disciples, his followers, create places that are unashamedly committed to helping others do the same.
Christina Embree is the founder and director of ReFocus Ministry. She holds a masters in ministry focused on Children, Youth, and Family Ministry and is completing her doctoral degree in spiritual formation with a focus on age segregation and intergenerational ministry. In addition to coaching churches of multiple denominations and traditions all around the globe, Christina serves as the Minister of Generational Discipleship for the Great Lakes Conference of the Brethren in Christ and as a pastor at Plowshares Brethren in Christ in Lexington, Kentucky. She is widely recognized as a speaker and author in the areas of generational discipleship, intergenerational ministry, and family ministry. As the mother of three children, she is familiar with the challenges of faith at home and pastoral ministry. She along with her husband Luke share a love for the church, their community, and the global work of peace and restoration through Jesus.