Youth Ministry Looks Back: How Has Youth Ministry Affected College Students?

Logan Light is the Director of Campus Life at Harding University, and a great friend. I asked him to complete this third, and final, guest post this month.

His perception of youth ministry is unique, not because he is a youth minister, but his life is filled with students who have entered college with a wellspring of youth ministry learning, activities, and memories. Most of the students at Harding were members of churches, and, if not involved in the youth ministries of those churches, were certainly affected by their influence.

So I asked him these questions:

  • What is your perception on the current state of youth ministry, and how has it affected current college students?
  • How has it helped, or hindered, the development of their faith?
  • What should youth ministers do to make the transition to college better for students — especially in terms of faith development between the ages of 18 and 20?

Logan has some serious street cred in this area. Logan received his bachelor’s degree in Youth and Family Ministry from Harding University. After college, Logan took a position as the Assistant Director of Admissions where he was able to work with hundreds of youth ministers, students, and congregations, across the country. He loves listening to, writing, and performing spoken word (hip hop) and was most recently featured during 2011’s UPLIFT. In addition, Logan takes every chance to deliver God’s message of hope and purpose to the adolescent culture. He will be traveling to speak at the Alaskan Youth Forum in Anchorage this March. Logan is married to his wife of eight years, Beth. They have one son (Ellis) and a dog (Kai Ya).

Here is what he wrote:

Right from the start, let me say that I have a passion for ministering to those in adolescence. I studied Youth and Family Ministry in college, took that education and coupled it with my passion, and found myself working in the machine that is higher education… and have felt more fulfillment, in regard to the calling to ministry, than I ever thought I would working outside of a congregational setting. I have been amazed at God’s providence in this matter. It has given me a unique look – a snapshot if you will – into the lives of hundreds of families, youth groups, and youth ministries. My observations on the current state of youth ministry, the faith development of teenagers, and their transition to college, comes from that experience and prospective.

Since it was introduced as a full-time job, youth ministers have always found themselves in a peculiar situation. Seldom are viewed as highly educated as a pulpit minister, stereotypically they are seen as less mature, what life experiences they do have are viewed in a bubble – ready to be criticized and/or rationalized… and yet they are trusted with the development of the entire congregation’s youth, ages 12-18. To hold a youth ministry position one should be engaging and fun, have a basic education on textual studies, be creative, and usually capable of some sort of facial hair (kidding… kind of). The position has certainly evolved over the years – as evidenced by the increased interest in Biblical studies and ministry at the collegiate level – but other than the bold few who readily redefine their role in showing Christ to teenagers, changes in youth ministry are at the whim of the ebb and flow of cultural shifts. This creates an odd relationship: The people in need of the ministry are determining how they are ministered to. From my prospective, this dynamic has not changed. In fact, it may have swelled to give students control of the message of the gospel.

The current adolescent generation as a whole is drawn to humanitarian efforts. They want to make a difference for those less fortunate than they are. They overwhelmingly want change from how they have seen traditions play out in the lives of their parent’s generation. These ideals (by no means exhaustive) have driven them to seek a message of faith that will align with those principles. That drive is currently stronger than I have ever seen it. A seemingly fertile ground for the gospel… though the gospel is just as exclusive as it is inclusive and students have a hard time with the former. They want to help, make a difference on a global scale, and exchange the traditional for a more authentic and transparent life, all while not making anyone, or their subsequent beliefs, feel left out. They have a hard time boldly proclaiming their belief in Christ as the only way to the Father. That belief excludes people. It excludes good people who are being led by the same moral compass right alongside them.

These are the students who are determining how they are ministered to and I believe the current state of youth ministry to reflect just that; an emphasis on service, global outreach, authentic and transparent worship experiences, and the inclusion of all people. As expected, I have seen youth ministers from all over the country make the same adaptations: more mission trips (both locally and outside the country), studies on the first century Church (bred from the need to break away from tradition for tradition’s sake) which lead to more powerful and impressionable small group settings, classes morphing from a formal (read: Traditional) teaching of the scriptures to discussing social issues and the Biblical application of their findings, ministers themselves are profoundly more open with their own faith struggles, even as it leads their students to ask questions they have not yet thought to ask. Again, all of these changes have been lead by the students (those being ministered to) in an effort to marry their moral compass and their faith.

As a university admissions recruiter, I see these changes manifest daily. Our students are highly engaged in service, global awareness, and authenticity. They hunger for an education that directs those interests. I recently asked a student about their general education Art Appreciation class. Their response was not surprising.

“Rembrandt just isn’t relative to me. If by remembering this class I could feed children in Africa, I’d be on board, you know? I just don’t think the style of architecture on an old church building qualifies as global awareness.”

If our professors are hoping to connect with their students in a meaningful way, they have to bridge the gap from their subject matter to their student’s interests – this has always been the case. If not, students disengage and choose to listen to the voice speaking their language. Why should they force interest in a subject that cannot directly apply to their lives (or perhaps better worded as, their lives as they currently understand them)? It is here that the parallel of the college professor and the youth minister is found. This generation of students decided, while in high school and a part of a youth group, that they have no real need to invest in something if it does not instantaneously meet them where they are. Why would they? Everyone has geared information for them. Yes, even their youth ministers changed (or channeled) their programs to better connect their message.

I know that I have probably popped the top on a can of worms and as my suggested word count is approaching rapidly, I realize that I will not be able to put that lid back on. What I will do is offer these conclusion(ish) bullet points:

  • The current state of youth ministry is not a wreck. I do not believe it to be in shambles or lost in the swells of the adolescent culture. I believe that what ministers are doing to reach their students, and maybe more importantly, what they are doing to empower their students, is wonderful. I wish my youth group was led by someone willing to meet me where my passions lead me. If anything, currently youth ministry is a fertile field ready for harvest. There are leaders who have positioned themselves correctly (and humbly) – I have seen them at work. It’s beautiful.
  • College students are affected greatly by the youth ministries they graduate from. To better help a student’s faith develop, youth ministers need to be in tune with the culture surrounding them and consistent in their communication of their faith. Students need to connect their yearning for help and change, to Christ’s message. In a time where they will engage in faith conversations that may leave them feeling uncomfortable, they need confidence in their salvation through Christ.
  • Youth ministers cannot build belief for their students. Honestly, I am not sure that they can even pour the foundation for them. What they can do is show the redemptive qualities that Christ brings to cultural interests and then live as a blueprint. They can teach students to examine what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy and teach them to consider those things. They can show them how to build their faith by example.

Finally, my solution (or lack thereof) is more reminder and less revolution. I wrote this essay and found it to be reflective and self examining (thanks, Kyle). I know I hold no answers that you have not probably heard from someone more qualified. I wish I was able to write out the perfect equation for the faith building of teenagers especially in regard to their transition to college, I am not. Someone once said that, “Perfect is a process.” I like that a lot. I may not be sure about an answer to the current climate of youth ministry, but I am sure on this: You do not need to be perfect, God covers that. Pursue Him and let his glory be made known in your insufficiency. Our ministries will be successful when we choose to be transformed through the refreshing of our minds and are humbly able to test and approve God’s perfect and pleasing will.

That’s what I see from my prospective.

__________

You find Logan online here. And check out the previous two guest posts here and here, on the state of youth ministry, and the relationship between churches and youth ministries.

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