Authentic youth ministry

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I hope this blog post finds you well. It has been a long time since I have actually written a blog post.
I had intended to do this regularly but like many things in life, a busy schedule can get in the way of lots of things. But I thought as I enter my 3rd year serving as the director of youth for the Diocese of Fredericton, I would spend some time writing and sharing my thoughts.
The world these days seems to be getting increasingly darker. Wars and rumours of wars fill our news feeds and we watch as growing humanitarian crises continue on and on with seemingly no end in sight.
As I walk through my own city, I find it can be hard to stay positive as news of record high rates of poverty, illiteracy, teen pregnancy, mental health and many other social issues wear heavy on me.
And now as I watch what our neighbours to the south are going through, it can be difficult to even turn on the news, or scroll through my Facebook feed.
It can seem that the world is beginning to come undone, and that there doesn’t appear to be much hope in sight.
I know, depressing isn’t it? It makes you want to crawl under the covers and pretend that it’s all just a bad dream, and maybe tomorrow will be better!
Myself, I have started trading CNN reports for episodes of CBC’s The Debaters just to lighten the heaviness of my soul. (I highly recommend the pie vs. cake debate.)
What you’re probably thinking right now is, “Colin, what the heck does this depressing monologue have to do with youth ministry?”
Well, I’m glad you asked, because it’s an important question that we need to start answering if we are to move forward. What do the problems of world have to do with being the church? Can the church really effect change in the world? Aren’t we just supposed to tell people about Jesus and bring them to church?
I have worked with youth from all walks of life for the past 20 years. I have spent time with Christian kids, Muslim kids, poor kids, rich kids, mentally ill kids and well adjusted kids, and I can tell you now that if we ever hope to fulfill the great commission of making disciples, we as a people need to start addressing what’s happening in the world around us!
This is not optional. If we are a people who say that we stand on the authority of the gospel, then we must stand in the public arena and tell the world what our Lord has to say about the poor and the oppressed, about the widow and the orphan, about the thirsty and the hungry, about the refugee and the sojourner.
We must stand on the authority of Micah 6:8, Isiah 58, on Mathew 25, on James 1:27, and we must rejoice as we live out the beautiful words of Amos: “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream.” Amos 5:24
Some of you are still thinking, “Colin, can you please get to the youth ministry part?”
Glad you asked! I have conversations with many people about how to grow a youth ministry. What kind of program works best? What kind of youth leaders do we need to have? Where do we find these mystical creatures called youth group kids? Should we buy an Xbox or PlayStation?
Maybe if the priest were cooler — maybe he could pierce an ear and get some skinny jeans!
If you are asking these questions, you probably are starting in the wrong place.
I want to tell you all that the most important thing the church can do is ensure that it is aligned with the work of the Holy Spirit in building the kingdom here and now. Until we do this, we will struggle to engage young people in their journey and we will be irrelevant in their lives.
Sure, maybe we could put together an ultra cool program. I’m thinking laser tag, video games, smoke machines, and we could raffle off a new cell phone every week to get them in the door!
But at the end of the day, none of this will be long-lasting and eternally impacting.
I know, I know I still haven’t answered the question! So here it is. If the bible says we need to care about immigrants, we need to actually care about immigrants!
If the bible says we have to care for widows and orphans, then we need to actually care for widows and orphans!
If the bible says to defend the oppressed and fight for the rights of those without a voice…. yup, you
guessed it. We have to do it!
I could keep going on but I’m going to assume you get the picture.
Youth are looking for authentic engagement with people who really mean what they say. There are a gazillion studies out there that keep telling us this, but somehow, we keep ignoring it.
Authenticity means doing what we say, but it also means that when we invite young people to be part of our community, we are not just inviting them to youth group, or to hang out with us on Sunday mornings.
We are inviting them to be engaged in a family that does its very best to live out the principles of holiness and justice that the scripture commands us to do.
We are inviting them into an incarnational way of living that is by no means perfect, but that seeks to glorify God through living out his heart here on earth.
It is my prayer for the big C Church (as in the people, not the building) to understand that it is these incarnational communities that have always attracted people, that have always provided the answers to those who seek and that have always breathed life and love into this dark world.

Colin McDonald
Director of Youth and Intergenerational Ministries
Diocese of Fredericton

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