Originally published on www.brethrenchurch.org, written by Luke Dowdy of Berlin, PA.
Kids will be kids—but their culture has changed.
I’ve been serving in full-time student ministry in Berlin for 8 years and I can testify that in that time span, youth culture has experienced seismic shifts. Sure, youth culture is always changing somehow, but it’s arguably changing faster than ever. With things like social media, advances in technology, accessibility of youth sports, new marketing techniques, and busier schedules, I’ve come to pivot points in ministry where I realize that some of the old ways of “doing ministry” just won’t work anymore. It’s not that they’re bad or they didn’t work at one point. But new cultures and trends may require a fresh approach.
I checked with a few youth workers and asked what changes they’ve noticed in student culture over the last 5-10 years. Here’s how they responded.
Tim Bordeaux: I’ve noticed an increase in how busy kids are and their level of stress is also higher. The demands put on them have increased in multiple areas of life. But with that, opportunities have also opened up, good and bad. There’s more you can learn, but also be distracted by.
The number of kids who say I deal with a lot of anxiety, worry, and depression has ramped way, way up. Technology has made the world smaller and made a few things seem scarier.
Amanda Dowdy: In an age that pretends to be more connected than ever, students are feeling lonely and disconnected. When relationships are valued at “likes” and “streaks,” vulnerability and authenticity go out the window. This is tough for students, but also a wide-open opportunity for us as youth workers.
John Howenstine: The biggest thing I’ve witnessed is the pace of how things change. I think social media has played a huge role in that. Social media, for all its benefits, has also made a lot of kids feel either bullied or depressed. I’m noticing that more.
You’re also starting to see pushback from students as well because they are tired of change. They desire stability. It’s changing too quick and too often. They’re not able to appreciate what’s currently in and thrive in a steady environment.
All three responses share a common trait: lack of real connection. How will the Brethren respond?...
I came across an old article in Christianity Today recently titled "Why Your Millennial Outreach Needs a Bit of Bonhoeffer," and I was floored by some of the insights. As a Millennial pastor, I've read my share of articles and books about the Millennial generation - some alarmingly claiming that we're losing this generation and others insisting that ministry to this demographic is crucial still today because young folks like me are the future of the church.
And then these thoughts from Bonhoeffer - who, by the way, worked as a childrens and youth pastor while doing some of his most important theological work: The youth are not the future of the church; Jesus is the future of the church. Bonhoeffer adds, "It is the task of youth not to reshape the church, but rather to listen to the Word of God."
An important note: at first glance, this could be read to say that young people have no role in shaping the church and should just sit and learn. That's not what this quote means. What it does mean is that we make an idol of youthfulness and youth culture by consistently looking to them as "the future of the church." Children, teens, and young adults - just like the rest of us - will only play a significant role in reshaping the church inasmuch as we all come to the feet of the Jesus to learn and grow into Christ-likeness.
The youth are not the future of the church, and neither are the adults.
Jesus is the future of the church.
What does it look like today to love one another, particularly our youth and young adults, with the transformative love of Christ? What does it look like to allow our church culture to be so saturated with Christ's presence that we are changed inside and out? May we look to the future with our eyes fixed on Jesus.
Our denomination, The Brethren Church, recently started an initiative called Story & Song as a call for creative people in our movement to submit work from their God-given talents and passions for the betterment of the entire body. The songs, lyrics, stories, essays, paintings, photographs, sculptures, poetry and more reflect a creative outpouring of the Holy Spirit as we live out the Gospel through our gifts.
Many of the paintings and artwork submitted were on display during our General Conference in mid-July, but they've also been able to collect recorded songs into a downloadable album for folks to enjoy! Check out some of the original worship music shared by folks from our movement - it's available on Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon or wherever you may get your music.
Updates and devotional thoughts for and from our faith family.