Shift and Chicago
Tuesday, Chad and I flew to Chicago to attend Shift, a youth ministry conference at Willow Creek Community Church. We've sat in some powerful sessions about how to reach teens in a messed-up culture. A major emphasis at this conference is the need to try new ways to minister to this generation instead of relying on what has always worked in the past. Teen culture is constantly changing, and those who minister to them have to be flexible in order to keep up.(Hence the name "Shift.") I think this is a great philosophy. I've witnessed ministry being carried out only because it worked in the past. With teens in an ever-evolving culture, that form of ministry simply does not work.
But here's something about youth ministry that does not change. This is what every youth ministry conference, book and seminary class could boil down to: Teens need adults in their lives who are not afraid of them. Some people think I'm trying to be funny when I say this, but youth ministry is basically mission work. The culture is different, the language is different, the clothes are different, the customs are different - even the food is different. Teens need adults who are not afraid to dive right into all the "weirdness" and embrace them for who they are and where they are at that time in their lives.
There are two other things teens need, and this didn't come from a book or a class -- this is what Chad and I have witnessed firsthand. Teens also need:
1) Fathers (or father figures)
Think about all the teens you know who are really hurting and they probably have an emotionally or physically absent father and/or virtually no rules. Kids with no rules like to brag about how great they've got it, but the truth is that boundaries give kids security. And about fathers -- there is no end to the damage the absence of a father can cause. We've seen this over and over in our youth groups, kids we've met at camps, etc.
Adolescence can be an awful time in someone's life. Freud even suggested adolescence is nothing more than a temporary mental illness. But teens are reachable, and they need adults who will not give up on them, but meet them where they are.
But we haven't JUST done conference stuff while we've been here. The last two nights, we've gone downtown to eat Chicago-style pizza and shop on Michigan Ave. Such fun. Other than Houston, I haven't been in a major city since my trip to NYC in 1986. (I feel like such a RUBE all of a sudden.) We've eaten pizza at Giordano's, ridden the train with a bunch of drunken Cubs fans and walked probably five miles up and down Michigan Ave. Oh, and did I mention our kids are not with us? They are back home under the care and supervision of my parents. Suckers!!