Those of you who know me, know that I always have several books I am reading. The latest I've stumbled across is Shaping the Spiritual Life of Students by Richard Dunn. While I'm not completely sold on some of his conclusions, I love the concept he puts forth for ministry to adolescents: Pacing...then leading.
This way of thinking encourages adults to invest personally in the lives of individual teens, to walk alongside them and learn about their world. It is only after this has occured that the adult is in place to actually provide healthy, informed leadership.
In reading the materials produced by Mark Yaconelli and the Youth Ministry and Spirituality Project I stumbled across this quote,
Our curricular aim was to "re-frame" the problem of youth ministry by focusing not on "reaching" youth (who are usually only the "identified patient" in a dysfunctional system) but by challenging the adult leaders of churches to look at their own lives in Christ and ponder whether they have a way of life that is genuinely attractive to young persons searching for healing, hospitality, and inspiring role models who accept them as they are. Our foundational premise was advanced: that all Christian life and ministry needs to be attentive first to God's presence within us, between us, and around us. (taken from YMSP website, documents section - In Service Session-1)
In order for anyone to effectively engage in a ministry of pacing - one of empathy and investment - they must be dedicated to attending to God's presence in their own life. Without this, any attempt to reach out will seem hollow or perceived to have an agenda. I believe that what we are discussing here is fundamental to any endeavor of Spiritual Formation but especially those within the context of a youth ministry.
But as the folks with the YMSP pointed out, many youth ministries are marked more by anxiety than pacing. The focus on "reaching the lost for Jesus" has often damaged our ability to be companions by feeding our desire to be on the cutting edge of outreach programs - we create a stressful environment that looks just like the world around us. I believe that in large part this is what Nate Bostian was referring to when he asked about the danger of
building an alternate Christian sub-culture that is populated by bands that sound the same as the world and styles that look the same as the world, except they just have "Jesus" plastered all over them.(see my post on The Role of Intentional Spiritual Formation in Youth Ministry)
Adults often want to be given a precise job description with hours required, tools needed and direction on exactly what they have to do. In my experience they often loose interest in helping when I respond with, "love the teens...spend time with them." The truth of the matter is that this is our greatest need. We need adults who are willing to walk alongside these young people and discover what it means to be a teenager in Dallas, Texas in 2005; we need adults who will communicate with their actions that these kids are important. That is very hard to program and its hard to plan, but it is impossible to replace.
Pacing, then Leading may then become the most important tool for raising up volunteer leaders - it is both the way we find companion ministers and the primary tool we provide. And yet, with all of this said, I am left with a nagging question. How do we get this started in a community that seems to value leaving not-so-well-enough alone? How do we present this concept to a group that isn't sure that we're really in need of anything more than overly planned and communicated but sporadically attended events? The only answer I can even muster at this point is that I must continue to pace with potential volunteers and hope that a critical mass will eventually form. It goes back to creating an environment where we ministers (paid and volunteer) are "attentive first to God's presence within us, between us, and around us."