The recent April Lutheran Witness features a couple of articles on youth work in the church that bear careful attention. It is the second one, however, entitled "Thoughts on Youth Ministry in a Postmodern Culture," that causes me concern, especially when read by laypeople already convinced that catering to youth will turn around shrinking congregations. Now in all fairness one can find some helpful information. The implication that too much of youth ministry is about "entertaining" the youth certainly offers a pause for thought. The National Youth Gathering held every three years should be examined under this suggestion.
The article is written in the style of a generic youth member offering a series of six suggestions to the church for change in the way youth ministry is conducted. I would like to highlight two that cause me the most concern:
1 - "Please ask the pastor to 'get real.'" -The anonymous youth then indicts the pastor for saying things like "You know we are all good Germans" in his sermon, as well as talking about his recent pastor's conference, something the 'youth' simply can't understand. I'm not sure where this caricature comes from, but it is clearly unfair to most LCMS clergy who endeavor each week to preach Christ and apply that Gospel to the lives of their people. I thoroughly believe that the pastor should work to know his youth and their unique struggles, which certainly many LCMS pastors do. This indictment, however, makes it sound as if most pastors are clueless about their youth and need to completely change the way they preach.
6 - "About the 'old liturgy'" - Here the anonymous youth takes aim at recent claims that "youth my age like the ancient liturgy - the more transcendent feel." The author clearly wants to pass along his view that this is shortsighted and has the 'youth' say: "Don't assume your 'old liturgy' is enough," and then goes on to say that the youth need to participate in the liturgy in such a way that their unique "gifts" are utilized. In the case of this youth it was drawing, and he wants to draw a picture and then have the pastor discuss with the youth what he has drawn. He claims that youth today are experiential in their approach to worship and need to have that aspect incorporated to make it meaningful.
Once more the message I hear is: "You must change what you do on Sunday morning or risk not reaching people, especially the youth." The message also includes the ongoing indictment that many Lutheran pastors today just don't get it and simply can't connect with people. They are lost in another time and place. Again, I stress that I support the fact that pastors should apply the Gospel to real life situations and that presenting a sermon that is no more than a glorified "Bible study" is not helpful. People want and need to know how the Word intersects with their lives. But the Word must always prevail. Personal whims and demands are not the engine driving worship. We worship and preach with the goal of proclaiming the Gospel and delivering the gifts of God, not to entertain or mold the experience to suit current tastes.
I could only wish that this article was not soiled with such a negative slant, but could have celebrated the good that pastors are doing, and acknowledged that not all youth in a post-modern culture embrace all these views.