The principles of youth ministry may be the same, but the culture in which it operates is markedly different – a techno-society that has gone global and deals with social issues of every kind.
With such rampant change over the last two decades, ministers of every stripe face an increasing challenge in reaching the masses and spreading the Gospel. Perhaps no group has it tougher than youth ministers, who face a daunting task preaching to youngsters who seem more informed and more likely to choose a nonspiritual path than ever before.
“Youth ministry is important for this one fact: 90 percent of the people who ever make a decision for Christ do so before age 20, and age 13 is a prime age when all the developmental issues gel and a person can make a profession of faith – in a sense, own their baptismal covenant as their own,” said the Rev. Dr. Jon Davis, executive director of the Canterbury Retreat & Conference Center. “This says that an investment in young people is a good one to make.”
Davis is at the forefront of change on the spiritual landscape. As executive director at Canterbury, he oversees multiple retreats for different ages and ministries every year. Recently Canterbury hosted “Gearing Up: Tooling, Fueling and Equipping You for Effective Youth Ministry,” a two-day event that drew approximately 30 people. Staff youth ministers, adult volunteers, and college and high school students in youth ministry from around the Diocese of Central Florida participated.
“The Youth Ministry Committee of the Diocese gave the event a positive and glowing review,” Davis said. “It is always great to gather as a community and work together, share (conversation) and bounce things off of one another. In a real way, it is a moment to hone our skills with people who have a common passion to see young people come to Christ and grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus.”
Steve Schneeberger, executive director of the Youth Ministry Institute of Orlando, echoed Davis’ statement: “It was a great opportunity for paid and volunteer youth ministers to orient themselves to best practices that will continue to increase their effectiveness.”
Attendees learned how to bring the younger generation to Christ through sessions on youth-ministry essentials and social media. Participants also got to hear the words of the Rev. Canon Terry Reisner, Canon for Youth in the Diocese of Dallas, who served as keynote speaker.
“He spoke on creating moments in ministry that are receptive to the ‘in-breaking’ presence of God,” Davis said. “We do this through worship, study, prayer and service to name a few activities.”
Fellowship, worship, prayer, study and service are still the guiding principles of youth ministry, but the culture it resides in is quite different from a generation ago. “The culture has changed significantly in the last 20 years; globalization, technology, social issues and more,” Davis said. “Youth ministry has changed, too, in terms of understanding the territory where young people live, go to school, have jobs, are entertained and such.”
With societal advancement has come flux within the ministerial ranks, especially within the youth sector. “Youth ministry is tough for a number of reasons,” Davis said. “It’s often underfunded and understaffed. The group changes every year, in that, you graduate leaders and take on new folks. The world is changing so quickly. Young people today are in a different world from say 10 years ago – technology, social media and more has changed the landscape.”
Despite the challenges, Davis said the guiding principles of ministry (fellowship, worship, prayer, study and service) remain a steadying presence in the Episcopal Church. “The mission statement for any ministry in the Episcopal Church is summed up in the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer,” he said. “We need creedal faith and we need to live a devoted life, loving God and loving others, and doing all this with God’s help. That is what healthy, fruitful youth ministry looks like.”
Davis said Canterbury tentatively plans to hold the next youth ministry retreat on Aug. 3-4, 2018.