The world we live in today has radically changed.
The people in the world have changed.
And we haven’t quite figured out what that means… yet.
At the risk of sounding like an old, worn out, cranky person, I can’t figure out what is wrong with kids these days.
That’s at least where this post starts from. A frustration with the young people I work with week to week in youth group. They are energetic, quick to pick fights, easily berate and offend one another, like to have fun, push buttons, and exhaust me on Wednesday nights.
I’m not trained to be a youth minister. And the lack of respect for us as leaders and for one another as peers really drains and frustrates me. I’m not sure how to respond, how to build the trust that leads to respect, how to encourage them to think about what another person is going through. I’m stuck. But I love these kids and I’m going to keep at it.
What I have realized however, is that this is not just a problem I’m having with one particular group of kids.
Lack of respect is a larger societal problem.
And I think it has everything to do with authority.
I had read Carol Howard Merritt’s Reframing Hope: Vital Ministry in a New Generation a couple of months ago. In her book, she talks about the diffusion of authority, the growth of grassroots and networked communities.
I love this reality. I love the fact that more people have a voice and power and the ability to determine their own destiny.
Yet at the same time, I live in institutional structures that depend on authority and respect in order to work.
The role of the pastor used to carry with it respect and authority. The pastor was a leader in the community and people listened to what the pastor said. That is not the case, today, as people double check what their pastor says with what the latest television evangelist or popular religion book says. On the one hand, I applaud these efforts. But it makes it awfully hard to encourage my church to think in a new way when they keep hearing different messages from other places.
But not only pastors have this problem. So do teachers. So do medical professionals. So do scientists. So do community leaders. As power is distributed and shared, as knowledge is filtered downward, everyone thinks they know it all… or at the very least have access to the information.
Take the field of medicine for example. I’m not feeling well and so I check some online database and think I know what I have. So I go to my doctor and present my symptoms and now I have colored my answers with what I think I have. If my doctor suggest something else or running tests, I look for a second opinion. My doctor has to worry about me suing them or governmental laws and regulations and their own paychecks.
But for the decisions I make in my daily life, I might need access to that knowledge.
What does all of this mean for postmodern youth ministry?
Second, as adults, we have to build our own trust with the youth from scratch. It doesn’t just come with the job. Just because I am 10-15 years older than they are and I’m a pastor does not mean they will listen to me. And every mistake, every slip up, will set us back all the way to the beginning.
Third, we need a structure and a covenant to get us through this. Respect is not going to be the first impulse of our relationships with one another and so we need to find ways of holding one another accountable. At the beginning of this school year, we worked hard to make a list of five things we would all agree to do in our life together.