I have been doing this youth ministry thing for a long time. Well a long time relative to the world of youth ministry. Much longer than I ever thought possible. Who knew that when I asked my Youth Pastor in the Spring of 2001 if I could be a youth advisor my freshmen year in college where that question would take me. I spent those first couple years investing in a group of middle school girls, figuring out what in the world to teach them in Sunday school every week, and trying to break down the cliques of a relatively large group of girls. That was a pretty tall order for someone with little to no experience.
In the years since I have worked with college students with Campus Crusade. I went to seminary. I interned part-time 3 years at a Baptist church in South Dakota. I interned full time for a year at a large Evangelical Free church in Tennessee. And for the past 5+ years I have been the director at a larger Presbyterian Church in New Jersey.
My journey has taken me to places I have not expected to live in. And it has taken me places in my own faith where I have not expected to go. I have grown and changed in ways I did not expect. When I set out, I planned to stay in my comfortable conservative Baptist upbringing. In a small and tightly connected denomination where I knew many people before I even went to seminary. I did not expect to find myself on the East Coast in a mainline church. And I did not expect so many things I believed about God, the Bible, and theology to be shaken. But that is where God has taken me.
I share all this background about me not to give you a mini resume. But to let you in on my particular lens as a teacher and leader and youth minister.
So here is what I want to tell you. Youth ministry curriculum if you are in a progressive, mainline type church sucks. Yes, it sucks. Every summer I begin the process of thinking about what I am going to teach next year. And I look through website after website looking for something fun and deep and high quality for my youth. Now if you are in an evangelical church, there is no limit to what is available for curriculum. But for the progressive types, the selection is limited. And what there is available, looks like it was written about 40 years ago. Long before the advent of videos, let alone social media. I am thankful for the work companies like Sparkhouse has done. Their curriculum is fun. It’s up to date. And it is theologically relevant to my youth and my setting.
But where is the curriculum about life issues? About Christian living? I want to teach my youth about sexuality without talking about how true love waits. Or that they need to kiss dating goodbye. And I want to be able to talk to them about the spectrum of sexuality and gender in a faith base setting. I want to teach them about serving others, but I also want to talk to them about advocacy and race issues. I want to teach them about spiritual disciplines, and to go beyond just pray and do a devotional for 10 minutes (my kids don’t even know what a devotional is!). I want to talk about social media and television and music. But I don’t want to start from the position that all media is bad. And I want to recognize that there is no place from which God is absent. I want to teach about the fruit of the spirit, the armor of God, the beatitudes, the parables. But I want to do it in a way that is culturally and theologically relevant to my context. I want to talk to them about friends and school and dating and making big life decisions. This simply does not exist in any curriculum I have seen. And simply fitting existing curriculum to my context is actually a complete overhaul.
It cannot be that only evangelicals care about how to live out your faith in the world. It cannot be that only evangelicals care about biblical literary in their congregations and their youth. But if you take a look at the curriculum available out there, one begins to wonder if this is true. I want to take the strength of my Christian education as an evangelical — the years I spent memorizing Bible verses, learning the Bible inside and out, learning how to live my faith, and how to share my faith with the world — and apply that to my progressive church. I want to contextualize all I learned in my youth to my progressive setting. I believe it can be done.
So I guess this leads me to only solution. It is time I write my own curriculum. Frankly, I am not sure I have the time to do this task justice. In the midst of all the other tasks of ministry. But instead of complaining about it, it is time I do something about it. I have the credentials and the experience. And maybe along the way it will become something other people will want too. Maybe even some people will want to buy it.
That is my hope and prayer and dream for the future. To equip other leaders and ministers with curriculum and resources for mainline, progressive, post-evangelical settings.
Time to get started.