What do we do in the church that sticks? Maybe not like gum on a shoe, but then, maybe so. The other day I received an email from a former youth group leader asking questions about basic, core facts that I KNOW were covered over and over again in Sunday School, Youth Group, and Confirmation. But his questions came from a reference place that indicated to me very little "stuck" from all the ministry he experienced at the church growing up.
That prompted a dinner-time discussion with Martha about what we remember "sticking" from our days in our childhood and youth? We both remembered clearly the behaviors and attitudes of the adults around us; parents, teachers and prominent church leaders (for both good and bad). We remembered teaching incidents; while on mission trips, camping, serving, and during times of crises. We remembered learning some skills about reverence, respect, silence, prayer, Bible reading.
But for me, most of my spiritual learning curve began after my freshman year conversion when I took a year off and lived in Japan. It was then that I first read the Bible for myself and began to devour Christian classics that my dad sent to me. That's when I remember things "sticking" in my heart.
So what's happening during these years with children, adolescents, youth, and collegians? Seed-planting is one image. Seeds get planted on Tuesday afternoons from 4:30-6:00 with 11 seventh and eighth graders about the Bible and Church history, theology and ethics. But they are probably watching more about how I treat Martha, Liam and Lisa; how we interact and react to their weirdnesses.
My concern is that the right stuff sticks and not the wrong stuff; not arrogant pastors who yell, not overhearing sniping parents gossip, not cruel youth groups who clique someone out who does not fit; not the obsession with personal lifestyle issues and ignorance of the big moral issues of the day.
I wonder how current leaders in youth ministry deal with the "stick" of the Gospel vs the hype of the program? it's got to be a tough balancing act, when there are pressures from multiple directions to grow the group and keep them from being bored. This could be a great topic for a future Youth Workers' Connection.