August 13, 2007
I’ve been through the standard Sunday-school program as set out by most Reformed mainline denominations, as far as I know. It took 11 years, and at the end of these 11 years I was allowed to publicly confess my faith, after the church council was supposed to make sure that I have sufficient knowledge of the dogma of the church. This entailed me promising that I take the Bible, as it is understood in the different creeds accepted by our church, to be authoritative, correct, or something like that, I can’t remember. I hated most of it. Although, I can say that I loved my grade 7 year, and my grade 8 and 9 years weren’t that bad either.
For many years after that I’ve been very critical of the whole system… that hasn’t changed yet. But I guess I just started realizing these past few months that the time has come were I should start taking part in trying to find a solution. Then, on Friday evening I spent some time with my parents and some friends discussing this issue. I believe that this is a burning issue in youth ministry in the Dutch Reformed Church, and I don’t know of one congregation where it can be truly said that this system works.
So here is some of the things I consider most important after having our conversation on Friday evening:
Our primary task in youth ministry is to link our young people into positive relationships. This remains the primary task, no matter what we are doing. The young people in our congregations are primarily formed by the relationships they are in.
Therefore the most important aspect of any youth ministry, of part of a youth ministry is the people that are involved. In this case the “Sunday-school teachers”. This is more important than the material that is prescribed. Do we have leaders that connect with the youth, that are willing to take the time to become part of a positive relationship?
It’s better to work with less leaders, but work with those that have a passion for the young people, and are willing to do everything in their ability to connect with them. But when we do have people like this, then we need to provide adequate training (and please do remember, any training isn’t necessarily good training, and the best people wouldn’t want to spend their time attending training or meetings which are a waste of time), adequate resources, and a person taking responsibility for this part of the youth ministry also willing to go the extra mile.
In the Dutch Reformed Church, we need to realize that “Sunday-school” is the one event still attended by a huge amount of young people. Yes, it’s most possibly because of tradition or parents forcing them (sometimes while they themselves aren’t attending church), but still, this is the one opportunity we still have to reach a lot of people that we won’t reach any other place. This alone should always remind us that we should give our utmost to make this work.
Maybe a few practical tips I think might be important when selecting our leaders:
Remember the importance of the task. Look for the best people, and make this their sole task in the congregation. Don’t take up their time with a lot of other things, this is their ministry, connecting with kids, help them to find time to do this.
If you see people in the congregation which you believe will be good at this, make contact, don’t wait for them to come to you.
Don’t settle for second best. Make clear what the expectations are, ex. Attending events, attending training, taking time out to spend with kids, to mentor them, to get to know their world, what ever it might be (I read Doug Fields’ Your First Two Years in Youth Ministry about 5 years ago, but I still think he gave some great practical tips for connecting with youth). If someone can’t stick to these expectations, it might be necessary to help them find another ministry. Fact is, youth ministry isn’t for anyone and everyone, we have made it that way by becoming willing to accept anyone that can breath into our Sunday-school programs, simply to fill up the staff.
O, and if anyone have a better word for “Sunday-school”, please let us know.