Last week there were several thoughtful responses to Drew Martin's Guest Post "Questions We Need To Be Asking." I thought they were valuable and should be shared in a post of their own.
From Sean McGever, Area Director for YL in Phoenix, AZ and host of a fantastic website for Young Life Leaders, www.YLhelp.com
Thanks for this post! I am in full agreement that we can not, and should not, pull kids away from church (and also teach a robust faith).
Years ago I inherited a club in my area that was full of Christian kids. I challenged the club leaders to not have it be a youth group, there were plenty of great church youth groups in the area. The club didn't change so I closed the club.
If I suspect a kid is a church kid in one of my clubs I make it very clear that church is first and to only come to YL if they have the extra time on top of church or they have a friend that simply won't go to their church. Once or twice it has actually backfired and a student thought we were "un-inviting" them to YL. Most of the time they understand and I they get the idea and most come to YL while prioritizing church.
At the main school I lead club at there are 2500 students. I've been there for 10 years now and I can say with a fair level of certainty that about 10% are involved in a church on a regular basis. I'll be generous and double it to 20% (500 students). I'm happy to focus on the 2000 other students while the youth groups take care of the 500. The problem YL leaders face is the 500 are the "low hanging fruit". The church kids are easier to get to come to YL. Of course we all know those kids need as much love and outreach as every other student. But in YL I believe we should embrace Paul's approach in Rom 15:20, "It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation."
The comments below are from a YL staffer named Joey (what's yo' last name Joey?)
I echo Sean. In my current club (we just started 5 weeks ago) I have been building friendships with high school students over the last year through my church involvement. We held bible study each Wednesday night last year and had few students from the church attend.
I decided to focus my time at the nearest high school instead and went to games, band concerts, etc... I built friendships with 4 guys who were underclassmen. After a few months, these guys started to come to bible study. At our bible study, we would pray and talk about how great would it be if so and so (insert farthest out kids) would come to know Jesus. These guys got a vision for their school that extended beyond any meetings, clubs, bible studies. It was simply to share their faith with the kid who sat next to them in Algebra 3.
Young Life just happens to be the vehicle for that to happen. They view themselves as missionaries to their school. In theory, the hope is that kids come to know Jesus and begin to dig into the faith community these other guys are already a part of with our church.
For kids who are already invested in local churches, this must be our message to them. Young Life can not (for their long term spiritual health) replace their growth from their church. If they have additional time (and a heart for their friends to know Jesus) Young Life should be a usable vehicle to bring otherwise resistant friends to hear the Gospel in a neutral setting. Students should value their church over Young Life - but this will ONLY happen if it is being modeled for them by YOUNG LIFE leaders.
The other thing in my experience (6+ years of YL staff and time volunteering as a leader before) is that many Young Life clubs/leaders feel like their connections with youth ministry in their area is ALWAYS a failure. That may be the case, but we must enter each conversation anew. One church youth pastor may dislike our ministry and not even want to engage in a conversation, while another may want to partner in deep ways.
Paul also encourages us to do this, I believe. 1st Cor 9:19-23, Paul tells us that he has become all things to all people in order to save as many as possible. We must be the initiators and go to churches to try to build relationships.
These comments below are from YL staffer Sam Kennedy in Wilmington, NC.
I think the need for a "doctrinally robust" community is something we in YL need to recognize and not try to duplicate. Being a broad, interdenominational, evangelical mission we cannot take definitive stands on the many doctrinal issues not covered in our statement of faith. These issues (about Baptism, Lord's supper, church government) are really important and I try to encourage my campaigner kids to look to their parents, pastors and youth pastors for guidance on these issues. I'm here to lead them in reaching their school for Christ, not to teach them about dunking or sprinkling.
I am like many YL staff and leaders in that I grew up outside the church, and Young Life was the first "faith community" that I felt like I belonged to. For those reasons, it can be easy to dismiss doctrinal details as irrelevant and unnecessary. We don't want to forget that people have these beliefs for good reasons, and that being doctrinally robust is a good thing, not just for our kids but for us too...and it helps keep the Church and para-church in their respective places when we don't try to overstep our bounds.
For example, I'm leading a Bible study right now with kids from the youth group of my local church-- some of whom occasionally attend club, but the Bible study is not a "YL" thing, I'm just trying to use my gifts to help my friend to youth pastor-- and I feel an incredible freedom to go places theologically and doctrinally that I wouldn't and probably shouldn't when I'm leading a campaigners group for a bunch of kids from a variety of different churches in town.
Thanks for all the comments, guest posts, and feedback. I'm hopeful that we will continue to ask questions and explore how Young Life and local churches can partner together.