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Have you been thinking about youth ministry (including Leadership) and the COVID impact? We all probably know some young person who has been negatively impacted – some of our Leadership guys for example, who could not do Leadership in 2020. I was speaking with one who has had a sad year, and didn’t have Leadership to brighten it up. We need to be supporting them well and encouraging them to look forwards to Leadership 2021.

A week ago I (Don) participated in an international youth ministry colloquium on the topic Thinking Theologically about Youth Ministry in Times of Upheaval. The first topic was The impact of the pandemic on young people and youth ministry. The introductory session can be viewed on YouTube (IASYM 2021 Colloquium (Edited) which I recommend. The following are some of the points made (embellished by points from other colloquium sessions).

The impact of the pandemic on young people hasn’t been the focus of discussion. The discussion has been on the aged and the economy. But, there has been a disproportionate impact on youth, particularly on their mental health.

Prior to COVID, the majority of teenagers were growing up in an insecure world (suicide, depression, drug use all up). With COVID, the lonely got lonelier but others coped.

Adults have not helped or recognised or paid enough attention to the mental health impact on young people or to the fact that the entire identity of young people is wrapped around what they do at school.

Youth ministries that are doing best in the pandemic are those that have been purpose focused, that have thought about what their ministry is about. COVID has driven us back to purpose. What is the good life when you can’t do ……. They have been concerned about how young people are experiencing God. They have been digging into personal devotional life when turning up was not possible. There has been encouragement in individual practices through the week (between Zoom meetings) and the Friday Zoom becomes the cheering for what has happened through the week. We have been disembodied by Zoom, but re-embodied in local communities (the rhythm of the village)

Young people have been channel surfing church, but this is only meeting a certain demographic. A challenge is how to create community and not experience church as a production. What is best to use to get community? We need to use current social media – the latest versions of the phone and the letter.

What we used to do wasn’t working anyway and then we put it on-line. The approach needs to be “with you,” not “to you” or “for you” – not just connection, but fellowship (koinonia). Taking on a Pentecost moment, maybe young men are seeing visions and we don’t know it.

What then are we leaving behind that we’re happy to leave behind?

  • Saying we’ve got it all together, when we haven’t.
  • The thought that we know it all; that we’re certain of what we are talking about.
  • Pretending we are something we’re not.
  • Mask wearing (not the kind of mask we have to wear).
  • The hectic pace (we have been able to go to the park haven’t had to get in the car and go to sport, etc.). – young people have said this too, though they also want to get back to their sport.

Things that don’t matter should not matter.

We need to take on a posture of vulnerability. We need to share an equal terrain with young people – examples of sharing pilgrimages. Thinking and programming for young people should be collaborative with young people (Reference: Hank de Roest). We need them and we are now experiencing “the Revenge of the Gamers” where the skills of young people are valuable and COVID has become a lens.

COVID took way from potentially positive relationships and pushed them toward more screen time.

Another session was by Ronald Belsterling, Building Secure Relationships with Teens in Insecure Times (based on his book)

Abstract: We all know that this past year has been one of the most difficult years in memory for anyone in the business of relationship. Youth workers all over the world had to adjust their approaches and recreate all efforts at building relationships technologically. While our skills have grown in this way, and workers pulled some kind of ministry together, many youth still do suffer from the effects of imposed relational vacuums. Many represent the statistical climb in depression, drug & porn use, loneliness, suicide, etc. How are some youth buffered? And others not? It is imperative on us who work with teenagers to use the time that we have with teens as proficiently as possible. How do we know that another Pandemic isn’t around the corner? As we are beginning to return to some ways of normal interactions, we can’t afford sloppy efforts to fill in the gaps. Building relationships have to be approached with precision, care, and urgency. Utilizing ARM (Attachment Relationship Ministry) enables all youth workers to do that well.

Some points:

  • Whether or not one knows God and the influence of parents determine whether one is spiritually and relationally secure or insecure,
  • In a secure relationship, kids will ask questions – not in youth group or Sunday School (even those with secure parents).
  • Insecure kids ask the questions that secure kids won’t ask but are interested in. Use of secure/ insecure kids for each other.
  • Secure kids have been robbed of ministry
  • The importance of building relationships between kids and parents – parents will be much more influential than a youth leader
  • The adults in the organisation need a vision for youth work – the impact of seeing so many people, even those they may not know, who care for them, pray for them, etc.

The challenge is: how will you interpret this into your ministry role at Leadership

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