Starting today the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference is happening in Chicago and I noticed a theme in my conversations over registration.
(Note: Once again, the informal conversations are often the best part of any church conference.)
New Friend #1: We met. He introduced himself as one of the speakers. And then he said this was the first conference during which he has actually been allowed to speak. After being invited to other youth conferences in the past, he has always been dis-invited after conference organizers read his book.
New Friend #2: We met. He said that he works on a church staff but he might be getting fired soon. He said that – although the youth connect well with him – the church leaders are concerned that he is not a good influence on them. He spends a lot of time talking with the youth members, but “he isn’t teaching them God’s One Way.”
Old Friend #3: We caught eyes in the lobby. She said that the youth in her church live so far apart and there are so few of them that she can’t exactly do “programming” like the kind that happened when their parents were in youth group. So she meets up with the youth occasionally and they talk about Things That Matter. Nevertheless their parents want “programs.”
I’m wondering a couple of things:
- Are we grown-ups aware that their kids are already getting lots of programming (school, sports, lessons) but there is most likely not a lot of deep authentic conversation that builds trusting relationships? What adults do our kids talk with about painful/scary/curious matters if they can’t talk with their parents?
- Are we afraid to expose our kids to other perspectives on issues with which we disagree? Where does a young person go if she/he has questions about sexuality and other personal matters if the church’s stand is to limit what’s okay to talk about?
- Do parents realize that – although kids get lots of information about sexuality via social media and popular culture – they don’t have many options for learning healthy, faithful, and true information? If schools are limited in what they can teach and parents are assuming that “their kids already know everything” why isn’t church teaching about sexuality and body image and how to get to know someone better in a healthy relationship?
Most of the youth conferences I know about are fun. But they are also limiting in terms of what’s acceptable to talk about and say out loud. A scared teenager who wants to talk about scary things will not do it in a congregation in which she is afraid she’ll be shamed. A young man will not disclose his deepest fears within the context of a church culture that threatens to banish him if his questions are considered outside the orthodoxy of that church.
In other words, we need this conference. Imagine a church in which the kids are safe to say anything and know they will still be loved unconditionally. That’s not just progressive; that’s Christ-like.