We Hate Youth

Over the past few months I've been reading a lot of "intro to youth ministry" kinds of books, to sort of reorient myself to what most people mean when they say "youth ministry." I suspected that I would discover (again) that the dominant approach to youth ministry is to view it as a task of development, as the church's endeavor to create mature Christian adults who do ministry and pray articulately and read the Bible a lot. But I've actually been surprised at just how strongly this suspicion has been confirmed. Even if some frame it in the less dubious (though still somewhat dubious) category of "spiritual growth," the dominant approach to youth ministry is to develop people from one thing to another and to foster maturity from immaturity. (Some have argued, of course, that youth ministry has failed at this... but if that's so, it's not for lack of trying!) And even those who've tried to see value in adolescence can't seem to help themselves from defaulting back to a developmental assumption.

Youth ministry, as I'm rediscovering, is more about adulthood than it is about youth. It's more about the expectations of maturity than it is about locating God's action in the concrete and lived experience of adolescents themselves. It's more about where they're headed than where they are--it's about getting "from here to maturity." 

But for me, this begs the question: do we even like youth? Do we like young people? Or are we so in love with adulthood that we can't tolerate seeing adolescence as a desirable social practice? Are we so in love with maturity that we just have to influence the immature toward our standards of maturity? We seem to love youth about as much as we love a lump of clay before it becomes a pot. 

My suspicion has been that youth ministry is more about adulthood than it is about youth. This suspicion seems to be getting confirmed around every corner. And while I do not wish to contend with the fact that development is gonna happen, I wonder if our obsession with development--our preoccupation with "growth" and "formation"--has kept us from actually valuing young people. Girding ourselves in the concrete shoes of condescension, we're slow in seeing where God is at work in those places we've pre-identified as stagnant, immature, and un-adult. I fear, by grafting ministry into the work of development, we're missing out on the action of God in the location we've so arrogantly called "immaturity."