Some youth leaders are on a search for UFOs. They spend night and day on a quest for ET, Everything Tangential. Their “Unidentified Flying Objects” are the various bright shiny objects that look cool, travel fast and are probably just reflections of something more significant on the other side of the ministry stratosphere. Their goal? To go where no hip youth leader has gone before, no, not Cleveland, but into the mothership of youth ministry.
There are two primary kinds of UFO hunters in the youth leader realm. The first kind is the well meaning but immensely distracted youth leader. These are the youth leaders who are all about the next new thing. They speed across the landscape with binoculars and a camcorder looking desperately for the latest, greatest youth ministry gadget, toy, curriculum, game, application, skit, etc. Their youth group is full of dizzy teenagers who are in the 4 by 4 with them as they speed across the ministry landscape. They don’t know where they are headed but are making and having a great time.
This kind of UFO hunter doesn’t really have a speed other than light. They walk the exhibit floors at ministry conventions wondering which curriculum, confenerence or camp will take their teens to warp speed on a spiritual level.
Dont’ get me wrong. These youth leaders love their teens and love their jobs but they have no real plan or path other than new and next. While many of their youth ministries may look healthy on the outside (smiles and growing numbers) there is generally no depth or direction. Both spiritual and numerical attrition becomes a problem over the long haul. As their teenagers figure out that the youth leader is not really leading them but rather driving them in circles looking for UFOs they begin to drop off and out. They have many other things that they can be distracted by themselves that, quite honestly, are a lot more fun. Oftentimes these youth leaders are too busy to stop and take a look to really see what is happening to their teenagers.
The second type of UFO hunter in youth ministry is a strange combination of smart and geeky. Many of them write books and/or blogs about what it’s really like on the inside of this non-linear hover craft of ultra relevant youth ministry. The problem is that their supposed “abduction” was most likely a hallucination brought on by too much postmodern idealism and not enough Biblical theology.
These UFO hunting trekkies start clubs and share notes on their latest theories concerning the spiritual realm in Episode 13 of, well, whatever. They tend to dress alike, but instead of Spock ears and form fitting shirts it’s goatees and dark rimmed glasses.
Many of these UFO hunters are genuinely brilliant and some have some rather penetrating insights. But most of them have a flawed premise. They think they are chasing something that is actual. But instead they are chasing a speck on the lenses of their binoculars. They are tracking a phantom who doesn’t exist flying a craft that isn’t there for a cause that makes no eternal difference.
Generally speaking the first kind of UFO hunter is well meaning and the second kind is well educated. But both are distracted by their Area 51 approach to all things youth ministry.
Youth ministry doesn’t need another UFO to chase but the original “BFO” to accomplish. What is a BFO? It is a “Blinding Flash of the Obvious”. Jesus gave His disciples the biggest one of all time when He told them to “Go and make disciples of all nations….” This baton, called by some “the Great Commission,” has been handed down through the centuries to you and to me. And we are compelled to be handing it off to our teenagers.
Instead of doing the grunt work of what Jesus called us to do we can just go out and buy a new youth group curriculum. We console ourselves with the thought that “Maybe the outlines and interactive questions in this one will be the ones that push our teenagers toward Jesus once and for all.” But they won’t be. There is no magic curriculum. There are no UFOs. And Bigfoot doesn’t exist.
Sure we could spend our time sitting around and theorizing about the intricasies of disciple making in a postmodern culture. We cold focus on all the roadblocks we have standing in our way and develop theories that explore our shared grief at this multi-tasking, media-satured culture that is too busy for Jesus and too UnChristian for the church. We can lick our wounds, propose a theory, rinse and repeat.
But there’s a third option. We can do something about it. We can actually put our hand to the plow and, well, plow.
To be honest it is a lot easier to chase down the latest new curriculum or theory than it is to actually make a disciple of a teenager. Sure postmodern teenagers have a different set of problems, challenges and spiritual perspectives than the teens of a generation ago. Yes, books and blogs and theories are needed to reach them. But, at the end of the day, they are still teenagers. They need love and care. They need grace and truth. They need Jesus. And we must get Jesus to them. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we must equip them to get Jesus to all their friends.
Please don’t get me wrong. I am fully convinced that we have to be aware of the culture we are ministering in and to. Like effective missionaries we must study this culture so that we can effectively know how to make a difference. But if you’ve ever heard the phrase “paralysis by analysis” you’ll know that all theory and no practice makes Jack an ineffective boy. We must learn on the fly and on our knees with prayer and duct tape as we reach out to make disciples of the next generation. We must study up so that we can work it out. And the book we must study the most is the Word of God. The Bible gives us the basic instructions of making a disciple of anyone, anywhere, anytime. Nobody will ever be able to improve upon Scripture as the ultimate youth ministry manual.
This process is not easy and, sometimes, not fun. Give me a camcorder, a slushee and a roadmap to Roswell before you give me the manual labor of disciple making. But the heavy lifting must be done. It’s a lot more fun to get beamed up than it is to buckle down.
So youth leader my challenge to you is to avoid the UFOs and embrace your God given BFO. Your teens will live like aliens on this panet as a result. And, who knows? Maybe their friends will hunt them down to find out why their lives are so different.