I’ve been pondering this topic of how we need to be better at delegating to youth, rather than doing things for youth, for a couple of weeks now. It came up when someone asked on the ELCA Youth Ministry FB page, “What Bible do you give your youth?” And a fellow youth minister gave this terrific answer:
What Bible should we give our child? Answer: The one she/he will read! After many years of sweating over this issue - with the steep rise in biblical illiteracy, last year I changed my mind. I sent a document with recommendations for families to choose their own bible for their confirmand, including iPhone Apps that have bibles on them. You won't meet a much bigger theology nerd than i am - and i am not happy with most of what's on the market - but i noticed a really nice trend last year when students brought their own bibles with them, even if they were the heavily marketed teen bibles with the funky covers and lots of graphics. Guess what - at least they were willing to show them off. I find that when the church makes that decision for the family because we want so badly to gate-keep the theology that may be there (for ex: life application study bible...) we take away one of the few opportunities families have to engage this topic of Scripture and reading at home. After giving parents lots of options (listing pros/ cons, which are simply my opinion) families should go to the store, have the teen hold each bible in their hands, flip thru the pages, and select the one that appeals to them. Yes, judge it by the cover. Took me 20 years to be okay with that...And i'm sticking by it. And yes we're letting confirmands use apps now even tho i wish it was the old days when we handed out bible highlighters. dudes, those days are OVER.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about the many ways we might be better at delegating to youth — and using the Confirmation period as a time to train ourselves and our congregations that it is time to give youth more authority in their own spiritual lives as well as leadership in the church. This is not just about handing over the keys to the spiritual car; it’s also about holding youth accountable, and holding ourselves accountable for not rescuing when youth don’t follow through. And it’s about recognizing that delegating to youth may be the best way to get some things done.
Let me tell you a story.
One year, our Sunday morning youth program was studying types of prayer, and I arranged for a weekend Benedictine retreat that had youth getting up at all hours of the day to pray ALL the hours — Nones and Sext and others I can’t remember (and I note that spellcheck had no problem with Nones and Sext, though I’m not sure they mean what spellcheck thinks they mean). At any rate, it meant youth had to get up at 2 in the morning to pray.
One young man, named Patrick, a wonderful guy, told me quite earnestly that he didn’t think he could do that, and that he didn’t mean any disrespect, he just wasn’t sure he could get rousted at 2 in the morning.
But what Patrick didn’t know is that I didn’t plan to do the rousting. Instead, the youth chose an Abbess (Andrea Foote, interviewed here), who chose Patrick as her Prior — whose job it was to roust everyone else and get them to prayer. And what do you know? When it was his job to shine a flashlight in everyone’s faces and force them out of bed, it was no problem at all. And it was a great lesson for me.
It seems to be that every time in youth ministry we say, “What should we do about…”, we should at least consider asking the youth. What kind of Bible should we get them? What should we do about a certain behavioral issue? When should we schedule our youth group for? How should we address the issue of bullying? For any of these, and much more, a huge resource is right in front of our noses. Just as with adults, ask yourself who are the thought leaders among the youth? Who would be able to advise me on this? And then take them serioiusly. It will be a huge boon for you. And, frankly, it's the right thing to do.
Maybe we don’t need to solve all the problems on our own. Maybe we don’t need to hover over our youth, trying to figure everything out for them. Maybe the more important thing is to live up to what we say we believe — that we recognize youth as baptized members of the church with spiritual gifts and wisdom that comes from God and their personal experience. Maybe that’s something we need to honor.