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can't big fun still be in style?

can't big fun still be in style?

[ym360 Note: From time to time we'll reach back and find a post that generated a lot of interest that is still relevant today. This is one of them. Originally posted in Spring of 2012, this is a thought-provoking take from one of our favorite youth ministry voices. Hope you enjoy.]

I believe Big Fun is still in style. Here's what I mean . . . In many of the youth ministry circles I travel in there seems to be a growing wave of opinion that the days of big, fun, programmed youth ministry are over. To take students and run them around a gym, coaxing them into embarrassing, gross, silly, and most of all fun games is no longer in vogue or relevant. The logic seems to be that today's teenagers have no taste for goofing off.

The argument I often hear is that these are young adults who care more about lofty ideas than they do simple-minded and immature pursuits.

I believe that all Christians should lean into the pursuit of deep concepts. And I think this is something we should definitely lead our students into. I simply don't believe that the pursuit of a deeper faith and goofing off are mutually exclusive.

What if students aren't the ones changing? What if it's us?

As the ranks of my colleagues who value Big Fun wither, I've noticed a common trend emerging. As youth ministry has become firmly established as a "profession," youth workers are staying in their jobs longer, education is increasing, and the age of the average youth worker seems to be greatly increasing. It's far more common to be at a network gathering and find more youth workers over 30 then under. This didn't seem as common a decade ago.

With youth workers aging, is it possible that the passions, desires, and energy in which goes into the job dramatically changes?

The older I get the more I'm interested in global issues and local impact. I want a life and a ministry that's integrated, and making an impact with more than just suburban middle class kids. Compared to these new things God is doing in my life, setting up a marshmallow war just doesn't seem to pack the same punch. As we get older, we can't forget that the age of the students we minister to stays the same. We will always be working with 11-18 year olds. Because of this reality, we must differentiate between the things God is doing in our lives and what God is doing in the lives of our students. When we step back and take our own desires out of the equation, I think it becomes clear that there is plenty of room for Big Fun.

Here Are Two Reasons I Think Big Fun Is Vital To Student Ministry:

  1. It's developmentally appropriate: Working with youth feels closer to working with children than with college students. They're at the beginning of becoming adults, but they seem to exist more in "kid world," developmentally. They need space to goof off and have fun. Very rarely in their lives are they encouraged to have fun for fun's sake. Their lives are regimented, their sports are competitive, and they are asked to deal with situations and information far beyond their capabilities. When we give them space to fully be themselves, to be kids, and to play, we're giving them an important and unique gift.
  2. It's an easy way for students to interact with one another: Increasingly, our students live more and more isolated lives. They are loosing the art of communicating with each other face-to-face. One of the most amazing gifts we can give our students is the opportunity to build friendships and build community. While we tend to think that deep, emotional conversation is the only way to do this, the truth is that running around, being light hearted, and laughing breaks down walls and provides genuine opportunities for friendship and community. Students need to make friends and feel loved, and Big Fun is one of the most effective ways of pulling this off.

I'm glad that churches value older youth workers. The wisdom and expertise that a veteran youth worker brings to a youth program is a total gift. But as we age, we must not forget that the students whose lives we're impacting aren't aging. They will forever be 11-18. They will forever be kids becoming adults. And they will forever need Big Fun!

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