I have always liked the title of Josh Griffin’s blog: “More than Dodgeball.” My guess is that titles like “More Than Dodgeball” are in reaction to a youth ministry approach that has been pretty popular in the past 20 years, featuring a bunch of splashing in the kiddy pool without wading into the deep end. When Kenda Dean, (professor at Princeton Seminary and author of Almost Christian), was asked how she perceived how we in the church have responded to current youth culture she replied, “With too much pizza.” Again, Dean and Griffin are barking up the same tree—and a necessary tree at that.
Sometimes in our frantic effort for deeper, more challenging and meaningful ministries we forget that playing dodgeball is important as well. If you’ll humor me with the pool analogy for a second, our ability to help teenagers swim back and forth from the shallow end to the deep end of life is healthy. We show them that God is honored in our play and he is also honored when we seek biblical justice for those who have been denied their voices. While youth ministers rarely get accused of not having fun, there is still a stigma that pastors must always have their “A-game” at all times. My friends were as shocked to find out that my pastor dad didn’t wear his robe around the house as I was when I went to a pool party at my teacher’s house and she actually had on a bathing suit.
A Helpful Little Drawing
On a piece of paper, draw a picture of a pool and label the kiddie pool, wading area, and the deep end. Think about all the things that happen in your ministry and write them in one of the 3 sections. The kiddie pool is not an evil place. I actually contend that the kiddie pool is needed in all pools, so just focus more on which end of the pool you either ignore or put most of your attention on. For example, a crud war with shaving cream is in the kiddy pool, a local service project is in the wading area and cultivating teenagers to make a difference in their schools for Jesus is in the deep end. So, what does your pool look like?
The Need for the Whole Pool
From a holistic approach, I want my students to laugh like crazy, be sore as all get out from serving, and have their hearts broken for the hurt they see in this world. From my seat in the stands I would say that we as the church can get stuck in the middle of the pool, annoyed by the splashing in the kiddie pool and afraid to tread water in the deep end. What would your assessment of youth ministry be?
My prayer is that God would each of us in youth ministry to grasp the depth and width of the ways God meets us and moves us. I confess that I tend to keep my students in the section of the pool that I like the most. It is when I reflect on the past year in ministry I remember the ways in which God has shown up in dodgeball and devotions.