Tuesday/Thursday Book Club: Total Church: What Does This Have To Do With Ministry to Children?
It has been a few weeks since I posted a brief review of the book, Total Church, by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis. At that point, I intentionally put off commenting on chapter 12, which the authors dedicate to the subject, “Children and Young People.” I wanted to save the chapter for this new weekly feature--the Tuesday/Thursday book club, where I will share a few highlights from what I'm reading during the week. This week, I'll blog through Total Church, chapter 12, in two parts.
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis are co-founders of The Crowded House, a "house church" planting initiative in Sheffield, UK. And they are co-directors of the Porterbrook Network, which trains and mentors church planters. Timmis was also recently named the Western Europe director of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network.
On "Youth Work"
Chester and Timmis begin their chapter by highlighting a haunting statistic from the 1998 English (British) Church Attendance Survey: “Around 1000 young people walk out of the door of churches in the UK each week, never to return” (181). Statistics like these are leading many—including Chester and Timmis—to “reassess humbly our approach to ministry among children and young people” (181).
Chester and Timmis begin their assessment with a “cursory consideration of changing cultural attitudes toward young people.” The authors review what they describe as the rise of “youth culture” in the Western world. They trace the “invention of teenagers” from Robert Raikes’ Sunday Schools and the founding of the YMCA (1884) through G. Stanley Hall’s theories of adolescence. For a more in depth historical review, see the essay, “Historical Contexts in Family Ministry,” chapter 3 in Perspectives on Family Ministry, ed. Timothy Paul Jones, (B & H Academic, forthcoming).
Chester and Timmis argue that it was with the boomer generation after the Second World War that “both youth as a concept and youth work really come into their own.” At the capstone of their survey is the British Albermarle Committee report (1960). “Investment in professional youth workers and the development of you centers followed [this report], encouraging young people to cohere as a distinct group” (182). Since the 1960s, Christian youth work has “essentially mirrored” the report's findings--with youth groups that cohere around a series of fun activities and events.
In recent years, assumptions about "youth work" and "youth culture" have been questioned. Chester and Timmis state, “Contemporary evidence suggests that the majority of young people do not belong to a distinctive subculture” (181). According to this understanding, youth is not so much an age group as an “aspiration” or “orientation” (181). And Chester and Timmis question whether or not the church should continue appealing to this aspiration:
Providing fun activities for young people may do some social good. Many parents like it because they fear the alternative. They would rather have their children in a church than wandering the streets. But does it nurture young people through the gospel, and does it build Christ's church? Where it is successful, most of the fruit is borne from activity around the fringes--the relationships that develop and the ad hoc conversations that ensue. Is there an alternative? (183)
In the second half of their chapter, they offer just such an alternative. Tune in on Thursday for my review and analysis.