I recently spoke about The Jesus Gap. Afterward, a youth worker approached me and said, “If you’re as into discipleship as you think we ought to be, you’re probably not a very good youth worker.”
“Why?” I asked him.
In response, he said, “Because you’re probably not very fun. And if you’re not very fun, your kids probably don’t like you very much.”
According to this youth worker, fun attracts teenagers. So if you’re not fun, they won’t come.
Here’s the problem, though, or perhaps more accurately, the first of many problems: This mindset assumes the attractional model for youth ministry still works. If you build it, they will come.
The problem is, attractional ministry no longer works.
There are plenty of places – schools, clubs, extracurriculars, the park district, the YMCA – that do “fun” and entertainment far better than churches do. If those places build it, people might still come.
Not so with the church, which is no longer the center of most people’s social lives or the most important thing on their calendar.
In today’s world, the church has exactly one thing that makes it distinct from every other community organization out there: Jesus. If Jesus isn’t our focal point and reason for being, we’re missing the boat.
The second problem with this mindset is that it creates a false dichotomy. In this false dichotomy, discipling teens, having serious conversations, or talking about Jesus cannot possibly be fun.
That’s simply not true.
When teens are engaged in what they’re doing – whether it’s worshiping, talking about theology, or serving – they can (and usually are!) having fun.
The third and final problem with this mindset is the belief that “if you’re not very fun, your kids probably don’t like you very much.” The best youth workers I know are not necessarily people who teenagers would describe as fun. Sure, they have a sense of humor and know not to take themselves too seriously. But more than fun, they’re caring. They listen to teenagers. They ask questions about their lives. They show up at the things that are important to teens. They invest in teens. In the process, these youth workers unashamedly point teens to Jesus… Again and again. To them, pointing teens to Jesus is what’s most important, not being liked. They know that while fun may draw crowds, discipleship creates life-long followers of Jesus.
That is, after all, what our job as youth workers is: Disciple-making. After all, in the Great Commission, Jesus tells his followers to “Go and make disciples.”
So take heart. If you’re into discipleship, you’re not just a good youth worker, you’re a great one, faithfully doing the work God has called you to do.