Memories or maturity?

While I’m a child of the 60s… I’m a product of the 70s. As I’ve said before, I’ve got the ticket stub to a Led Zeppelin concert to prove it. One of those iconic songs from that decade is “Memories” sung by Barbra Streisand. Classic song, can bring chills to the back of your neck (a common occurrence in Saskatchewan).

My question for us today is “are we in youth ministry for ‘memory production’ or maturity production?” It comes from a conversation that I’ve had on numerous occasions. It goes a bit like this, “We understand that you don’t like some of the games that youth groups play. However, when I reflect back on my time in youth group—it is the games that I remember. In fact, when I think back to all my youth group experience, the only thing that stands out is the fun we had doing all those awesome and fun activities.”

How do we respond to this? It could simply be that the only thing they ever did in youth group was to play a lot of games, hence that being the only memories available. Or, the ‘serious’ stuff that was presented in youth group was simply poorly delivered. Or, they could simply have a bad memory. I’m not sure.

The question is, what are we aiming for: memories or maturity? Sure, nice positive memories of youth group days gone by is clearly not a bad thing. The bottom line however, is we must be more concerned with the end results or our youth ministry program than positive recollections.

A few quick thoughts on ‘memories’…

When the Apostle Paul reflects on his churches, he will often call to mind what he remembers about them? A look at 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 shows us that he remembers three key things about them:

We always thank God for all of you, mentioning you in our prayers. We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Thessalonians 1:2-3 NIV)

He remembers their faith, their love, and their endurance that comes from hope. Please note that he doesn’t speak of all the good times they had or the time they… (fill in the blanks with some crazy activity here).

In his letter to the Philippians he writes,

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)

Here he remembers the fact that the Philippians were so taken by Jesus that they were his ‘partners’ in the ministry of the gospel.

In his second letter to his friend Timothy he urges him to “remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal” (2 Timothy 2:8-9).

There is a clear theme of remembering in the New Testament… but note that it is what is remembered that is so important. Sure, Paul probably had some great times with his churches, however, he is more concerned with spiritual maturity than with simply programming to have a good time designed to ‘provide memories’.

Two final thoughts:

Week by week programming for youth group is a bit like preparing a meal. You are concerned with a number of important factors: presentation, taste and, most importantly, nutrition. Some meals are deeply memorable, others are not. However, even the ones that you don’t remember nourished you and kept you going. This is what we must aim for in youth group—nourishment that keeps young people going, not the production of empty memories.

Our ultimate aim is to echo Paul’s desire in his letter to the Colossians 1:28-29

We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

Paul struggles and labors with God’s energy to produce ‘perfect’ followers of Jesus (perfect = mature). Let’s aim for this… not simply memories.

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8 Responses to Memories or maturity?

  1. mindy says:

    Thanks! I think this holds true in younger kids’ Sunday School classes too, don’t you? I need to remember this as I plan.

    • kjmoser says:

      Absolutely! In fact children’s ministry has often been able to get it right with intentional, interactive teaching in a way that youth ministry has failed to do.

  2. mattarino says:

    Moser-man, that is a great article! In the context of building leadership teams, I say it as, “Are we building ministries or ministers.” Fuller’s Youth Institute did research on graduating seniors. The most common thing students wished they would have gotten more of was “Bible Study.” Sometimes listening to the market is a good thing- especially if they are telling us that what they want is more Scripturally compelling than what we want to give them.

  3. Great article! I think as a consequence of the emergent church’s over emphasis on issues of contextualization has disproportionately focused youth ministry into more of a memory thing than an issue of spiritual maturity. One of their arguments has been, that we are learning products of our environment. Putting their deeply flawed presumption about how we accumulate knowledge (social constructionism), they have impressed on youth, the notion-no creeds but deeds. Question. How should we proceed pastorally on the issue of spiritual maturity in youth ministry, where there is a deep antagonism towards bible teaching and doctrine due to a false belief that has been impressed on the youth by their leaders?

    • kjmoser says:

      A simple response would be to faithfully preach, correct, rebuke and encourage (2 Tim 4:2-4) even people don’t want to hear (vv. 3-4). The Bible has a lot to say about false teachers, but also instructs on how to refute it. We have to be faithful and trust that it is God that will bring the fruit (even when sometimes it looks like nothing is changing).

  4. Candace says:

    I completely agree with your notion that we should be creating nourishing memories. In fact, just last night, we held a sleepover for our jr high girls. We had a variety of activities planned for them including a study on the truths and lies we believe about ourselves along with me sharing my testimony with them. As a result of these two parts of the evening, we never did get to the ‘fun’ stuff. The girls were longing to share their own sorties and life experiences with the group. We had this amazing opportunity to connect on a much more authentic level.

    Our youth are craving a place where thy can be real. Forget the games focus. Let’s give them a place to be authentic, grow in their walk with God, connect with adults they can trust and make these nourishing memories.

    • kjmoser says:

      Hey Candace, thanks for sharing this. We need to be hearing more stories in youth ministry like this one. It is great to hear how people like yourself are really making a difference for young people.

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