Huntington, Indiana June 17, 1997 "What issues are the defining factors in the profession of youth ministry today?" Drs. Mark Lamport and Dave Rahn, co-founders of Link Institute for Faithful and Effective Youth Ministry at Huntington College, are in the midst of a two-year, $173,000 research project funded by Lilly Endowment, Inc. examining this key issue.
The study seeks to provide youth workers, senior pastors, and denominational leaders with a better understanding of the youth ministry enterprise. "We hope to increase long-term career placement in youth ministry, enhance ministry effectiveness, and encourage and support those who are practicing youth ministry today," explains Dr. Mark Lamport, professor of educational ministries at Huntington College and co-director of the Link Institute.
As a part of the project, a national panel of youth ministry experts convened on the Huntington College campus April 15-16, 1997. Heads of some of America’s largest and most theologically diverse Protestant denominations and parachurch organizations discussed the unique challenges of full-time youth ministers. Denominational groups and parachurch organizations included in the study are the African Methodist Episcopal, Assembly of God, Episcopal, Evangelical Covenant, Evangelical Free, Evangelical Lutheran, Independent Fundamental Churches of America, National Baptist Convention, Presbyterian Church (USA), Southern Baptist, United Methodist, Young Life, Youth for Christ, and Youth With a Mission.
During the two-day conference, a broader understanding of issues faced by youth ministers was gained as each representative shared about the youth ministry program in their particular organization or denomination. The panel also engaged in extensive dialogue regarding issues of importance for youth ministers today.
As diverse as these organizations and denominations are, the issues brought before the panel and discussed were found to be remarkably similar. "We were able to identify key needs and challenges for which all youth ministers are crying for solutions," explained Dr. David Rahn, co-director of the Link Institute. "One of these key issues discussed was a need for continual spiritual health, renewal, challenge and growth. Another was the need for a clearer overall strategy for their ministry, which would include a more defined theology of mission. Time management was also seen as an important need. Also discussed was the challenge faced by youth ministers to disciple and mobilize leaders of people who are already too busy."
Other issues brought up were the needs for better leadership development and training, more fellowship and networking, issues of reaching out to a growing multi-cultural society, and greater acknowledgment of professional issues (status, salary, titles, job descriptions).
Many of the issues raised by the representatives at the conference paralleled the findings of a Link Institute survey of youth ministers at the Atlanta and#145;96 Youth Leaders Conference, hosted by the National Network of Youth Ministers in February 1996 at the Georgia Dome. Some of these similar issues dealt with time management and the need for better training.
Forty-six percent of those surveyed at Atlanta and#145;96 claimed that balancing their youth ministry job and their personal life, including family and personal study time, was a struggle for them. Eighty-four percent of those responding to the Atlanta and#145;96 survey stated their need for more training; this was a key issue that was also approached at the April conference.
Youth ministers work in a wide range of jobs and ministry positions, whether in a church or parachurch organization, but the issues that are affecting their lives seem to be universal.
As Link Institute continues with the study, the information gathered at the national conference in April is being used to formulate a lengthy questionnaire that will be distributed to a wide cross-section of the fourteen represented groups, which are the sample groups for the project. The compiled information is expected to provide data for a forthcoming book resulting from the project, A Study of Protestant Youth Ministers in America.
The Link Institute is perhaps the nation's first think-tank and living laboratory devoted to improving the practice of youth ministry. Founded in 1993 on the campus of Huntington College (Huntington, Indiana), Link Institute seeks to champion cutting-edge youth ministry which is thoroughly and deeply biblical, while making original contributions to the larger Church through research and reflection. Its mission is to be a catalyst to the Church for the development of biblically faithful youth ministry that is increasingly effective in our rapidly changing world.
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