Sarah and I traveled to the Congo this summer where we were involved in running youth training seminars and connecting with church and youth leaders to try and get them thinking about youth issues, Christian camping and developing youth ministry training. This is my first visit to the Congo (my wife grew up there) and we are trying to work out ways in which we can encourage training for youth leaders in a country where it doesn’t really exist.
The Congo is not unusual—in many countries in Africa the idea of a formalized or structured youth leaders training doesn’t exist. Most youth leaders just do what they have seen done by others and they follow the patterns and styles of what they know. What this means is that youth ministry in many countries is stuck and young people are drifting away from the church because youth ministry is irrelevant to them.
Some of the issues youth leaders are facing in the majority world (like Congo) are:
- People are not seen as important until they reach age 30
- Young people are not recognized as a separate culture
- Churches and Bible colleges do not have the material or people to teach and equip youth leaders and pastors
- Lack of material, equipment and resources for youth ministries
- Lack of support and recognition of the importance of youth ministry by pastors and church leaders
- Youth culture is functioning in the year 2000 while most churches are still functioning in a 1960’s model
- Youth leaders know that youth ministry in churches is not cutting it but they often lack the training, skills and freedom from church leaders to change the situation
- Youth leaders do not have people to mentor and train them in doing youth ministry and so they can easily get lost and discouraged in what they are trying to do.
Sarah and I are passionate about helping churches in Africa uncover the realities of youth ministry and to be able to connect into the spiritual and practical needs of young people so that the church of Jesus Christ may become so real and meaningful in their lives. I believe that this loss of meaningful youth ministry in churches in the majority world is starting to cause churches in these countries to lose their place and effectiveness in society.
There was such a large desire by many in the Congo who want to reach out to young people and to provide relevant youth ministry to young people inside and outside the church community. The thing that they lack is good training on understanding youth culture and leading youth ministry.
In the Congo there is no denomination or organization that provides consistent youth leadership training. Occasionally a group might run a seminar but there is nothing consistent where youth leaders can start to really grasp the basics of leading a youth ministry. The Congo is not alone in Africa—I am not aware of many countries in Africa where there is structured training in youth ministry. Many of the youth leaders we came in contact with around Congo are looking for ways in which they can even learn the basics of youth ministry. They can see the possibility of what could be, but for many of them this reality is far away because they do not have a way to learn and grow in developing and running effective youth ministry.
I came away from Congo even more committed to work out ways in which structured youth ministry training can be provided in countries where it doesn’t exist, countries from the majority world, countries where they do not have the same access to resources, countries where you do not have a place in society until you are thirty years old. I am also more fired up to continue leading our youth here in the USA to become better disciples of Jesus Christ.