“99% of youth ministry is just showing up.”
I was at a youth ministry conference recently and saw someone tweet this quote from a speaker, and I thought, “Really? Really?”
I’ve heard this phrase before, and I know it’s a hyperbolic statement often thrown around to encourage youth workers. But we should really stop.
First, many youth workers have been talking about the problem of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Kenda Creasy Dean unpacks this concept in her book Almost Christian, but in a nutshell, youth believe that the purpose of religion is to help us be good, moral people and that God is our therapist-in-the-sky who is generally uninvolved in our lives except when we need help. This theology is in stark contrast to the Christian beliefs we proclaim in the Apostles’ Creed.
Perpetuating this “99% rule” doesn’t do anything to fight kids’ indifference toward the Christian faith–which is a conviction against the adults who teach this theology explicitly or implicitly. Rather, this sweeping claim undervalues youth and doesn’t equip or challenge leaders (or youth) for a life of discipleship.
Instead, what would it look like if we cultivated places where adults and youth wrestle with Scripture and theology? Places where relationships grow and God breaks through? That would take more effort than “just showing up.”
Jesus doesn’t “just show up.” He heals, breaks bread, teaches, listens, washes feet. He changes lives. The disciples don’t “just show up.” They are called to follow their rabbi, to eat together, and to grow in faith. And then they are sent out to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
I believe our language matters. Now if we expanded upon this phrase and said “showing up” means being fully present with youth, place-sharing and God-bearing, that could be a very different story. But I’m not sure we take time to asterisk and clarify the cliche.
So no, I don’t think 99% of youth ministry is just showing up. I don’t have a pithy alternative, but that’s just the point. Faith and discipleship are messy, and we do a disservice to our youth, our leaders, our ministries, ourselves, and the Christian church when we sloganize our faith.