I took my family to Cirque du Soleil for the first time a few weeks ago. It was breathtaking and awesome. The acrobats were amazing, the sets were spectacular and the actors-clowns-dramatists were hilarious. All I know is that it kept my entire family fully engaged for two straight hours and that’s a lot to say for a spastic 7 year old boy, an easily distracted 4 year old girl and a daddy that could be the poster child for Ritalin. It was worth every penny. In my opinion it was truly the greatest show on earth. It will be hard for us to go back to the regular “circus” after seeing that awesome extravaganza. Sorry Barnum and Bailey, but the French have finally excelled at something more than wine and cheese!
What does all of this circus speak have to do with youth ministry? More than you might think. I believe that many youth leaders are under the impression that to truly keep the attention of their teenagers week in and week out they have to resort to more of a circus show than a spiritual experience. The problem is that most of these “ringleaders” don’t have the budget, know how or fancy black hat to pull off the big tent show every week. The result? Teenagers that aren’t truly entertained or spiritually matured…the worst of both worlds!
All of this goes back to an underlying pressure on youth leaders to try to pull off something big week after week in youth group if they are going to really be “successful” at their jobs. But I’m convinced from the Word of God that the something big is something “small”…the demonstration and proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As Paul writes to the Corinthians, “When I came to you brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.”
Let’s rephrase that from a youth leader’s perspective, “When I came to you teenagers, I did not come with the latest games and youth ministry programs but the simple story of God’s love. I determined to not focus on anything else except Jesus Christ and the power of the cross. To be honest kids I was terrified. I didn’t know how this approach would be accepted by you, your parents or the church leadership for that matter. And to top it all off I’m not all that great of a speaker. But I knew that if I unleashed the Word of God and gospel of Christ in the Spirit’s strength instead of my own that your faith would not be in my talent, eloquence or ability to put on a good show but in the power of God Himself.”
Turns out that the new kind of youth ministry that our teens are longing for is the old kind of ministry that Paul was doing in his “youth group meeting” week after week. It was all about a mission-driven community of believers not a sanctified Cirque du Soleil to try to keep the attention of our twitchey constituents. Let’s choose Jesus and Paul as role models for effective youth ministry and not Barnum, Bailey or the French.