Emerging Church – Youth Work for Grown Ups? part 1

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I’m Bored!!!

Every Teenager… ever…

Malcontent and restlessness used to be the domain of adolescence and political radicals.  But it seems that discontent has seeped into the very heart of the establishment and into the very soul of the ultimate expression of conformity, the church.

All over the place people are ’emerging’.  New kinds of worship are developing daily.  New ‘missional’ projects sprout up in the least likely places.  Many have tried to explain this phenomena in sociological terms and with theories.  That’s all great.  It’s helpful and has given rise to a whole ‘new’ stream of theological thought but I’ve had a niggling thought that has scratched away at my consciousness for years now…

Is all of this emerging church stuff  just good youth work?

Well, i’m going to try to follow that thought in a series of posts over the next few days and weeks and see where it goes.  Let’s begin with root causes:

Bored Adults

It started in the 50s.  The invention of the ‘teenager’ and the steady decline of the established church seem to me to be inextricably linked but not because teenagers are disinterested in church.  Far from it.  They are linked because teenagers have grown up into ‘bored adults’.

I suspect that ‘bored adults’ have always existed.  Boredom can be a powerful force for good and bad.  Some bored people are driven to find ways to entertain and amuse themselves.  They discover things, take risks others would never dream of and push boundaries.

The other side to boredom is the one parents of teenagers know all to well.  The stereotypical can’t be bothered, stay in bed all day, never leave their room, hate everything, never want to do anything teenager that we have all come to recognise, mostly because we were once that person.  Apathy and inactivity seem to define a generation.

And yet we know that generalisation is really a myth.  Young people are active and motivated and engaged.

But we’re not talking about teenagers.  We’re talking about the ‘bored adults’.

In evolutionary terms ‘Bored Adults’ are the descendants of the ‘teenager’.  Many sociologists have observed that adolescence has extended well into people’s 30s.  More people are living at home with their parents for longer.  People are settling with a partner later.  People are having children later.

This elongation of adolescence has led to some interesting things.  There is a whole new industry built on the 30 something with disposable income and few responsibilities.  The average age of the ‘gamer’ is the early 30s.

Bored adults display many of the characteristics of teenagers.  They find it hard to commit, they are wary of authority, they complain about how things are but show few signs of willingness to engage to make things better.  Bored adults have disengaged.  They don’t vote, except on the X-factor.  They don’t participate, except with their close friends.  They don’t sustain relationships, except with their 300 facebook friends.

We have strategies and tools to work with teenagers.  We call it youth work.  Youth work seeks to engage with young people who don’t engage in society.  We have clubs and activities where they can engage with their peers, learn to take responsibility, develop new skills and even challenge authority.

I would suggest that the Emerging Church is youth work for ‘bored adults’.

3 thoughts on “Emerging Church – Youth Work for Grown Ups? part 1”

  1. Interesting take on the issue. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on it.
    As you know I’m a bit of a sceptic about EC (or, at least, some expressions of it), but approaching it from this perspective would address much of my scepticism. Some of the stuff I have looked at seems to correspond exactly to what you are referring to – a lot of attractive, glitzy ‘style’, with little real substance to it; just the thing to attract ‘bored adults’. But where does it lead them? It seems to me that much of it simply leads to more glitz and novelty. It panders, in my opinion, to individualism and the ‘me’ culture.
    Good youth work always seems to lead to greater commitment, awareness of others, of bigger issues at stake. It sets people in their context whilst still maintaining the importance of the individual. And it challenges people to think and to grow and to question. EC (or, at least, some expressions of it) seem to have turned the initial focus on its head, where the individual becomes all important and context is a purely personal context. This, in my opinion, reinforces the selfish outlook that often drives boredom.
    As for answers? You know my take – I’m a theologian and that drives me; I can’t see past better education. But you’re the youth work specialist and therefore the guru in this. ;~)

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