A couple of years ago now I invited a friend of mine named Scott Gullick to come and speak at a retreat in Berkeley, CA. My students were down in California for their annual Work Camp doing an urban experience. We could have done it in Portland or in Seattle I suppose, but we thought it was important to get them out of their usual comfort zones. I also happen to believe that Mark Twain was dead on when he said, "Travel is the cure for all ignorance."
Scott was asked to speak namely because I felt he was a great example of how one can combine their faith and their work/calling. He had directed Ponderosa Lodge at Mount Hermon Christian Camps for a number of years, but I think ultimately felt like he had outgrown aspects of that setting. Like many youth workers there comes a point when all the camp in the world can't help us shake the sense that we are killing it at doing something that simply works...okay. He went of to Boston to get his Masters in Business with an emphasis in non-profit management. From their he began to work for a company called "A Year Up". A year up is a challenging program that works with urban young adults to place them in tech support for Fortune 500 companies. You can read about them here. Essentially they want to close the opportunity gap for urban young adults.
I think Scott is a great example of what innovative youth ministry looks like and could look like. It provides the kind of here and now salvation (rather than down the road/eternal) that the church often ignores. It is also a rigorous program which I think is essential to youth ministry. I happen to believe that teens/young adults crave challenge from adults who care. The care part is essential. There are times where I think aspects of my ministry have been much too gracious. As a result, I think I have created environments in which some of my teenagers have been enabled to be stuck in a stage of their spirituality and daily life.
In many ways, I am actually pleased Scott is outside the boundaries of what we would usually define as "the church". In actuality I think he is doing Kingdom work every day and in that sense he is moving the true church forward. But, my hope is that these kinds of initiatives become a significant part of the future of American Youth Ministry. We need to stop baptizing kids only to kick them off the deck of our churches into open waters. If we only prepare them for the next life aren't we just basically saying "go in peace, stay warm, and be well fed" (James 2:16) but doing nothing to actually help that happen?