Who in the world cares about youth?

This week we were reminded of the dire economic situation facing the youth of the world.  Since 23.5% of the world’s poor are youth and 75 million youth are unemployed (a number that will keep growing), this presents significant challenges for governments, agencies, churches, and ministries (not to mention families!) in many regions of our world.  In fact, all over the world, even the US, high school and college graduates will be in much poorer economic situations than their parents and especially their grandparents were at their age.

When I look over the ‘field’ of youth ministry, I sometimes grow concerned that we can become a vocation focused on running programs, teaching/speaking lessons, or even a personal exercise in leadership and personal status versus one based on Christlike service. As I read through Scripture on ministry like a ‘shepherd’ (I Peter 5:1-11) and the missional and service focus of the New Testament church, I wonder what our responsibility is to the youth in our community, our region, our country, and around the world.

I think part of that responsibility is to grow in our awareness of some of the underlying problems facing global youth, trends that may change all of the ‘rules’ for how to organize youth ministry someday.  For the past two years I worked with David Livermore and other global youth ministry leaders to produce two books that will assist youth ministry leaders in fostering their own global awareness as well as that of their youth.When we started the projects, Russ Cline (then of YouthWorld and now Leader Mundial) told us of his struggles to get American youth workers to attend a seminar on global youth ministry at the National Youth Workers Convention.  His concerns echo those of other global youth workers who had found that working to get American youth workers to care about global issues a tough hill to climb. I remember attending a NYWC session on international youth ministry led by Lucas Leys at an NYWC a year or so later and only about 7 other youthworkers showed up.

Despite the poor showings and the apparent lack of interest, I think their work (and others, like Roger Glidewell and Randy Smith and Aaron Arnold) is paying off.  And times are changing.

Whether due to short-term missions, the Internet, or the hard work of global youth leaders, more youth ministry leaders seem to be aware of what’s happening in the world, and the world of youth.  When Global Youth Ministry and What Can We Do? came out, the initial response was tremendously enthusiastic.

And yet there still seems to be a high level of disinterest in the plight facing youth and youth workers around the world.  Perhaps it’s just the insulating nature of American culture (or our continent) which keeps us from wanting to know more.  Or maybe we just have so much to do just to keep our own work afloat that we don’t have time to expand our understanding.

I hope not.  The rules will be changing. The world is flattening. The world of youth is at our doorsteps.  And I have learned so much about youth ministry from the long-time veterans and the pioneering innovators who minister in other countries in more dire contexts and continue to offer hope and love rooted in Christ’s gospel.

Who in the world cares about youth?  I hope we all do.