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Youth Work, LCMS.

1. Youth work in the ch. could previously be called the “training of youth in Christian growth during the postconfirmation period.” Most parishes could anticipate the presence of a relatively stable and satisfied nucleus of young people to form some type of Young Peoples' Group—in the LCMS usually a Walther League group, holding membership in the internat. Walther League, which was a youth auxiliary organization closely connected on the executive level with youth agencies directly responsible to the elected leadership of the Missouri Synod. Through resolutions presented and passed at the 1965 convention of the LCMS at Detroit, and through resolutions presented and passed at the internat. Walther League Gathering at Purdue in 1968, the Walther League underwent a drastic change; proposals for new conceptions of youth work were adopted by delegates who themselves could only guess at the shapes and forms youth and youth work might assume in the future.

2. The basic purpose underlying any ministry to youth is growth in the truths of the revealed Word of God, and a close relationship with Jesus Christ, through whom God offers justification by faith. When the young person confesses faith in Jesus Christ as personal Savior, the ch. through God's means attempts to open avenues for the Holy Spirit to assist people in the maturation of their faith and life and their understanding of God's will. Young people are thus helped to grow up to become “lights of the world” in their home and family, in the ch., and in society at large.

3. Throughout the 60s, however, adults and agencies working among youth found a fundamental lack of interest in the hearts of young people for the mission of the ch. and a lack of knowledge in the minds of young people about the nature of the Christian Gospel. Significantly, Strommen in his Profiles of Church Youth (St. Louis, 1963), discovered through a depth survey of a representative sampling of ALC and LCMS youth that the youth found themselves unable to offer meaningful explanations of the Gospel, of justification by faith, of the means of grace, and seemed to know little of the differences between the confessional stance of the Luth. Ch. and Prot. ch. bodies in America The ch. symbolized in their minds an authority, an institution, serving as a repository for law and regulations that might lead to commendable moral behavior.

4. This image of the ch. and its representatives led to a great deal of stress and tension between youth and their parents, their teachers, and representatives of the church. Minorities of youth went through various experiences on the group level during the 60s in attempts to discover for themselves an identity different from the adult or so-called established world. A radical fringe attempted to foster revolution to reshape not only the institutions of this country, but to est. new ways of self-perception, of relationship, new models of reality. The radical or seriously revolutionary young person experimented with sexual practice in group and private life, with aggression and nonaggression, with sensitivity process, with drugs, with styles of dress and body care, with straight rock, acid rock, folk, soul, Gospel, blues, Oriental, and country and western forms of music, and demonstration and power process, hoping to arrive at ways of existence that would differ from an adult world thought to be hopelessly trapped by self-perpetuating forms of bureaucracy, economic competition, and a dehumanizing scientific perspective. Most youth seemed to have been profoundly affected in their abilities and willingness to acquire information and values by exposure from preschool yrs. to (1) TV and radio programming which presented knowledge in nonchronological, all-at-once, segments and settings (in contrast to a rectilinear, formal, and graded method of information-gathering), and to (2) wars in Korea and Vietnam in which the necessity and morality of involvement by the US seemed ambiguous.

5. The great majority of young people through the 60s, however, remained only on the fringe of radical groups advocating a total change of life patterns and of understanding of man, God, and the world in our culture. Yet they were affected in obviously recognizable ways by radical pressures of youth upon youth and by feelings of differentness between themselves and adults. Many of the most conservative youth inside and outside the ch. adopted blue jeans and denim work shirts as a mode of dress, knew the trends in pop music and purchased expensive electronic hardware to make the sounds available at all times, tended to become disenchanted with school authorities, with formal curricula, with ch. rituals which brought little spiritual experience but rather a kind of mental and emotional blankness and fatigue. By the late 60s statistics revealed what leaders in ch. ministry had feared: Youth, conservative or liberal, were largely indifferent to the ch. and were disappearing from the ch. community. They failed to understand the rewards of Bible or even topic/Bible study. They said they did not experience the blessings their pastors promised would come through the means of grace, Word and sacraments. They said the social life of the typical parish was inferior to a variety of social settings available to them outside the ch. They found the pastor tedious in his preaching and teaching, and failed even to understand why he was needed in the parish. A 1970 survey conducted by a group of 4th-yr. Conc. Sem. students revealed that Luth. High School students were less sure than their public school counterparts in an adjacent school of the pastor's identity and function. They did not understand what he did other than preach and occasionally talk to their parents. A significant minority thought the role of the pastor to be effeminate, a role close to that of a homemaker or housekeeper.

6. Perhaps most startling, youth in the 60s became more and more insistent that their parents and other authority figures (especially teachers) were hypocritical, especially in failing to practice what they “advocated” as a Christian or moral way of life. Parents were said to “advocate” the way, not even to preach it in the home. The Christian way of life was absent in the week-to-week conversation in the home, was contradicted by vulgarity and profanity of language, by heavy drinking habits, by parties which seemed virtually an imitation of group experiences the youth themselves tried to create. The youth sensed that the nat. media were using their style of life and language as basic factors in the production of advertisements, and found their own parents eager to discover—despite their arguments to the contrary—new ways of living and of evaluating life in the ch. and the world.

7. All these extraordinary developments among youth, largely within a 10–yr. period, led to organized and disorganized change in the structure and shape of ch. youth work on the nat. and the local level. The Walther League, following the Purdue Gathering, dismantled its entire internat. organization. The intricate networks of districts, zones, and local societies were officially eliminated. The staff of the Walther League was reduced to 2 adult executives—with offices in Chicago, though the sale of the Youth Building at 875 N. Dearborn became necessary—and 6 post-high-school teen-agers who were strategically located in portions of the country to promulgate a new Walther League program among young people and counselors who had to join the League anew through a special membership form. The Walther League became issue-oriented and strongly promotive of youth movement causes. At Purdue the League began with the hunger issue. The League has since moved to the issues of draft counseling, race tensions, concern over the so-called “military-industrial” complex, pollution, all aspects of the ecology issue, the Am. Indian and Mexican problems, and the promotion of “power” groups to bring about changes in these problem areas afflicting the country. At a Gathering in Ghost Hawk Park, S. Dak., in August 1970 a group of youth and adult advisors, limited to 350, spent 4 days in the discussion of these social issues. The large Walther League convention thereby was officially replaced by an entirely new concept in youth activity and ministry. The Walther League then pub. a newsletter called Bridge, pub. occasional information and data related to current issues under consideration, and alerted its constituency to materials and programs available through other agencies, chs., and pub. houses. In 1977 the LCMS ceased to recognize the Walther League as an auxiliary organization of the Synod.

8. Replacing the Walther League was the Bd. of Youth Ministry, a syn. agency that in turn replaced the Bd. for Young Prople's Work; the work of the Bd. of Youth Ministry was absorbed 1981 by the Bd. for Youth Services, which looks to parishes to involve all youth in Bible classes, confirmation classes, young peoples' groups (junior and senior high levels), young adult groups (virtually extinct in the LCMS), and even older elementary school groupings, in a common program with common goals of self-growth in the Gospel and mission to the local parish, the ch., and the world. At the same time both youth and adults everywhere are exhibiting a desire for interparish and district or geographical gatherings, with a strong emphasis on personal relationship to Christ as Savior, personal religious experience, and commitments to Christ. Several such nat. groups developed, esp. in California and the Midwest. Christ for Youth originated in the Midwest and expanded across the country. Interest in courses in “religion” developed in colleges and on the senior high level.

9. What the youth seem to want from adults more than anything else is a self-sufficient and credible older Christian who by his faith and life makes Christianity believable, affirmative, and a source of responsible power. The psychiatrist Erik Erikson in his book Young Man, Luther suggested that every young person needs an adult guarantor in order to achieve maturity and adulthood. The young people of the ch. seem to desire in youth work an adult who will serve as a guarantee to them that Christianity is not outmoded or unbelievable but rather a perfectly creditable and powerful way of life superior in every way to all the other “styles” confronting them in their peer groups and through the media—a style which brings peace and security in these troubled times and promises toy throughout eternity. Pres. J. A. O. Preus of LCMS suggested that youth need adults who will listen to them caret fully in order to minister to them—not by becoming overgrown youth themselves, which tended to be the trend of the 60s, but by becoming deeply responsive as adults to the tremendous needs of youth attempting to find a secure foothold in a kaleidoscopic culture. Or as Eugene Smith of the WCC stated at the end of 1970: “The nontraditional religious quest among young people is a major clue to our time. Not since the 1st or 16th centuries has there been such a combination of interest in Christian faith and disinterest in its institutional forms. The nontraditional search for God in our time may yet produce changes in institutional Christianity as far-reaching as in those fateful centuries.”

10. For further study see Detroit LCMS convention Proceedings, 1965; “New Walther League Manifesto”; “Resources for Youth Ministry,” pub. quarterly by the Bd. of Youth Ministry, 500 N. Broadway, St. Louis, Missouri (esp. Don't Be Afraid, Vol. 2, No. 2, and Out into the Sunshine, Vol. 3, No. 2); the “Nelson Youth Forum Series” (Camden, New Jersey); D. M, Evans, Shaping the Church's Ministry with Youth (Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, 1965); C. F. H. Henry, Answers for the Now Generation (Chicago, 1969); R. Snyder, Young People and Their Culture (Nashville, 1969); M. P. Strommen, Bridging the Gap (Minneapolis, 1973) and Five Cries of Youth (New York, 1974). LW DPM


Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod


Original Editions ©Copyright 1954, 1975, 2000
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Content Reproduced with Permission

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