I’ve said numerous times that my experience in ministry at First Pres has changed my old “paradigms of ministry”. For instance, for most of my life I have thought of salvation as a thunderbolt, ask-Jesus-into-your-heart moment. Whereas God has certainly worked that way with many people (as he did in my life), I have found that the teenagers I work with rarely have an experience that dramatic. They begin by exploring the periphery of our community, and simultaneously its message (i.e. the gospel). Slowly they are absorbed and the community grows, sucking in other curious on-lookers and slowly transforming their lives by the gospel.

This has been shocking to me for one reason: I imagined such a scenario years ago. While serving as a shepherd at Riverside Bible Church in Dubuque, IA, I began to see an inkling of this phenomenon. Our people would become friends with the “not-yet-believing” (an overly optimistic description, perhaps, but I have an affinity for it.) These individuals would attend Bible studies with members of our church, then they began showing up on Sunday mornings. Soon, they were absolutely living for communion and always had something to share at our open meeting. For some, there was never a precise moment anyone could pinpoint when they crossed from death into life. It was certain, however, that these people were placing their faith in Christ for salvation.

If at Riverside I discovered a clue, it is at One-Eighty where the mystery is being revealed. I can’t help but chalk this up to the fact that at One-Eighty I minister (much more so than at Riverside) postmoderns. The coming generation (currently 13-18 year olds) are more postmodern than my own generation. They are teenagers (arguably the most commercially and entertainmently(?) targeted group in this postmodern era) consuming the media my own postmodern generation provides for them. To me this can only mean that the generation with which I am working will be postpostmodern, and we must begin now to discern the trends within that generation.

That being said, there isn’t much difference between their generation and my own (technically speaking, I am a part of their generation…but those generation gaps are closing at alarming rates). Even as all of those pesky emerging writers are predicting and witnessing, my students are attracted to community and its accompanying message.

However, last night I was surprised to discover that, though in some regards the students at One-Eighty fit the mold the emerging observers have cast, they break it in one peculiar way. After discussing a video we watched last night, I began to take a series of informal polls. Some of their responses were predictable. What kind of seating do they prefer? (Couches, interspersed with tables and chairs.) However, other answers didn’t make sense in light of all the reading I have done concerning both youth ministry and the emerging church. Generally speaking, they don’t like games. Generally speaking, they aren’t huge fans of videos. And, here’s the real shocker: Generally speaking they much prefer a sermon over a discussion, or even a sermon accompanied by discussion.

This goes against everything I have read about youth ministry, the emerging church, et al. This generation isn’t interested in the views of one man behind a pulpit–truth emerges and has impact through dialogue. This generation is a visual one. Any verbal communication must be enhanced by the visual. My students have destroyed these paradigms. There response when asked about their teaching preference was immediate and enthusiastic. The sermon.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Lord knows I love preaching–that’s not a problem. Though I am not ready to make any decisions about the direction of the ministry based on this little litmus test, I can venture a hypothesis as to why these kids were so enthusiastic: I’ve just been faithfully preaching the Bible. Currently I am preaching expositionally through Ephesians. The kids are getting a feel for the book as a whole. They are experiencing the Bible through community in that the whole community is learning together.

Another element they greatly love? Worship through music.

So, let me get this straight. For these students, the ideal youth meeting would look something like this:

Begin by worshiping through song.

Study the word of God through expositional preaching.


Sounds like a fairly traditional church service.

Not sure what to do with these observations. It sounds like old wine in new skins. It sounds like something the institutional church and the emerging church have yet to account for.

Let’s wait and see if the skins bust.