First Third Conversations

Closing the Ministry Gap

Josh Feala

Here's another contribution from one of our CYF graduates thesis. This one, by Joshua Feala, addresses the issue of youth ministry and congregational leadership. Enjoy!

Closing The Ministry Gap actually began years ago when I was a youth in the church. I noticed there was this distance between the pastor and my fellow youth. Our interactions were limited mainly to confirmation instruction and the awkward greeting on Sunday morning. As years passed, I noticed the same pattern happening in other congregations: there was a gap between the lives of the congregation’s youth and their pastors. When I entered seminary, the gap still bothered me. I wanted to know where the gap came from and what it might do to the life of the church over time. My fear is that the gap might continue on as a gap when those youth become adults looking for a spiritual place to call home.

Here is where I found the gap: the church in North America has followed social trends, both in how it treats young people and clergy. During the 20th century, teenagers evolved into a social category separated from adults and with its own hormone-driven subculture. Churches likewise followed this trend, giving adolescents their own separate space away from the rest of the church body. Pastors themselves grew into an odd spot when they evolved into a sort of CEO who was interested in the attractiveness of the church. As corporations invaded American culture, the idea of the CEO seeped into the office of the pastor. The pastor is now the supervisor of the church’s ministry products which -- in the case of youth ministry -- is inadvertently designed to “sell” church to young people. Actual ministry to youth is left to specialists: the youth ministers.

It is time to close the ministry gap. Pastors need to move away from acting as CEOs and move toward leading others in discipleship. Pastors need to lead the whole congregation, both adults and adolescents, and bring them together in living a life of faith. The church is not a place to prepare people for faith, but a place to practice faith, a daily return to the cross. Pastors need to lead this discipleship for all ages; faith does not end at confirmation, nor does it begin at adulthood.

Closing The Ministry Gap comes at a time when people of all ages are starting to ask important questions about the church, mainly because they see the life of the church fading. My thesis provides a place to jump into the conversation that goes beyond the typical “post-Christian context” discussion and looks at church-society interaction. This is a great time in the North American church’s history to examine the church’s practices and policies that for the past few generations have been assumed to be standard.

Here's Joshua's full thesis:

and you can watch his presentation here:

Hi there, I’m Joshua Feala. I’m a recent graduate of Luther Seminary, awaiting first call for ordained ministry in the Nebraska Synod of the ELCA. When I’m not busy critiquing church practices, I can often be found tending my garden or hiking through the woods with my wife, Rachel and dog, Max. Lately, I have become obsessed with making pizza from scratch. I think some of the best theological questions today are coming from comic books.

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