Friday, August 23, 2013

Youth Group Culture Shock

Today’s coffee: iced latte at Doutor (favourite Japanese coffee chain)

Today we gave the students at our former language school a pep talk (well, we talked about our experiences the first 6 months since leaving language school), went out for yakiniku (Japanese bbq) with a friend, and now Keith is having a Japanese class. Meanwhile, I’m hanging out at Doutor, the closest coffee shop to our old house. The coffee isn’t bad, and you can get a cake and a coffee for 500 yen (around US $5). ケーキセット、万歳!

Today I want to write a bit more about the youth group at our church. When we first talked to Takahashi-sensei about our work at Wakaba, he immediately mentioned that he wanted us to mentor the middle and high school students. As I wrote last week, I’m not a natural youth worker, so to be honest, I was pretty worried. I’m not so worried any more; we’ve been very well supported by others at church.

Last Sunday, we had a youth group staff meeting—we’re considering making some major changes to the youth Sunday school curriculum and the youth program in general. I’m pretty excited about the proposed changes, especially the possibility of Bible studies and teaching and discussion about a range of topics of interest to teenagers. (That’s not to say that this whole process won’t be a lot of work…) I would love to see each middle and high school student learn to love the Bible.

As we discussed what the program will look like, I realized how different my image of “youth ministry” is from what youth ministry actually looks like in Japan. When I was growing up, there were Sunday school classes for middle and high school and youth group on Wednesday nights. In addition, there were a wide variety of events, from informal evenings at a member’s house to mission trips, probably once a month. In 8th grade, there were confirmation classes; in high school there were extra meetings for student leaders. My senior year of high school, I was also involved in a Bible study once a week. All this adds up to a lot of activities and a lot of time… and a lot of work for the youth pastor, too.

Keith and I proposed a series of movie nights for our youth group; the church was very supportive. We offered to hold a movie night once a month, and were surprised when the other staff suggested that this was too often… and really, we should finish by 6 p.m., even on weekends. Huh? They explained: good students will worry if there are too many activities that dip into their study time. (This month’s youth group meeting was cancelled—the middle school students have exams the next day.) Further, parents expect that their children won’t stay out too late, even in high school. Non-Christian parents will also worry about the frequency of events, I was told. Takahashi-sensei, who became a Christian in high school, spoke from personal experience: his mother was quite worried when he suddenly started spending all of his free time in church activities.

Heh… I thought I was a good student, but somehow I always found time for cello lessons, youth symphony, youth group, 4H, and occasional hiking and skiing trips, not to mention spending time with friends and going on dates. Oh, and youth group started at 7 p.m. Culture shock moment.

I had heard rumours about Japanese students being insanely busy, but I hadn’t expected that even church parents would suggest limiting the frequency of events to this extent. In order to not put additional pressures on already over-worked middle and high school students, we have to pick our battles, so to speak, and make the most of the times we do have together.

Which brings me back to the subject of the proposed changes. There will be Sunday school every week, and youth group every other month, alternating with “賛美礼拝” (Sambi-Reihai, a worship service made up of songs, scripture, and a short message). On the months with Sambi-Reihai, we will have a movie night at our house. We may also train some of the budding musicians to help lead the Sambi-Reihai service. :)

As I continue to get to know each of the middle and high school students, I’m beginning to understand the kinds of pressures they face. Recently, one girl shared how stressed and tired she was. I suggested that she take a day off from homework once a week; she responded that she does take one day off; she’s too busy on that day with club activities and such, so she has no time to do homework. I didn’t really know how to respond to that.

This week a friend shared with me about the time she burned out from overwork, both in her job and in serving at church. Overwork and lack of rest are a very real problem; I’m praying for each of my friends here to have the courage and wisdom to stop working when they need to.

Confronted with this issue, I’m personally feeling rather convicted of the binging and purging sort of pattern I often see in my own life: work really hard, sense of relief when task(s) are complete, do nothing for the next several days while I recover. If I’m encouraging others to rest properly and frequently, then I’d better practice what I preach. Praying for balance… and a little more energy and efficiency, perhaps.


Paul Davis said...

Interestingly, we are having very similar issues here at your childhood church as we try to combine youth events & studies between Newport Covenant and the Blessed Life Chinese church. Their pastors told us that Wednesday night youth events just won't work for their families because it would cut into homework time too much. So WNL (Wednesday Night Live) will have to move to Fridays, ironically.

Celia Olson said...


And I'm so glad to hear NCC youth group is joining hands with Blessed Life Chinese Church, even if there are difficulties to work through. Praying for all of you!