Thought Leader: Tony Gryskiewicz, M.A. & Garland Owensby, D. Ed. Min.
To effectively reach teenagers and develop and strengthen youth ministry in Continental Europe, you need missionaries who have the skills and credibility to help shape youth ministry.
In part 2 of this series, Anthony Gryskiewicz, M.A. and Dr. Garland Owensby share how missionaries can equip and prepare themselves to minister to Europe's youth!
The Missio Dei
Initially, it could mean working in a local church within the context of the culture. At the same time, it adds value to the national movement.
Before you head off to the field, it is critical to pray and prepare.
Pray and ask if the Lord is sending you to a particular country, and then ask him for confirmation.
"To last on the mission field, you must have a conviction from the Holy Spirit that that Lord has sent you."
Make no mistake-missions is tough, the attrition rate is high, and ministering to teenagers in any context is not easy. Just as important as the leading of the Holy Spirit is preparing for ministry. This includes, but is not limited to, formal youth ministry training, practical experience, and Intercultural studies.
At SAGU and other Assembly of God Universities, students have an incredible opportunity to receive formal training not only in youth and student ministries but in intercultural studies as well. If you want to make an impact on today's teenagers, it is critical to understand youth ministry and culture. One can add a minor or use elective hours to round out ministry and mission preparation.
For example, how would you conduct a youth service in a traditional Romanian or Italian Pentecostal church where men sit on one side of the church and women on the other side? Can you imagine the issues that could arise by having a typical American style youth ministry with contemporary music, lights, smoke machines, and teen boys and girls sitting together? Consider the issues a traditional Romanian or Italian style youth service could have on teen evangelism. Missionaries have reported that unsaved teens have walked into a youth service, they see the teens segregated by gender, and turn around and walk out.
Understanding the cultural values behind the practices and the praxis of healthy, Spirit-led youth ministry is essential.
We wholeheartedly agree with Linhart and Livermore (2011) that “the biggest danger is people from the ‘outside’ who think all youth ministry, all culture is the same” (Loc 253). This may come from an American ethnocentric view stemming from seeing its social media posts and entertainment being distributed around the globe.
Youth and student ministry is a multicultural endeavor not only in overseas contexts but also in the United States. There has been a change in the United States from a melting pot to more of a stew. The country is comprised of different cultures together sharing a nation without necessarily setting aside the culture from which they came. Wise youth pastors will not only know how to reach students but also know how to interact with their first-generation immigrant parents and understand the cultural dynamics. This is knowledge that can be attained in the classroom and then applied in the local church. And one need not live in an urban center or a border town to experience a multi-cultural youth ministry. A youth pastor can encounter a first-generation immigrant family almost anywhere in the United States.
I (Tony) am often told by pastors in the United States that they do not have any other cultures or ethnicities in their town. They opine that they would like to reach different cultures and ethnicities, but their town is homogeneous. They usually tell me this while at lunch at a local Mexican or Chinese restaurant that is owned and operated by Mexican or Chinese immigrants! You can engage in multicultural youth ministry without ever leaving the United States! Unfortunately, most youth groups in the U.S. look like and talk like the youth pastor. They tend to be homogeneous unless church leadership is intentional about reaching teenagers from different cultures and ethnicities (Gryskiewicz, 2018).
The experience at Vienna Christian Center is like a crash course in working with students who come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. I (Garland) was amazed at how Tony and Anna Gryskiewicz navigated the intricacies of cultures in Austria from speaking to a student from Kenya to a Syrian refugee. Ministry preparation is essential to reach students, and Vienna is strategically located to reach a variety of cultures.
It is said that much of one’s own culture is caught rather than taught, but that experiential strategy on the mission field can be disastrous.
This is where formal training is advantageous. I, Garland, spent a year of my life in El Salvador, Central America as a youth and children’s evangelist. I did not have the advantage of formal training before I went. I had zeal but no real understanding of the culture. The missionaries were patient with me even as I was impatient with the El Salvadorean culture. Their understanding of time and personal space were much different than the culture in which I was raised. I wonder how many times I hurt a relationship because of my ethnocentric attitude? Formal training, like the training provided at SAGU, offered stateside and in our Vienna extension site in Austria, would have helped me to build more bridges than walls.
One thing youth pastors can do is to intentionally expose their students to cultures different from their own and interact with peers from another culture.
If the focus of a mission is to present the Gospel to people from another culture, then there are opportunities all over the world. Our research demonstrated that there is a need and desire for training and assistance in reaching adolescents in Eastern Europe. There are ministries that would welcome the assistance of a team who was willing to not only help but humbly learn at the same time. But if that seems daunting, start small by taking a mission trip to a culture different from your own. I, Garland, led a group of students from Central Florida to inner-city Detroit. It stretched my students as they interacted with people who had trouble with some of their deep Southern accents and approached life differently from them.
Continuing Your Journey
You are still reading this article, so perhaps we can conclude that you are one of the rare adventurous souls who want to reach teens with the gospel and desire to add value to youth ministry in another country or culture. By studying Youth and Student Ministries and Intercultural Studies at Southwestern or one of the extension sites, you have had a tremendous start. Some final thoughts to help you find success on your journey would include; going on a foreign mission trip, doing a summer internship in a culture that is different from your own, and learning another language.
There are millions of lost teenagers all over the world. They are looking for a purpose; they are desperate to fill that God-shaped hole in their heart. There are churches and pastors across the globe who are looking for ways to reach the teenagers of their communities and they are praying to the Lord to send someone to come and help them. When you are ready and you feel that irresistible Macedonian call to reach teens of every ethnos, you can continue your mission journey at Assembly of God World Missions Pipeline at https://wideopenmissions.org/pipeline. Perhaps one day we will see you at SAGU or on the mission field.
Barna Group. (2004, October 11). Evangelism is most effective among kids. Barna Group. https://www.barna.com/research/evangelism-is-most-effective-among-kids/
Eurostat. (2019). Migration and migrant population statistics: Statistics explained (pp. 1–24). The European Commission. https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/pdfscache/1275.pdf
Gryskiewicz, T. (2018). More than pizza: Youth ministry beyond our culture and ethnicity. Anthony J. Gryskiewicz via CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
Kageler, L. (2010). A cross national analysis of church based youth ministries. The Journal of Youth Ministry, 8(2), 49–68.
Linhart, T., & Livermore, D. A. (Eds.). (2011). Global youth ministry: Reaching adolescents around the world. Zondervan.
Pew Research Center. (2017). Europe’s Growing Muslim Population (pp. 1–58). Pew Research Center. https://www.pewforum.org/2017/11/29/europes-growing-muslim-population/