Kenda Creasy Dean shared her top 10 characteristics of good youth ministry.
Number 9 is a culture of permission and creativity:
A safe space yields permission–permission to take risks, to move outside comfort zones, to initiate and to lead. Healthy youth ministry creates a culture of permission where young people can follow Christ where they sense they are being led, where adults are guides but not programmers, permission givers rather than gate keepers, trail guides rather than tour operators.
Creativity requires freedom–which safe space and permission provide. Young people need practice in multiple “faith languages” – words and actions, art and prayer. Increasingly, the language of the arts is becoming a “spiritual language” for young people (especially emerging adults). Healthy youth ministries recognize that young people live in a participatory culture, where they create cultural content as well as consume it. Treating youth primarily as consumers (of worship, programming, mission) fails to recognize that they are created in God-the-Creator’s image, and also makes church seem unwelcoming and archaic.
I am reminded of Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences as I read this. Gardner argued that intelligence is not a single ability, but comes in a variety of forms. In addition to things such as linguistic intelligence highly valued by bloggers, English majors, and those who love words (me, me, and me), Gardner argues for forms of intelligence such as spatial intelligence, naturalistic intelligence, musical intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and others.
The kind of creativity Dean writes about connects with these other forms of intelligence. Someone who may not easily wrestle with verbal representations of God might find connections using other forms of intelligence that come more naturally for them.
I’m sure some Christian educators who have thought about Gardner’s theory more have more helpful thoughts about his theory. Dean’s point about permission and creativity, though, does urge us to break out of conventional ways of education and formation.