Youth Ministry: Good or Bad?

Youth MinistryThere has been much talk lately about the benefits and drawbacks of youth ministry. Some have gone as far as saying that youth ministry destroys teenage faith and the whole idea of youth ministry should be scrapped.

I am no expert, although I was a youth pastor for five years and have been involved in youth ministry to varying degrees since then. When I started in youth ministry, it was seen as the silver bullet that would safeguard the future of the church. It is by no means controversial to say that belief is incorrect. Many of those who attend youth groups drop out of church by graduation and many of those who come to church later were not involved in youth groups.

The suggestion I am often hearing is that youth groups should be disbanded and the emphasis should be on integrating teenagers into the main congregation. I think that integration is a part of the solution but not the whole thing. My ministry experience was that a very small portion of the youth group actually attended Sunday morning services. As an ideal, it is a great thought. But if I had implemented that, I would have lost all the influence I had with the unchurched teens that came out to youth group. I was able to share the Gospel and teach from the Bible to those who would never show up on a Sunday morning. I do not believe that was wasted time.

Not every church needs a youth pastor or a youth ministry. But for those that can, take advantage of the opportunities that you have. Don’t let it be all about pizza and games (but have some of that as well). Look at who you have that attend church and those who are unlikely to attend. Come up with a strategy to maximize your discipleship opportunities. Teach the Bible as often and as clear as you can. Integrate as much into the main congregation as you can but don’t give up on those unchurched kids.

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3 thoughts on “Youth Ministry: Good or Bad?”

  1. I think people assume it is a silver bullet, even if that assumption is unstated. I also think that parents abdicate responsibility to the church and to the youth ministry, which is another fundamental error.

    Our youth ministry is two fold – first it deals with the young people on their own, so using those opportunities as you suggest, pizza and proclamation. The other aspect is that of whole church integration, so most activities are geared in some way to include old and young people, and some activities are created for this purpose. For example, on Sunday morning after Bible class and before the main meeting, some older people serve tea and toast to the young people. Another example, after our harvest thanksgiving our young people are given a bag of fruit/veg and asked to deliver it to an older person.

    Church family should be a family. We need to actively promote family. If children/youth feel included, feel part of the family they will act like part of the family. The only way to make them *feel* part of the family is to ensure we make them part of the family, and we need to be active in doing that.

    And that won’t always come naturally, and almost certainly won’t be as comfortable as we’d like.

    Youth ministry is not a silver bullet, but it is also not something that should be scrapped, however it is something that must not exist in isolation (or near isolation). That is the key.

  2. I appreciate your balanced approach to the issue of youth ministry’s place as well as Simon’s response. As comes out in what you say, there is no cookie cutter approach to youth ministry. In addition, I like your broad approach to youth ministry where you recognize our call to include those who are not church goers.

    Part of the problem youth ministry faces is that the wider church is often reluctant to engage in anything that stretches it or involves some degree of discomfort. Hence, it is easier to relegate teens to “youth ministry.” However, this reluctance is seen in other areas of the church’s life such as a reluctance to go outside the walls of the church to witness. Youth ministry just happens to be a convenient target right now.

  3. Bill! Thanks for stopping by my blog and tnkiag the time to write out your good questions. I hope the writing project is going well for you.Since the convention is over, I thought I’d give a brief response/opinion on your question so interested readers get some opinion on them. By no means exhaustive, but a short start.1. It all depends on what one means by subjective.’ That there are differences, on my view, would not mean subjective. A large family may all have the same parents, but each kid different color hair. That’s allowed to remain in the family. I do hope Augustine’s famous line gets back up into public awareness: in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity. We need to work on the charity’ side more than the denominational side, I think. Those on the outside must also seek to understand why there are denominations before they cast stones. After all, I don’t know any view that doesn’t have variations, be it Buddhism, Islam, Secularism, Feminism. Even Mormonism, whose large argument for their validity is their unity, has many factions (that they don’t want us to know about).2. If Jesus is impotent, then the question is valid. But I have largely found Jesus untried by others. They think they have encountered Jesus by going to a church service or growing up in a Christian home. Few actually do the harder work of getting into Scripture and reading historical writers of those who do have a relationships with Jesus. The Bible is a smart book! After all, wouldn’t you say your relationship with Jesus something no other religion can offer? I would. I’ve honestly sought out the others and find them wanting at some point.I’m saddened how Christianity has been reduced to church attendance, moralisms, and political affiliations. Buddhism on the other hand gets associated with peace, meditation, and well-being. What is odd to me is how Christianity has all those same features’ Buddhism has of meditation, body health, environmental awareness, peace. Only instead of emptying your mind of goodness, as Buddhism teaches in meditation, you fill your mind with goodness in Christianity. And Buddhism is also political, Tibet has shown us that.A lot of issues people pin in Christianity are human problems in every place we find humans. We can’t just a thing by its abuses. Most attacks on Jesus are leveled at those who abuse him. Jesus actually shines quite well, I find, and each is responsible for himself in how they follow.Also, many accusations leveled against Jesus are usually just straw-men. How we get people to see beyond the straw-men is difficult. But sometimes that’s their problem, not mine.3. I find it unfortunate when people say a certain candidate is on God’s side. I, too, found the split in election interest between Christians interesting too.In general, we should vote with wisdom and our conscience. Christians will disagree and sometimes that’s okay. The issues are more complex than the ads and stump speeches let on. What is discouraging to me is how many people actually depend on the debates and the advertising to make their vote.What is further discouraging to me is the American public. They were so frenzied for their candidate in this election. They didn’t see that both of them were really mediocre. They can vote for one or the other, but the unwarranted enthusiasm was, well, frightening. Don’t we have sanity in these matters? Aren’t we thoughtful? Are we just going for celebrity status? Can’t we all say, Well, he’s not the best that I wish we could get, but it’s the best we have for now. So let’s vote as citizens according to our consciences and then do our own parts locally ?I’m not sure the American public, much less the evangelical public, can do that. We aren’t trained for it. We largely mimic our host culture.4. This question ties into three for me. We are a celebrity culture today. We love to be entertained. And we think that because someone is popular than they must be an expert.A good example of this is how often celebrities are asked for their opinion on foreign affairs. What do they know? They memorize and recite the scripts of someone else! At least get the opinion of the script writer! I find the opinion of celebrities rather dubious. So it goes with celebrity preachers. If the public only know how much money some of these Christian celebrities charge for their bookings!! I’m amazed. And you could get lesser-knowns who can do just as well but don’t draw the large crowds. It makes you wonder if people get celebrity pastors because of their content or because they will draw a lot of tickets at the door. This is the ugly underbelly of the pop-culture church. And this is, in my opinion, largely what the thinking world finds repulsive.I do too. If this was the kingdom of God, I’d likely not be a follower of Jesus. Thankfully, God has given us his Scripture and a long history to reflect on and his presence to enjoy despite all the noise. And others who share a deeper vision that we can form community with.5. I don’t think there are that many serious followers of Jesus. There’s lots of followers of Jesus-trends. There’s lot of worship experiences. There’s lots of converts (I guess). But how many of them chose Jesus because he offered a better life? How many are willing to follow him into that better life? Most are like sheep. They believe what they are told from the podium at the front. They are indoctrinated by lite’ or positive’ Christian radio. But not very many are robust followers. Not many can take a stand for what they believe in. Not many are living the good life. They are moral, but not good.Following Jesus takes work. Expanding your soul in imaginative, culturally savvy, intelligent ways, takes readjusting your lifestyle, learning to be quiet, learning to listen, learning to grow more human as you formulate your own opinion and become a leader in your sphere of influence. It means practicing Christian meditation, well-being, peacemaking, radical-love (which is just real love but we don’t understand real love, we we have to call it radical’ LOL)Most people are like sheep. I think Jesus is calling us all to be little shepherds under him, inviting others into the good life, not just inviting them to heaven.Okay, those are a few ideas. We could talk about this for hours! Maybe next time we’re in Grand Rapids!

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