December 14, 2017

“What are your thoughts on a Biblical model for youth ministry?”

rrrdMoving on, folks. Moving on.

Reader Chris has written me a couple of notes on my overall views of youth ministry. I owe him an answer, but I’d like to open up a couple of posts on the general idea of where we are going in youth ministry. I’ve been involved primarily with teenagers for 30 of my 34 years of church ministry. For more than a decade, I did lots of church consultation and I had successful youth ministries in two large churches. I made it to a lot of large youth events down through the years and heard most of the best speakers on the youth ministry circuit.

There was a time I was really sure how to “do” youth ministry. Today….a lot of my thinking has changed. Here’s a few thoughts. More coming.

1. I’m concerned about the idea of “Biblical models” in general. By that I mean that we seem to be saying there is a Biblical component we can place in a larger machine and make the outcome Biblical. In fact, if the entire system isn’t “Biblical,” we have problems. I did what I thought was “Biblical” youth ministry in churches that contradicted most of the values of Jesus on a regular basis, but I was quite sure I was doing a “Biblical” youth ministry. I’m now of the view that the entire paradigm has to be questioned, from fundamentals to details.

2. It all rolls on how you view the church and how you see the overall church carrying out the mission of Jesus. Young people are not a subset of the church’s mission that just happen to be handed over to twenty year olds and people with guitars. Whatever the church is doing needs to be relevant to young people: worship, pastoral care, teaching, mission, evangelism, stewardship. The scary thing for a lot of youth workers is the possibility that they might have to give up their cool outreaches and trips in order to be more like the church/follower Jesus wants. We’ve been told that we can use any tool to make church interesting, so youth workers like myself were allowed to run a program of fun, trips, food, sports, recreation, etc. in order to keep young people hanging around for whatever the church was doing. We now know that those young people simply insisted that the church become like their youth group and, ta da- there is today’s evangelicalism. Oh…and there’s a bunch of our kids, never coming back to church again because they eqaute it with juvenile, shallow entertainment.

3. So I think we are talking church from start to finish, and then addressing various groups only as it is missionally and practically warranted. The Biblical “model” is a series of relationships in which we are formed and participate: God, family, church, community. Youth ministry is a subset of all four, but can’t create a fifth place where everything comes packaged for youth. And that is the issue so many older youth guys like myself feel. Back in the day, we packaged Jesus. He doesn’t fit in the package, but we made him fit. The Procrustean bed, so to speak. The results are now on display in evangelicalism. My entire family has abandoned evangelicalism for the Anglican/Catholic church. What are they looking for? What evangelicalism doesn’t have but keeps selling like it does. We are the original spiritual snake oil salesmen. So much of that started with well-intentioned youth ministry.

4. I realize that many youth workers will never be in a church that will ever do anything intentionally or reformationally. The program is already in a package and you are just supposed to get the kids there. It’s not a situation where you need to waste your time going to the pastor and elders and asking the whole church to change into something Jesus would recognize. So you have to do the best with what you have, and all I can say about that is you may need to make enormous changes in your own ideas of what you want to do. The shift from getting 120 kids to a concert to getting 12 kids to pray every morning is huge, and most churches won’t put up with it. So as I said, you have to do the best with what you have. Impact kids so they want more of Jesus. Make that your mission.

5. The “Family Led Youth Ministry” idea has some possibilities, but I am not impressed with those I’ve heard who advocate it. Show me this model, in a church producing risk-taking, independent minded disciples and not dependent, controlled, tied to parents, afraid of the world inhabitants of a ghetto mentality, and I’ll be more impressed. As of now, I cannot sign on to the “our youth program = our homeschool program” as the answer. I realize what the standard responses will be, but I do not believe home schooling can work for the majority of families. I’m happy for those that find it works, but I work with a lot of dysfunctional families and there are millions of people who do not need to be homeschooling their kids. I believe the church MUST serve all varieties of family constructions and choices, and not just affirm and encourage one.

Let me be clear that families- where there are Christian families- are obviously crucial. But Jesus isn’t creating a community of families. He’s recreating the family around him.

More in a little while on what we actually do in youth ministry: Formation for Discipleship or Apocalyptic Uselessness?

Comments

  1. Your post strikes on a lot of thoughts that have been running around in my head. A lot of what passes for youth ministry is no more than well-intentioned entertainment. I don’t see a problem with some of the things that are done in youth ministry (or other ministries) as long as they serve a solid, intentional purpose. I’m afraid many don’t and, as a result, our Christians don’t end up looking like their Jesus (Ghandi?). Where is the radical call to love, look, and live like Jesus? The irony is that it shouldn’t be “radical,” it should be normal.

    Francis Chan’s book “Crazy Love” talks about some of these same ideas for the church as a whole. The implications of living this out church-wide could/should be drastically biblical.

    Is part of the issue our denominational paradigm and how we understand the Bible? Our cultural apathy? Just living it out?

  2. What you win them with, is what you win them to.

  3. charlie.hr says:

    Derek…

    God Bless You! It certainly can feel lonely when you decide to walk the narrow path. But the results will last. Investing in your children’s whole life (not just education or spirituality) will bring the joy of producing faith champions for the age to come, where some of the things we take for granted (like the things we see on conventional religion) will come to pass and a new breed of followers of Jesus will arise. Not attached, to programs, sermons or activities, but living transforming lives through an indwelling Lord Jesus Christ.

    My family and I have recently take the same path you’re on. And we’re challenging some other young couples to do so. We now have a small community of like-minded families that gather eventually to support each other, share experiences and enjoy the presence of Jesus in our lives…

    I believe that’s what the real church is all about, and it’s difficult to grasp for anyone that its not understanding this kind of church-life.

  4. My wife and I were youth leaders for about 8 years. I started in my mid-20s and had never done anything like that before. And our elders just kind of left us alone. Therein lies the issue. Today, I would never sign up for the same job under that kind of scenario.

    Youth groups(and I don’t really even like that term) or small groups or “whatever” groups cannot be seen as a stand alone “program” within a church. They have to flow from the mission and vision of the church and be a natural part of what’s happening in the body. Youth programs should be accenting what is already happening within a church and within individual families(ideally speaking – i know family situations differ).

    AND, the youth leader/minister should have mentors of his own.

  5. Charlie.hr, thanks for the note. I am committed to working hard (and it is hard) to not pull people out of the Sunday morning gatherings just for the sake of the family / housechurch setting. I do tell people around us what we’re doing and why and, if they are interested, we continue the dialogue. Several invitations have gone out, mostly to younger single people – yes, those who have often been overlooked by many of the folks in the church.

    There are actually 4 single folks that we’re aware of who have left the congregation we all attended – and are still in the area. One is going to an SBC church about 50 minutes away. Two are not going anywhere. And one is looking for new venues.

    And another family that we’re closer to (and they us) seems to be in a similar boat, not with the travel, but their kids don’t go to the midweek kids’ program with the other kids (pre-youth) from the church we all attended.

    My daughters just donated their 10+ inches of hair (each of them) to Locks of Love. They haven’t decided if they’re going to regrow it or not and do it again. But this was a huge thing for an 8 and 7 year old and I’m very proud of their courage and sacrifice in this.

    My wife and I hosted Young Singles gatherings – all social/fellowship based in our home for 2 years. The point was that there were already men’s and women’s bible studies at the church and integrated Sunday School discussions as well. God’s called us out of that as well, though we made several decent friends through it. And yes, the trips, concerts, and major activities for the youth were funded through a paid-pastor youth program. There was no “budget” (communicating the importance?) for the Young Singles…

  6. Michael said:

    “The Biblical model for youth ministry is parenthood.”

    iMonk replied:

    “I don’t think Jesus would see that quite the way we do. Mark 3. The movement Jesus is starting isn’t Focus on the Family.”

    I assume you refer to Jesus saying that “whoever does the will of God, he is my brother and sister and mother”.

    I’m puzzled about how that negates or conflicts with what Michael said about parenthood and youth ministry.

    God also saw fit to throw in Proverbs 22:6. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and even when he is old he will not depart from it” (ESV). Off the top of my head I cannot think of any other similar promise for any other method of raising a child – the goal of which should be for them to be a part of the movement to which you refer.

    My wife and I have kept an intentional distance between our children and youth groups exactly because we have observed the tendency for it to be little more than a church acceptable counter culture organization. Worse is the additional observation that three quarters of the time when they graduate youth group it seeems to represent a simultaneous graduation from church and all too often from following Jesus. I can recall this from when I was in the youth group 35 years ago and it appears the same or worse now.

    It seems like there is too much these days in youth groups (and frankly in church itself) which does little more than innoculate the hearers against ever having a genuine relationship with Jesus or feeling the need for one. It seems good enough to just feel good about it. Doing something takes too much energy.

    Guess I’m cynical.

  7. I didn’t read through all the comments, but I wanted add my 2c based on my experiences in youth group 15 or so years ago. When I started going to the church in 9th grade, I hated the place I had been previously going. I mostly went to this new one because two or three of my school buddies were going and I wanted to be with my friends. This church didn’t have a youth group when we started there. It mostly formed because a handful of teenage friends (us) were now attending.

    The long and the short of the program was that it was pretty irrelevant. What mattered was the friends there. We came because of each other and we wanted to be there because of each other. In fact, several of us ended up bringing our families to the church rather than our families taking us to church. One of us saw several family members come to Christ. Post high-school, we helped run the youth gig for the next generation. Eventually all of us became deacons in that church and helped run various ministries in it.

    But that never happened for succeeding generations. Ours was the only one. And I think that’s because you can’t force kids to form community. You can’t force kids to be excited about God and his people. For my friends and I, our pre-existing “community of faith” made for a successful youth group once we plugged into a larger one. Later generations were dragged into it in an almost formulamaic way.

  8. kisekileia says:

    I don’t think the main problem with youth ministry is that it’s so entertainment-oriented, although that is DEFINITELY a problem. I think the main problem with it is that evangelical Christian culture presents kids with false ideas about how the world is, and once they hit their twenties and have some life experience behind them, they realize the lifestyle restrictions they were taught in youth group really don’t make as much sense as they thought.

  9. As a parent (my oldest is 13) I — first of all — hope my son’s involvement in our Youth Group enriches and strengthens his faith in Christ. I was involved in hiring our current youth pastor. I was impressed when we found him, but am even moreso now, after watching him in action over the past 6 months. I am also pleased by my son’s reaction to him and youth group. Our youth group isn’t flashy. It is Christ centered, with a service component, and is also fun. Our youth team obviously and truly loves the kids in their charge and I think love is the crucial ingredient in any worthwhile youth group.

    That said, my expectations for their influence on my son’s spiritual growth are tempered by what I know of this stage of life. Teenagers are growing in every conceivable way — physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually, sexually, intellectually. Scripture promises that God’s word will not return to Him void. I don’t necessarily expect 13 year olds to be serious disciples. I think they need interaction that meets them where they are and takes them higher — not interaction that supposes they have the maturity and cognitive function of people 10 years their senior. They just don’t.

    I have more mundane hopes for my son’s experience at youth group, too. I want him to develop a group of Christian friends his age. He has lots of Christian adults in his life, but that’s not enough for a teenager. I want him to have somewhere else to go besides home, where he will be comfortable being his full self — so not just the good student and athlete, funny cut-up he is. I want him to have a place where being open about his love for Christ is as comfortable as being open about his love for the Red Sox and chocolate. I know what a relief it was for me to have Christian friends and a place where that part of my life was normalized.

    I also found that while youth were expected to take mission trips, do service projects, and evangelize, most of their parents did none of these things. Parents have more influence than most youth workers will ever have, and hypocrisy speaks loudly.

    I agree that parents have more influence than any youth group worker, but something about your comment turns me sour. I have, over the years, heard a lot of people who earn their livings in Christian service (pastors, church workers, etc.) say similar things. The fact is, most parents I know have jobs outside the home AND outside the church, and most parents I know in my church are also very involved in different aspsects of Christian service (according to their gifts). What you’re doing (or were doing) as your day job, the rest of us have 40-60 hours less a week to do. Our days jobs aren’t more important (in fact they’re not as important) but they’re more demanding.

  10. Brandon E. says:

    “My daughters just donated their 10+ inches of hair (each of them) to Locks of Love.”

    Maybe someone should send this information to that hard-rocking, mic-swallowing young man on the cover of the Cornerstone flier! (From the other thread.)

    (If they want my hair, they’ll have to pluck it from my ears.)

  11. Ky Boy but not now says:

    “I don’t necessarily expect 13 year olds to be serious disciples. I think they need interaction that meets them where they are and takes them higher — not interaction that supposes they have the maturity and cognitive function of people 10 years their senior. They just don’t.”

    While there’s a big difference between a 13 year old and a 20 year old for several decades in the US we’ve been shielding the under 20s from more and more of adult life. This is bad. They turn 18, 20, 22 whatever and are expected to act like an adult with absolutely no experience as to what that means.

    Somehow in the last 100 years we’ve gone from it not being unusual for a 5 year old to drive a small tractor and a 12 year old to drive an 18′ flat bed truck to talking about how do we entertain college aged “kids” to keep them coming back to church. Something is wrong.

    And contrary to what some alarmists would say many of these “farm” kids led a much safer life in their teens than the 20 somethings who grew up entertained until 20 or so.

  12. My own youth group experience (and that of my oldest son, so far) had little to do with entertainment. It was a small scale thing. The fact is though, these kids aren’t living 100 years ago. To be a teenager in our culture (for better or worse) isn’t the same as it was in generations past.

    I’d also argue with iMonk that how we did youth group produced modern day evangelicalism. I think it’s the other way around.

  13. charlie.hr says:

    Cindy…

    If you want to argue with the monk…. better be careful. Make sure you have all your facts checked, done your homework, say your prayers and ask the Lord for a bit of good luck! 🙂

    Otherwise if the monk is not in the mood, you’re at risk of being banned.

    God bless

  14. Everry post should include someone who says I am completely wrong. Otherwise, I’m completely wrong.

  15. Cindy,
    You said “Our days jobs aren’t more important (in fact they’re not as important) but they’re more demanding.”

    I’d disagree with you. We’re all a part of evangelism, paid or otherwise. I work a day job 40-60 hours a week and my interactions may well be influential in bringing someone to Christ just as much as the paid ministry worker. In fact, I bet I come into contact with more people throughout the week who do not know Jesus than a paid ministry worker, unless he’s with an outreach group like Young Life or something similar.

    And as for demanding… I drive a computer and plan projects most of the day. Very little of what I do has to do with really listening to someone’s heart and hurts and all that. Now, when we have friends into our home, I don’t get paid for that like a paid professional ministry worker, but the relationships… that’s “thorns and thistles”. Hard stuff. And I have a passion to do it better. And help others to do the same.

    But, yeah. I digress and I risk a mod edit…

    So, a topic question. Do most youth groups replace Sunday morning church? I.e. if the kids go to youth group, do they forego the Sunday assembly, basically getting their own, high-energy worship time?

  16. Michael,

    I am completely wrong. As a longtime youth pastor (20+ years!) I’ve seen trends come/go. As fishers of men, the ‘hook’ of student ministry changes every 5 years or so…ski trips for a season, skateparks for a while, etc. What I’ve seen as ‘successful discipleship’ (never discounting the work of the Holy Spirit) involves ministering to the family as a whole (the father in particular), involvement in cross-generational ministry and discipleship (from Children’s Ministry to Senior Adults), a healthy,dependable small group, and active service in ongoing missions/evangelism. (Can you tell I’m a recovering SBC’er?).

    Of course there are always exceptions.

    IMHO, we don’t live in an either/or world. Small groups praying OR 120 to a concert? Ski trips OR local apartment ministry? We HAVE to do it all. Simultaneously we have to do a ‘mission trip’ to Laguna Beach AND get our hands dirty in our local town. We have to teach parents that they have the primary responsibility for spiritual formation (Dt. 6) AND desperately reach out to students with unbelieving parents via concerts, skate parks and other ‘fluff’.

    The problem is bigger than youth ministry. Our entire Western, USAmerican culture breeds a Christianity unlike that of the new testment. In the south (again, my experience), the problem is that we are disciples of the white, American, Republican, SUV and 401k Jesus that confuses Christianity with the good life of suburbia….(….must….resist….rant………..).

    Following Jesus (as a teenager, pre-teen, senior adult, etc…) is about a lifestyle of holiness and slavery (to Christ and to serving others). It’s been a LONG journey that got us into the current dysfunction we are in…it will take us a couple of generations to get back, IMO. But I could be wrong.

    The right model is not about homeschool/public school/private school. or whatever. It’s about a subversive, ‘on the go’ tribe of disciples doing life together intimately. If so, how do we do that?

  17. sue kephart says:

    tomcottar,
    I am completely wrong or I don’t live in the Western,USAmerican culture that breeds a Christianity unlike that of the New Testment. My experience is not all white (besides interracial,what about the black church?) American(lots of immigrants brought Christainity to this land and continue to come) or Republican. Although we don’t discuss politics (It’s a church,duh) I would say many Christians are Democrates. How about intercity churches that serve the poor? Or rural churches? Get out there. It’s a big country.

  18. sue kephart says:

    idea,

    Have the kids in your youth group do an interchange with families from an intercity church.

    A friend of mine who grew up on welfare in the intercity (none of us kids had the same dad) went to a farm family every summer for a week. She saw a different way of life and wanted something more for her own life. She is now a college grad, married with a husband and two kids and is a successful business women.

    One of my suburban friends has a son who spent several weekends with an intercity family in a high school exchange program and is now a seminary student after serving the homeless for two years after college.

  19. Storyteller says:

    I wonder if each of you who has taken the time to respond to iMonks post on youth ministry, realize how important it is that you have done so? I don’t have any formal training in ministry, but I have been a Christian for thirty years, since the age of fifteen. I was never in a youth group – as it relates to the current models indicated in this blog, but my daughter was until she went to college last year; she was fortunate to have an excellent youth pastor.

    I have been seeking answers to the very same questions posed here, albeit unrelated specifically to youth ministry alone. My question has been more directly related to the lack of participation of churches within the community inwhich they reside. I am a member of an SBC Baptist church, and what prompted my query is related entirely to my own relationship with God.

    As an attendee of a sunday school class – I am a father of five and husband, I am concerned that too often the focus of our classes is shallow. What I mean by shallow is that the materiel is geared toward “the sincere milk of the word” and the structure of the class is restricted to the materiel presented, with no practical exercises involving service as a group. There are those ocassions where we may get together outside of church for a babeque, but that is a far cry from “to live is Christ – to die is gain.”

    As some of you have stated, the need to provide a transition from youth to college and carreer is evident. At the same time there is also a need to expand into a 2.0 version to introduce more advanced discipleship training for those who have moved beyond the sincere milk. Training specifically oriented toward recognizing and building our spiritual gifts, and learning to employ those gifts in ministry is the stop gap answer as I see it. There are people of many different ages who are ready for 2.0, so part of the problem is the misguided notion of grouping everyone by age instead of maturity in Christ.

    The other item of concern is the need to recognize the difference between those motivated to serve and those qualified to serve. I know that God doesn’t call the equiped, He equips the called, but church leadership must also recognize that not everyone who desires to serve in a particular area possessess the spiritual gifts nescessary to be successful. This is where the 2.0 classes would guide those eager to serve in areas suited to their gifts.

    I think the real key to any successfull ministry is first to emphasize the relationship, second to drive the focus of the ministry toward understanding the intimate nature of our relationship with Christ, third to provide direct training in recognizing and developing each persons spiritual gifts – while keeping the focus of that training on the relationship. Finally, to employ each person into a specific ministry as they demonstrate the maturity necessary to actively participate. This is of course an ongoing process for every person involved in ministry, and the reality from my perspective is that everyone who is maturing in Christ should understand that they have a calling to some ministry. At 45, I’m getting ready to go back to college to get my BA in Christian Psychology. Not because I want to be a Psychologist, but because I want to be more effective in my ministry, which doesn’t revolve around the building my church meets in, it revolves around every person I meet, every place I go. I am the church!

    Thanks to all of you for your obvious passion for ministry and the great feedback!

    Excellent blog iMonk!

  20. Momofgirls says:

    First time commenting, but this issue is one that hits close to home. I’m not in youth ministry,but I have a 16 year old daughter and a 12 year old daughter. I was raised in an independent Bible church and also attend one. My own youth group experience as a kid seemed great, but as I look back now, it wasn’t the program but the fact that the kids in that group were my closest friends. In reality, we kind of made our own youth group. Anyway my oldes daughter has struggled with the youth group in our own church. They do some things very well. Teaching is very sound and they integrate the kids into the church and get them to serve in a variety of way, but the kids who don’t quite fit the “church” model of perfect kid don’t do so well here. Why? I really believe the youth minister loves the Lord and wants to serve, but why aren’t kids who perhaps haven’t made a commitment to the Lord or who may be “rebelling” against some norms not feel welcomed. My take come from the fact that I allowed my daughter to attend another youth group, very small and I checked out what the youth pastor believed and she loves it. What’s the difference? Relationships. This guy goes to lunch with the kids, shows up at their games and activities, loves them where they are and talks to them about Jesus. He’s gone from a amall youth group of non-believers to a small youth group of new christians who are being discipled and loved by a caring and smart young man. When I sent my daughter to his group, I asked him what his philosopy was on youth ministry. He told me, develop relationships with kids and then use those relationships to share the gospel. Not bad for a 22 year old. We can entertain them to death (and there is a place for age appropriate fun), teach theology til we are blue in the face, but if no bonds or relationships are being formed, I’m not sure a lot is going to happen. Loving them with Christ-like love even when they mess up (and that would mean not ignoring the mess up, but helping them get through it) speaks volumes to kids and anyone else. Not sure this makes sense. I could write a book on my feelings about this, thanks for bringing it up and making people think.

  21. Cadence says:

    The biggest problem I’ve seen in youth groups (after the watered-down messages) is that most of them don’t seem to care about all teenagers. That’s why I left my youth group at 17. I’m not saying the leaders didn’t really care, I think that they just didn’t know what to do with anyone who was not your “normal American teenager”. As an extremely-introverted, single, intellectual, foreign-language-learning, French-literature-reading, classical-music-listening history buff, it wasn’t just that I didn’t feel like I had anything in common with the youth group. That wasn’t what mattered to me. I left when I realized that the leaders and youth of the group truly didn’t know how to interact with me. As much as I would have liked to have friends among those my own age, I ended up in a Sunday school group where the average age was about 50 just so that I could have people to talk to. Having theologically-deep lessons was merely a side benefit (at least at the time, I’m now 22 and far more grateful for hermaneutics and theologians).

  22. Derek,

    You said:

    I’d disagree with you. We’re all a part of evangelism, paid or otherwise. I work a day job 40-60 hours a week and my interactions may well be influential in bringing someone to Christ just as much as the paid ministry worker. In fact, I bet I come into contact with more people throughout the week who do not know Jesus than a paid ministry worker, unless he’s with an outreach group like Young Life or something similar.

    I agree with the above completely. I’m sorry my earlier comment was lacking. I hyper-focused on the idea that not going on mission trips is somehow hypocrisy. I think some the of short-term mission trips I’ve known lay people to do were little more than feel-good opportunities.

    And as for demanding… I drive a computer and plan projects most of the day. Very little of what I do has to do with really listening to someone’s heart and hurts and all that. Now, when we have friends into our home, I don’t get paid for that like a paid professional ministry worker, but the relationships… that’s “thorns and thistles”. Hard stuff. And I have a passion to do it better. And help others to do the same.

    I don’t disagree with anything you say here, either. Thanks for responding, Derek.

  23. We’re good, Cindy. I do hope I didn’t come across as calling you out. I’m actually hoping (okay, I’m registered, anyway) to start my grad program in Marriage and Family Therapy through a mainstream denominational university which shall remain nameless. (Don’t want to get Michael into hot water!)

    From distribution center project management and engineering… Because God has something different now for me to do. And I believe I’m called and somewhat gifted in it. Or so I’ve been told, anyway. 🙂

    I will say, back to topic, that I think the reason parents aren’t as involved as the youth are that a lot of youth groups are outreach-based in order to get the parents to check out the church where their youth is going for several hours a week.

    And I don’t understand the short term youth trips overseas when millions of dollars could be saved every year by reaching folks stateside. $3-5k is quite a hunk of money, mostly going to plane tickets and other transportation, I’m sure. Leave the mission trips to the long-term folks.

    I’ve often heard the short term trips as feel-good vacations. “I did my part.” But the construction projects, oftentimes, are left incomplete because, well, the walls are up (everyone wants to be a carpenter…) but never mind the water, lamps (electric or otherwise), sewage lines… You know. The IMPORTANT stuff… 🙂

  24. David Ulrich says:

    I agree with you, iMonk, that the whole paradigm has to be questioned “from fundamentals to details.” Many times I have “gone to church,” and I end up asking myself, “What in the world are we doing?” Is what we do as “church” anything like what the first century church did? Did they have a “youth pastor” who had to come up with cool programs and activities to get a lot of other teens to “come to church” too?

    I often imagine all the nonsensical “programs” and “ministries” that would instantly disappear if the church in America ever came under heavy persecution and we suffered like many of our brothers and sisters of the past and the many who presently suffer.

  25. charlie.hr says:

    David Ulrich…

    Have you read Frank Viola’s “Pagan Christianity?”?

    I also recomend “Reimaginig church” the constructive sequel to “Pagan”.

    God Bless.

  26. “It’s about a subversive, ‘on the go’ tribe of disciples doing life together intimately. If so, how do we do that?”

    That sounds like a lot of hype to me, personally.

    The reality of belonging to the Christian community is pretty mundane: living in a town and going to church and reading a Bible every so often.

    I’ve never met a “subversive, ‘on the go’ disciple” that ever had anything intimate to say to me – but I have met a lot of earnest, self-absorbed kids who want Theological Importance superadded to their journal entries and pedantic conversations with strangers.

    If you can point out to me the difference between them in the real world, I’ll think about buying what you’re selling.

  27. Peaches says:

    I think its useful to think of youth ministry ( and for that matter, adult ministry) as a process. Its necessary have some events and environments that bring marginal students into the ministry as well as events and environments that help move all of the students into a deeper relationship with Christ. Along the way, youth leadership must focus on helping students find a place in which they belong and find access to a caring, doctrinally sound adult who can help and mentor them along.

    It only lasts a few years. Only so much can come from a great youth ministry but when our kids have great high school experiences that don’t have staying power, we have failed to help them establish godly roots. Ultimately we have failed at youth ministry.

    Too many youth ministers are evaluated by the numbers this week and not by the outcomes, five and ten years on.

    Either or thinking and static models are doomed by their nature.

  28. Chad Rushing says:

    I think there are a large number of factors that go into the issues churches face with the “youth” (i.e., young adults).

    1) Nearly every aspect of American popular culture sets young adults against their parents (and the older generations in general) rather than encouraging understanding, cooperation, and continuity. Most teenagers shaped by our culture want all the freedoms that bona fide adults have but absolutely none of the responsibilities that come with those freedoms. When I told a Chinese friend of the parent/teenager conflict that is so ubiquitous to our culture, she was flabberghasted. (This same Chinese friend told me she could not think of a single Chinese couple she knew that had gotten a divorce; talk about a stark contrast.)

    2) Far too many Christian parents operate in “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” mode, and young adults are disgusted by the hypocrisy they see on a daily basis. How many teenagers have seen their parents act all nice to people at the service and then badmouth those same people all the way home or over Sunday dinner? Or how many teenagers have seen their parents “clean up” the house, hiding anything possibly “incriminating,” before the pastor comes over to visit? If that kind of two-faced behavior is what Christianity (or church membership) is about, who needs it?

    3) Many congregations, especially ones that lean towards the older demographics, either do not know what to do with young adults or frankly do not care. They really are not interested in these people until they get married and start having kids. Once again, this might just be a symptom of the intergenerational disconnect. Youth ministers are hired in order to keep those rowdy “youth” entertained and out of the hair of the rest of the church. The “youth” are like the black sheep of the church family to be tolerated until they grow out of it. How many churches have the designated teenager corner in the auditorium where they all talk, pass notes (or send text messages), and cut up throughout every service? I know because I was one of them.

    4) Most young adults these days find their role models outside of the church (entertainers, athletes, etc.) rather than in it, so leaving the church once they reach a certain age is a given if they are to pursue those aspirations. How many young adults do you know who aspire to be a deacon, an elder, or a Sunday School teacher when they grow up?

    5) Most teenagers do not see any kind of connection between what they learn in church classes and the way the “real world” works. That is, the Bible is not presented in its historical context in such a way that they learn that these “stories” are historical accounts of real people living in real countries under real governments and experiencing real events influenced by a real God. When I took Greek Mythology in junior high, the otherworldy tales featured did not seem much more outlandish than what I had been taught in Sunday School, since little or no historical context had been provided. In their minds, every biblical account starts with, “Once upon a time.” It is like Gould’s proposed NOMA: Teenagers learn about the “real world” on school days and learn about the “religious world” on Sundays. Eventually, they decide the moral imperatives associated with the latter cramp their style, so they jettison it at first chance.

    I could probably think of more factors, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.

  29. Is it necessarily an EITHER-OR issue, choosing between large, crowd-drawing ministries and smaller, discipleship-intense ministries? Is it not rather a matter of tailoring our efforts to reach various students where they are at and moving them along in the process of deeper discipleship?

    Can we not use crowd-attracting events for outreach and then have deeper-discipleship training for the more committed, core kids?

    I wonder what all of your thoughts are on Saddleback’s concentric circles of different target audiences? They have different ministry “programs” geared to move teens over time from being a mere spectator to sold out disciples of Christ. They have various events/programs to minster to COMMUNITY, CROWDS, CONGREGATION, COMMITTED and CORE kids.

    With that said, I agree that we should put most of our good time and effort into the few, committed students who are serious about growing in discipleship to Christ.

  30. My wife and I were talking a bit yesterday while the kiddos were playing at the camp’s playground. Do we really want our kids to be a part of a youth program that espouses the gospel of morality? Peer pressuring the kids into what music to listen to (or not), what movies and television to watch (or not), and what to read (or not)?

    I like the Youth Pastor who heads the children’s ministries where the kids go every week. I really do. His heart is in the right place, I think, and his door is open to all sorts of kids (youth) wherever they are in their journeys. But I really don’t want my kids to be taking a sledge hammer to their CDs that the other kids say are evil, especially after their parents (my wife and I) have approved of their choices.

    I agree there is a time for freedom and choices. But these should be about finding life and truth. Not because some album is by some midriff-and-navel-piercing baring young woman who is also trying to find her place in the big scheme of things.

    Who knows how I’ll feel when my kids get beyond High School Musical and Harry Potter? But to tell my kids that HSM is bad because the star sent some nudie pictures to her friends…? We all do and have done stuff we’re not proud of. And I can give her the same grace I’d give my kids if they thought of doing something like that.

    I don’t know. I just see a youth program as another attempt to cloister and protect our kids from the real world, instead of actually parenting them through failures and hurts.

  31. Ky Boy but not now says:

    “But to tell my kids that HSM is bad because the star sent some nudie pictures to her friends…?”

    When we go there we have to go to where we don’t watch any movies or TV. It is very hard to find any “media” where a character hasn’t done similar or worse in their personal life.

    This is what bugs me about most of these types of “boycotts”. They are selectively blind.

  32. i really liked Shaun’s reply – a ton of really doable talking/thinking points. I’ve got seven children, and the oldest is 13. We’re kind of at a crossroads as our church just recently got a pastor (after almost two years with none, just struggling, limping, hurting along). The church is kind of coming back to life/waking up and deciding what it wants..

    Reservations i have about youth group are the same as my reservations about institutional church. Does it somehow claim to replace a real relationship with Jesus? I grew up in pentecostal church and for SURE if you came to youth every week and were involved in the extra credit cheer squad you were a Christian. If it didn’t speak to you, any of it – you weren’t. Well, i loved Jesus, i loved His Word. I wanted to be a Christian, but nothing about youth appealed to me after the age of about 14. (Until then, i liked the fun activities and trips :)…)I was hardcore into jazz, science fiction, philosophy, and i hated the soft logic and appeals to emotion that ruled that particular brand of youth group… I knew that God was not only good, and loved me, but that HE was powerful and the source of all knowledge and logic. So why was the church all about pastel colored guilt trips?

    I don’t want my children to define their spiritual journey by mandatory attendance in a building. I also am not hugely comfortable with the leadership (they say 30% of men in church have a porn addiction) – nuff said.

    What i would like to do is find a way to both cultivate friendships for my children with other children from Christian families, and also to cultivate relationships with people who are not Christian yet. And i would like my children to consider the spiritual component of any friendship they have… i think service is a good way to do this… I feel like missions trips are just fun times for rich folk sometimes 🙂 – but i know that for some people, it can be a life changing thing, and i don’t want to say no to anything that might be a way my children finally *see* who God is, and what they are made for…

  33. Thanks mamazee! I was starting to think everyone just skipped over my post because is was too loooooooooooooong.

  34. There are good, dedicated youth ministers out there—many. However, far too often I’ve seen youth ministers who are young men who can’t seem to get their lives organized, don’t really want to grow up but enjoy “hanging out” with similarly immature teens doing whatever things are “hip” at the moment and figure that they can keep hanging out and not really accomplishing anything while at the same time feeling like they’re somehow serving God. They have no life experience of their own, they take a few courses at a Christian college and voila, they’re suddenly the shepherd for teenagers, many of which will actually be more balanced and mature than the youth pastors. This is not meant to be an indictment of youth ministers in particular—lots of pastors in general go that route because they can’t do anything else. Either way, the result is shallow Christianity. As one observer has said on another website, we have a church a mile wide but an inch deep. We need age appropriate discipleship for youth, but the shepherds should be well established Christians with deep Biblical understanding and life experience—-they are the ones, contrary to what popular culture says (“if it’s old, it’s not worth considering”) that will actually be most respected and most impactful on youth development. A handful of deep disciples is better than a stadium full of shallow and immature ones.

  35. I am Fahim Qaiser from Pakistan . I have studied your web site, and I found it the most wonderful site to get right to the True Word of God. My suggestion for you is to create your material in my language of Urdu and Punjabi also. It will bring lots of blessings of the Word of God for the Pakistani and Indian Urdu and Punjabi speaking people. For that purpose I as a translator will bring your material into Urdu languages and into Punjabi language as well.
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    Sincerely,
    Fahim Qaiser ( Pakistan ).