“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Youth And Children Ministries

Before I get into this post, may I say that I have worked with youth for 16 years, and love them dearly, but something smells in Youth Ministry nowadays and I wanted to briefly post my thoughts on it.

First, I would highly recommend a series that Dan Edelen recently posted on the 21st Century church... While you may not agree with everything he has to say, there are some thought-provoking ideas in the series.

In that series Dan did a section that addressed Youth Pastors, and I heartily agree with his assessment.

As I said, I have worked with youth for a while, and I know that everything that has happened in youth ministry is not awful, but there are some trends which do not bode well.

First let me start with the positive things:

1. There have been numerous occasions in our youth ministry where someone has begun to attend church BECAUSE they could attend the Youth Ministry and connect with the others of their age group. In our post-Christian world I think it is naive to say that parents should catechize their children, when the parents as Biblically illiterate as the children. So, if a young person wants to come to church and be ministered too INITIALLY within the framework of a youth ministry, then that is a good thing.

2. I have seen instances where Youth have gone into the Mission Field, or another area of ministry because of the influence of their youth pastor. These youth pastors can be of great, and positive influence, especially in today's society where they might be the ONLY parental influence in a young persons life!

3. Youth Groups can be a place where the gifts of a young person can be examined; i.e. if a young person has a talent on guitar, it is nice to be able to disciple them in a youth setting, enabling them to use their talents at various functions as they mature into a person who could then be placed in a worship team setting.

Now -- what do I see as a problem? Here goes, and I am going to probably miss a few, but bear with me:

1. Youth Groups have become places where adults are unwelcome, becoming so self-centered that there is no longer a focus on the Word of God, and making disciples; but rather on all of the FUN we can have when together. Some of the activities which I have seen are: disgusting rituals akin to Fear Factor, music being promoted that has nothing in it glorifying to God, rather it is simply feeding the flesh, and a frightening 'New Age-like' focus.

2. Too much dependence on groups such as Youth Specialities, and GROUP for lessons and ideas, rather than the Bible being the basis. Some of these groups promote practices which any Christian parent should be uncomfortable with, such as 'centering' exercises etc. This also makes a Youth person lazy, and unchallenged in their own life (been there, done that).

3. An artificial separation of the Body of Christ into specific 'age-appropriate' groups (see my post on elders), which fosters a sense of division within even the same church body; with one group having this event, and another group having that event, and never does the entire body gather for a time of corporate worship. This is exacerbated by the foolishness of 'biblezines' such as Refuel, Revolve, etc. Or maybe these 'zines are the direct result of an unhealthy focus on youth in our churches.

4. Parents see the Youth Pastor as the 'spiritual leader' of their teens, abdicating their responsibility as the leader in their home. I saw this same thing in Awana when I attended a church that sponsored it. They claimed to be reaching the community, but the reality was that we were the dumping ground for children while mom and dad went out and had a nice, quiet dinner. When parents identify the Youth Pastor as the 'spiritual' person in the life of their teens, they have failed in one of their primary roles as a parent -- teaching their children about their faith.

5. And we now see churches FILLED with adults who are as spiritually immature as their teens, because they always attended the Youth Group, but never actually got discipled, and many of these adults never had their faith modeled at home, so we are propagating this mistake into the next generation. As Pastors, I believe one of our primary duties is to teach parents that THEY are to teach their children about their faith, NOT giving that responsibility to someone else!

Finally, I am not trying to make a big comment on the 'Emergent Church', but much of what I have seen from them is 'youth group' like. It seems that many of them are nothing more than large youth groups gone amok. While I do not think that every 'Emergent' church is like that, most of the conversations I have had with friends in the EC and my limited experience with them smacks of people raised in a youth group atmosphere, and never actually GROWING UP (read that -- reaching maturity).

They are big on events/'alternative' worship, and coarse language and the usual things that youth do to shock the system of their elders, and often light on content. Now, before you roast me on a spit; I am sure that this does not define the EC as a whole, but it certainly does touch upon some of the movement. And I believe that many involved in these churches are the product of too much youth group fun and not enough Biblical instruction.

How do we make Youth Groups work again -- read Dan Edelen's article! :-)

Also, how about bringing the youth out of the group and into the Body at large? Make them part of the body, not an appendage hanging out there in the 'fun zone' while the rest of us fall asleep in the pew week after week. And parents -- help out the youth folks, will you? Don't leave the spiritual well-being to them, YOU are supposed to be raising your children up with the understanding of the faith. While we understand that there are many youth who come to church sans parents, and these we have to disciple, the parents who attend church need to be the spiritual leaders for their children. The youth pastor has enough on his hands, don't abdicate your role!

Well, it is Sunday evening, and I am probably rambling -- so I will finish this... I would like to reiterate that I do not think that Youth Groups are AWFUL, but that they have become something they were never intended to be, and that is, a social club rather than a place where we assist parents in developing and discipling young Christians.


Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

I think you have really hit the nail on the head with youth ministry. I have seen this myself when I was a member of several youth groups.

Youth ministry seems so problematic that I almost wonder if it is worth salvaging.

Every Blessing in Christ


Ray said...

Yeah -- I agree, that is the tough question:

Do we scrap it, and start over or what?

However, as I stated in the post -- I have seen good things out of this...

Dan Edelen said...


Thanks for the link and the fine expansion of the ideas that you put forth.

When I was at Wheaton College in the early 1990s, I had done youth ministry for ten years already. Upset at the lack of spiritual development I saw in teens as they moved into adulthood, I knew there had to be a better way. With youth ministry an outgrowth of industrialism, it should reason that if we look at what life was like before the Industrial Revolution hit us, we'd have a better idea of what was working up till that time. There is nothing new under the sun!

The best option is a sex-based discipleship/catechism program that involves parents plus the men and women in the church. Ultimately, we are all responsible for the youth in our churches. The challenging kid is almost as much my responsibility as his parents. We never think along those lines, though. Instead, we chide parents of difficult kids and ultimately drive them out of our assemblies, compounding our problems.

Keep up the good blogging!

Ray said...

Dan -- Thanks so much for stopping by! I thought your series was excellent BTW...

I agree -- we have lost the sense of 'community', and have become a business to the peril of our children and others.

And I REALLY disagree with the myriad divisions created within the church -- age, marital status, health etc. enable us to pick and choose whom we fellowship with, and many are never challenged by looking at a different viewpoint at all...

The church needs to regain its sense of community -- but, you covered that much better than I could in your series... :-)

Charlie Wallace said...

great read. I you have not, pick up a copy of Dr. Alvin Reid's book "Raising the Bar" as well as Dr. David Allen Black's book "The Myth of Adolescence" - both are good at re-thinking how to biblically do youth and and are very similar to what you have espoused.

Ray said...

Charles -- Thanks for the recommendations... I will file them in my ever-increasing folder of 'Books That I Need to Read'...


Thanks for visiting...

BugBlaster said...

Thanks Ray. I think you must have unknowingly done a mind meld with my wife and me when you lived in Canada, because you're saying what we are thinking and observing. (saw you mention Canada at Challies... wheareabouts did you live?)

Ray said...

Thanks for the feedback Bugs!

I didn't actually live there, just went up VERY frequently (almost weekly for about three years), Kanata is the town I stayed in mostly, but some time in Ottawa, and Vancouver as well as Toronto, and even a Yellow Knife excursion!

I have not forgotten the Feasts series we discussed, I still plan on doing it, just trying to get it all together...