Guest Blogger: Dave Hinkley (Director of Children and Youth Ministry)

I don’t like to read youth ministry books. I love my work with young people at University Reformed Church, and I want to do it well, and I even hunger for the encouragement and sharpening of brethren who have faithfully done this work before me. But with very few exceptions what I have read of this rather large sub-genre has been discouraging. There is a lot of talk about best methods, a lot of talk about cool style, and lots more critique of those same methods and style. There is precious little about actually blowing on the embers of a young person’s faith. I’m thankful for (although I haven’t read yet) Brian Cosby’s Giving Up Gimmicks, I hope it’s the start of a trend.

Given the dearth of helpful resources, I thought it might be nice to compile a few observations from my own ministry that may be helpful to you in yours. I hope they are edifying.

1.  Relationships matter much more than coolness.

I hope your church is past the myth that the best ministers are young and hip. The best ministers are those who love the gospel of grace and are eager for young people to love it, too. The ‘type’ of person who does that really doesn’t matter. My most effective volunteers have been old ladies, young moms and awkward post college sci-fi nerds. All cool in their own way no doubt, but none of them shop at Hot Topic. Young people’s hearts are spoken to through trust and not through coolness, so make trustworthiness your goal above “relevance”.

2.  Gaining the trust of parents is one of the most important parts of the job.

This is for two very practical reasons: one, they aren’t going to send their kids to anything you do if they don’t trust you and two, the closer you can get to leading a ministry that is actually conducted by the parents for the kids and their friends, the better.

You may be a very godly and theological person, even very experienced in ministry, but if the parents in the congregation feel weird about you, your ministry to young people will never get off the ground. Don’t expect trust to just happen because of your qualifications, and don’t resent parents when they don’t give it. Just get to work earning it.

Good parents are very concerned with:

  • The guarding of their children’s hearts,
  • The faithfulness of what is being taught to their kids, and
  • That their own authority and role in their child’s life is honored.

Do whatever you have to do to honor these concerns. Show deference to parents regarding what topics are discussed. Make opportunities beforehand to introduce parents to what will be covered in your Bible studies or talks. Think about the social climate of your group? Are kids mean to each other? How is that handled by the adults? Let the parents you work with know that you want to do whatever you can to help them foster faith in Christ in their children. (Emphasis on the words help them.)

3.  Center your ministry on the word of God.

If we aren’t gathering these kids together to deepen their understanding of and trust in God’s word then we really shouldn’t bother. I’m not saying don’t do fun activities or fellowship in other ways; I am saying if your fellowship is not a means to greater discipleship to God and His Word, then you’re doing it wrong.

Don’t be afraid to go deep. With a little work on your part to translate, kids can understand pretty much any doctrine you want to talk about with them. What is more, they respond very well to being treated like they have a valued opinion on eternal matters. If you challenge kids to think deeply about the essential truths of our faith, they can and will grow.

Bottom line: if we are not presenting to them the glory and worthiness of Christ as He is presented to us in God’s inspired Word, we are wasting everyone’s time with mere activity. We want our kids to lift their eyes and hearts to Him in worship and experience the joy and freedom of the gospel. This isn’t going to happen if we spend an hour and 50 minutes seeing how many marshmallows can possibly go into their mouths and then 10 minutes on how God wants us to be good people.

4.  Give more thought and attention to the above things than to your youth ministry model.

We waste a lot of time fretting over structure and procedure. The main problem with your youth ministry is not that it is not fun enough. Your church can have a valuable youth ministry to the 4 or 400 students you have if the ministry is about going deep into the word of God in the context of trust and relationships. Outreach-centered or family-centered, catechism class or youth group; be about getting at the gospel and the transforming Word of God, and love the kids God has put in your church.

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Comments:


31 thoughts on “Some Advice for Youth Ministers”

  1. Michael says:

    Great to hear other youth ministers saying things like this! We need more Calebs and Joshuas with our young people teaching them what true faith really looks like. Glad that we are on the same team. Keep fighting the good fight. 2 Chron. 15:7

  2. Nathan says:

    Two thumbs up!

  3. Emily says:

    Great thoughts on youth ministry! One thing I’d like to add/question is on #2(parents). A lot of the teens in my husband’s youth ministry come from homes where the parents do not come to church. They have no concern (at least none that we are aware of) with their child’s spiritual development. What’s more, a good majority of the parents that ARE in our church, seem to not show much concern for what we are teaching their students either. I mean, we have parents who NEVER come to our youth Bible studies to check out what’s being said to their kids.
    Can you recommend a resource or give any advice on how to encourage parents (at least the ones who do come to church) to take a more active role in their children’s spiritual development?

  4. Joshua says:

    As a non-cool youth pastor, let me just say thank you for these Christ-oriented, encouraging words.

  5. Blake Scheidt says:

    Kevin,
    I agree with most of what you said. There is a strong tendency to higher and be the cool youth pastor who attracts kids to him and not Chist. So, i want to thank you for validating the Gospel & how that is what needs to be the center. My one concern is that i am a youth pastor in a at-risk community urban context in baltimore city. Parent involvement is not much if at all. How do i strengthen my church youth group with kids who have no dad’s and mothers who are working or just trying to get a break from their kids? Thanks Blake.

  6. Joseph Romeo says:

    Excellent. Thank you very much.

  7. David Brinkley says:

    I agree with your main points here but I have been in youth ministry is some capacity for almost 13 years and I find that youth ministry veterans today would echo these. I would be curious what youth ministry books you surveyed and which ones you left out that do a good job of talking about the same things you are talking about. Your three main points are great but I would argue that ministry models do matter and that you can go deep and be relevant to teens at the same time.

  8. Blake Law says:

    “Bottom line: if we are not presenting to them the glory and worthiness of Christ as He is presented to us in God’s inspired Word, we are wasting everyone’s time with mere activity.”

    And I would add, we may be reinforcing a deadly belief that spending time doing “good things” with other kids makes you a “good person”. Without the sharpness of the Word of God front and center, how easy it is to create the impression of moralistic, therapeutic deism (to borrow a term from elsewhere).

  9. Katie Young says:

    Well said, Dave! Thanks for the important work you do.

  10. tyler says:

    good job dave !! food for thought

  11. Judy says:

    Just yes to all of this – so that lives will changed by the power of God’s Word.

  12. Brad Beals says:

    As a URC parent of a few youth-ers, I can say that Mr. Hinkley is–week in and out–putting these points to good practice. We love you, Dave.

  13. Thanks for your excellent suggestions for Christ centered ministry!

  14. Laura says:

    I’ve had several youth pastors in the past…most of them were young, but not necessarily “cool” by a worldly definition. It seems like our church couldn’t keep a youth pastor for long. Could I add a piece of advice for youth pastors? Commitment is needed. I would have loved it if I’d had a steady youth pastor who would get to know us and grow with us.
    Other than that, I think this is some awesome advice and I’m reposting it to Athenians, a Christian news aggregator. Check out the discussion surrounding it at http://www.athenians.info/stories/4-tips-for-youth-ministers-don-t-play-around

  15. Matt says:

    I wonder if someone in “youth ministry” could tell the Church what happened in the mid-20th century to make “youth” ministry (over and against “pastoral” ministry) so necessary?

    Where in the Bible do you get a sense that we should divide the church up demographically (youth, children, singles, college and career, etc.) like a corporate marketing and advertising team?

    Why do children (and youths) grow-up in churches and don’t know their parents’ pastor (and more significantly, the pastor doesn’t know the parents) but have their ‘own’ pastor… who doesn’t have responsibility to shepherd parents?

    And, since most Youth pastors are in their 20′s (in fact that’s seen as the ‘selling point’ to most – young, cool, easily identifiable, etc.) what could they possibly offer that the 45 y.o. dad could offer – all things being equal.

    Youth pastors are the outgrowth of a poor (and unbiblical) ecclesiology and cultural captivity to 1950′s – now “youth culture” it seems to me.

  16. David Brinkley says:

    Matt,

    I think your comments are poor generalizations of the way youth ministry runs in man churches. I am in a network of youth pastors and the MINORITY are in their 20′s and over half I know are 35+ with growing families. We are a multi-generational church that does missions and outreach as a group where students and adults work side by side…I think there should be a balance between working with or without age segregated small groups. Would you also argue that children should never be separated and if so, how would you accomplish that in a large church?(we have over 500 active members) Finally, I would argue the NT model is multiple elders and not a single pastor so if the issue is not knowing the “senior” pastor we might argue that your ecclesiology is “unbiblical or poor.” I do think you raise some valid concerns but I would argue youth ministry has tackled many of these already in places I serve and read about and I am not sure over generalizing these trends helps the discussion.

  17. Matt says:

    David,

    Generalizations, yes. Poor? Not so sure. If I scroll around the web and look at our suburban churches and their websites – any 20-30 at random – and look at the pics/bios of ‘youth pastors’ the impression is pretty clear: the “cool” factor in hiring a young man (or woman) is unmistakable.

    I do not doubt there are faithful men out there. That’s not the question. The question (for me at least): Does partitioning off our young men and women from the wisdom of their parents (and their friends parents) promote extended adolescence and immaturity. I think any objective observer – especially one with any sense of history – would have to answer unequivocally “yes.”

    This isn’t to say that all youth ministers are equally bad, bereft of all orthodox theology and practice or so on. It is to say that the idea is a bad one. Even secular sociologists and historians and cultural observers can notice what low-church evangelical church leaders can’t – this approach to youth ministry is bound-up with assumptions about “youth” and “ministry” that I can’t find in Scripture or history.

    Matt

  18. I would add: integrate apologetics with youth ministry. Don’t *merely* tell kids “the Bible says …”; explain to them what basis there is for trusting the Bible in the first place, why it’s rational and responsible to believe that God exists and that God raised Jesus from the dead, and so on, why common objections to Christian belief are unsuccessful, etc.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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