The Gospel Coalition

Youth ministry is easy to criticize, deserved or not. Many youth pastors who serve out of a gospel-fueled desire to see the emerging generations find their identity in Christ while growing as faithful disciples. So as churches and parents continue to prayerfully seek faithful ways to minister to teenagers, we must resist stereotypes.



I offer the following comments to begin dialogue around dinner tables and staff meetings to help us think constructively and positively about youth ministry. 


1. It is real ministry. 

Do not ask your youth pastor when he's going to become a "real pastor" unless you want to test his sanctification. Youth ministry is real ministry, filled with teaching, counseling, leadership development, and most of the other challenges and blessings other areas of ministry enjoy.   

2. Gospel-centered youth ministry aims at seeing youth become committed to Christ and the local church.

This is a goal your entire church can (and should) get behind. Ministry to teenagers is not the sole responsibility of the youth ministry.

3. Teenagers make easy targets—please remember their lives are as complicated as yours. 

You wouldn't want teens to make broad generalizations about what adults are like. So do not speak of them this way, especially from the pulpit. If you use teenagers as an example in your sermon, please make it a positive one—otherwise you risk making them targets who will tune out anything else you have to say in the future. 

4. Invest in your youth pastor. 

Most youth pastors are young, and most young adults have never been intentionally mentored. Take care of him and his family (spiritually, personally, and financially). There are many reasons the turnover rate for youth pastors is so high; I am convinced if more churches were intentionally investing in the youth pastors, there would be far more stability.

5. Don't lock the youth in the youth room. 

Too many students grow up going to church and then attend "youth church" and never make the transition to "big church" once they graduate. Do not train them to think they only belong in gathered worship once they become parents. Otherwise they may never make that leap when they are. 

6. Fun is not the enemy. 

Sure, many youth ministries build on fun the same way many churches build on entertainment and self-help. Just because there are games involved as part of the youth group meeting, do not jump to the conclusion there is no spiritual depth.

7. Attend a few youth ministry events per year. 

Let the youth pastor know you will be coming ahead of time so he is not too surprised, and so he does not feel like he is being scrutinized. Go to support and encourage! Show the youth that they matter by just being there and learning a few students' names. Pastors, if you are just a talking head up front on Sunday, then how will you know how to preach to them? And why do you think they will listen to you? 

8. Your youth ministry probably reflects your church's culture more than you realize.

The same way that trends in youth culture both reflect and foreshadow where the broader culture is heading, your youth ministry probably reflects the same thing in your church. Do not expect to see greater things in the youth ministry than are happening in the church in general and homes in particular. 

9. Strong youth ministry will build up families. 

Parents cannot afford to delegate their spiritual responsibility to the youth ministry. Youth ministry cannot afford to ignore the significant effect parents have (for good and for bad) on their kids' spiritual development. Parents also cannot afford to neglect the need for other godly adults to influence their teenagers. Youth ministry ought to be the bridge that connects the church and the home.


Comments:

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July 19, 2013 at 04:01 AM

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Ryan

July 19, 2013 at 01:53 PM

#1 is huge. I struggle to think of an element more damaging to contemporary youth ministry than youth pastors who see their position as a rung on the pastoral ladder - a stepping stone to "real ministry." This unfortunately usually involves leaving their flock out to dry as soon as something more their speed comes along.

Jon Stallings

July 18, 2013 at 12:33 PM

We are about to go through a Youth Pastor change so this timely.

I think it is also important to be sure and allow the Youth Pastor in other areas of Church Life. The congregation needs to see them as a true "Associate / Staff" Pastor.

Jaycen

July 18, 2013 at 11:38 AM

#9 should be #1 if this is list is ordered by biblical standards and importance. Get #9 right and Youth Ministry (YM) is gravy as Mom and Dad are responsible for the meat and potatoes (evangelism and discipleship) of a child's walk (Deut. 6:1-10, Eph. 5:15-6:4).

As a former youth pastor, I can attest for the traps that many fall into all around. This stems from 30+ years of the church telling parents "we're the experts, leave them to us..." and (like in my previous situation) pastor's who allow parents to abdicate their God-commanded responsibilities to some 20-something because it fills the parking lot and kid's have fun rather than hold them responsible for what God has called them to do.

It's only now that the church sees the fruit of a ministry model mandated nowhere in scripture. That "fruit" is kids leaving the church as early as high school in droves. If we look to a biblical model aside from Deut. 6:1-10, Eph. 5:15-6:4 we even see provision made in scripture for kids whose parents are absent. Paul and Timothy is a great example of how saints in the church should help mentor these young blessings from God. It also highlights the church's duty to go out and evangelize. It's one thing to explain the Gospel to a teen. Anyone who's honest will tell you it's a whole lot more intimidating to do so with Mom and Dad.

In all of this, don't forget the youth pastor. Personally, many a problems could be solved if churches adhered to Paul's requirements for a pastor (1 Tim. 3). Young, inexperienced youth pastors are more than prime targets for the enemy to wreck a church. The most common stems from sexual temptations due to closeness in age proximity. One particular trap that I fell into (as do many Sr. pastors) is lacking the spiritual maturity to not forsake my wife and family for ministry. Some pastors wear it like a badge that they "sacrifice their families for the ministry", though it disqualifies one from the office of pastor. Thankfully God awakened me to my sin, I repented, asked my wife for forgiveness and our marriage is stronger today because of Him seeing us through it.

I just wonder when the church will humbly conceded that YM was never biblically mandated as it is structured in the majority of churches today (not all). Many argue that "we need to get tough...stop playing around...reform youth ministry..." That has been the mantra for the last 10 years, yet still the original goal of YM to create a generation with a Christian world view has never come to pass after over 40+ years.

Maybe it's because "to reform" something means to take it back to its biblical roots, to which there are none for the current model of YM.

Soli Deo Gloria!

JS

Jaycen

July 18, 2013 at 10:10 PM

Amen brother, we do need each other. I think Bethlehem Church (Piper's church) has an outstanding YM model to build on. Take that model and add The Gospel Project curriculum and now we're talking. When I asked the FIC folks about something like Piper's approach they don't discredit it, but take the position that YM can be like a cancer. In other words, why risk letting something in that has proven disastrous over the last 40+ years with a 80% failure rate. I can see both sides.

Paul Cummings

July 18, 2013 at 08:31 AM

This is more than simply "spot on" it should be required reading. Thank you.

Mike McGarry

July 18, 2013 at 07:57 PM

Hi Jaycen, let me start off by saying I agree with most if what you've written here. I placed this as number nine nit in order to give it last place, but because this seems to be the majority stance by TGC readers. The bond between church, family, and youth ministry is actually something I'm hoping to address in a future article; it's also the focal topic of my doctoral thesis, which I'm currently writing while on sabbatical this summer. All that's to say I totally agree with you that if you take #9 out then you're missing a foundational element for biblical ministry to the next generation.

With that said, I'm also very concerned about the growing Family Integrated Church Movement and the low place that the church is given in ministry to teens. That's a bigger issue than I care to address in a comment here, but that's the main stance I've seen coming across on this site by commenters, so that's really the issue I was trying to clarify. The family is essential, but we need our entire church family to come together in ministry to our youth. Unfortunately, this is often verbally affirmed, but functionally denied by the way some youth ministries and families live.

Thanks for the comment and for raising the issue that this partnership really is essential - we need each other. The body of Christ is a beautiful reality.