Youth Ministry: Daycare or Boot Camp?

Teenagers are fascinating.  After spending five years in youth ministry, they never stop amazing me. So often we write off students as dysfunctional, clueless, and rebellious.  However, over the course of this summer I've been amazed by students who take on responsibility, demonstrate the character of Christ, and serve in ministry at their local churches. Here are a few things that have just left me in awe of God this summer.

  • At my last church, the current youth ministry leaders are students in their late teens who I discipled and trained.  They are currently doing all the teaching, planning, organizing, and ministry.
  • Students at Forest Hills Baptist Church have given up their summer for ministry.  Whether it is visitation, making decorations for VBS, teaching children at VBS, or leading Bible Study.  They keep stepping up to the plate taking to heart 1 Timothy 4:12.
  • Last week was Youth Week 2013: The Search for Truth. After asking several students from different churches what their favorite part of the week was, I kept getting the same answer: The Breakout Session. Now if you click through and see all the breakout sessions that were offered, they covered some deep and difficult issues.  Classes like "How to Share the Gospel with an Atheist" or "Biblical Womanhood" or "What is Truth?" The amazing thing is these students loved these deep classes.  They want to be grounded in what they believe.  They want someone to treat them like adults and engage deeply and honestly about difficult issues.
  • As I'm serving as the Interim Senior Pastor/Youth Pastor at FHBC, a team of six students have stepped up to help plan, lead, and organize the youth ministry for the fall.  They will be doing things from managing our youth twitter to teaching on wednesday night.

Who says students are spiritually incompetent? This summer I have seen God use young people powerfully. As Alvin Reid says, we must learn to Raise the Bar for our youth ministries.  When we disciple young people with the truth of the Gospel and train them as leaders and then empower them for leadership, I believe young people will continue to surprise us.  I praise God for His work in these students lives.  One of the ways I measure "success" in my own ministry is when disciples I've trained start making other disciples.  That is happening, and it is incredibly humbling.  As I sit back and watch God work in our church and these students lives, I'm humbled at the power of God who takes the unexpected and does the remarkable.

Churches must begin to look at their youth ministries not as an adolescent day care services but a bootcamp preparing young people for advancing the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

  • Daycare babysits kids and keeps them out of trouble. Boot camp pushes, trains, and equips.
  • Daycare treats kids as consumers, always entertaining. Boot camp is hard work and teaches discipline.
  • Daycare prepares you for nothing. Boot camp prepares you for war.
  • Daycare is a waste of time. Boot Camp has a mission and purpose.

What kind of youth ministry is your church building? Are you baby sitting students until college or are you equipping the future ministry leaders for the decades to come? Are you just fostering the poisonous atmosphere of consumer Christianity or are you training soldiers for war?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!