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!


5 Reasons Why Youth Ministry Can be Dangerous

 3369203086 6ebaba12d6 b

As a Student Pastor, I've spent a lot of time reading, studying, and doing youth ministry.  I've been doing this for several years now.  While I have been in the trenches of youth ministry, I have seen some huge potential dangerous in the youth ministry culture in America.  These dangers are real dangers that might even be found in your youth group.  To be honest, I see some of these dangers in my own.  Take an honest look  at five reasons why youth ministry can be dangerous:

1. Youth Ministry can cause Parents to Outsource Discipleship to Paid Professionals

Discipleship is first and foremost the responsibility of Christian Moms and Dads.  Youth Ministry, originally created to be an evangelistic outreach to non-Christian teens has quickly become the new norm for discipling teens of Christian parents in the church.  Many Parents have the idea that if I just send my kid to youth group, then I am doing my job as a Christian parent.  However, nothing could be further than the truth.  The one who God will hold for the discipleship of your child is you.  God will hold Dads and Moms accountable for how they disciple their children. We have created a culture in our churches where we outsource discipleship to paid "Youth Ministry Professionals" and let them do all the work in discipling our children.  The only problem with that is the Bible.  You can't delegate discipling your teens to someone else, when it is God who expects you to do it. 

Many Youth Ministries try to disciple students without the involvement of the parents.  In fact, I have heard some youth pastors claim that parental involvement is a bad thing.  More than ever youth pastors need to see themselves as "Family Pastors" not "Youth Pastors".  A Youth Pastor must aim to disciple the whole family, not just the students.  Youth Ministries should aim to train parents to disciple their children for the glory of God.  Youth Pastor, if you are going to create lasting disciples, you need Godly parents who have been trained to take the lead on discipleship, and not just outsource it to you.

2. Youth Ministry can be a breading ground for Moralism devoid of the Gospel

Moralism is a constant danger in youth and children's ministries.  Many students leave well intentioned churches and youth ministries burned out on moralism.  They have heard the list of dos and don'ts and they are tired of it.  They've been taught not to have sex, not to get drunk, and not to lie, cheat, or steal.  They have been taught moralism without grace.  They have been taught Law without the Gospel. More than ever, we need youth ministries and youth pastors who will preach the Gospel into the lives of their students.  Students need to hear the Gospel and need Godly leaders who can help apply its truth to their lives.  Youth Pastors much always teach holiness, but it must always be understood in response to the Gospel, not in the place of it.  

3. Youth Ministry can Disconnect Students from the Rest of the Body

I love Paul's passage in 1 Corinthians 12 when he talks about the body of Christ.  Did you ever notice how many bodies Paul talks about in this passage?  Are their two?  Nope, just one.  A local church is one body, not two, not three, not four.  One of the greatest dangers of age segregated ministry, including youth ministry, is that we unhealthily divide the local church into multiple bodies of Christ.  A tendency in Youth Ministry is to alienate the students from the rest of the church.  As a youth ministries we have our own room, our own building, and our own services.  I've seen many youth ministries operate like a separate church within a church.  This is a unhealthy and Biblical way to do youth ministry.  As the body of Christ, we need each other, and this means we need a multi-generational approach to ministry.  

I love the ministry that is described in Titus 2. Older men are discipling younger men.  Older Woman are discipling younger women.  If we want Titus 2 to happen in our congregation than we must tear down this wall of division between youth ministry and the rest of the church.  Rather than creating a separate youth sub culture within our church, why not be the bridge to bring all generations together for the health of the body and for the advancement of the Gospel.  

4. Youth Ministry can become a "Safe Alternative" rather than Missional Training  

Youth Ministry becomes a "safe alternative" for students.  Rather than teaching students how to missionary engage with the world, we encourage them to leave their busy schedules and pick up the busy schedule of youth ministry.  However, busyness doesn't necessarily mean godliness.  Many youth ministries have activities that compete The authors from the book Creature of the Word write this about youth ministry:

All three of us serves in student ministry at one point in our ministries; therefore, we know that many churches put pressure on student leaders and ministries to "keep the kids busy" with a myriad of programs, events, and activities.  The motivation is to provide constant alternatives for students so that they are helped in avoiding the trappings of the world.  But busyness is not next to godliness.  Students don't need their social calendars planned; they need their hearts continually transformed. (pg.148) 

They would later write, "when the focus becomes the events or the activities rather than Jesus, the only thing that is changed is the calendar."  So often this turns into an entertainment model of ministry, devoid of the transforming power of the Gospel.  So often the trip to the theme park or the concert or the bowling ally become the focus of the youth ministry rather than the Gospel.  Youth Pastors  and ministries must see themselves as Gospel equippers not just alternative safe entertainment for teens.  

5. Youth Ministry has Proven Inconsistent at Making Long Term Disciples of Jesus

One of the great critiques of Youth Ministry the past few decades is that Youth Ministry has failed in producing long term disciples of Jesus.  Statistically, this has proven true time and time again.  This indicates that something about the current direction of youth ministry is failing in its purpose to produce disciples.  I believe some of these dangers listed in this blog are a reason why youth ministry is floundering in producing life long disciples of Jesus.  Many other leaders in Youth Ministry are beginning to recognize that as well.  Wayne Rice, one of the founding members of Youth Specialties said this:

We got what we wanted.  We turned youth ministry into the toy department of the church.  Churches now hire professionals to lead youth ministry.  We go relevance but we created a generation of teenagers who are a mile wide and are an inch deep. (Cited)

In Youth Ministry we need are renewed focus on teaching our students the entirety of the Scriptures.  We need to give them the Gospel first and foremost.  Although Youth Ministry does have some potentially dangerous problems, I still believe that it can be used powerfully to disciple and train students.  As a fellow Youth Pastor, I have seen some these dangerous even in my own youth group.  However, we must remember that because we love these students, sometimes we must give them what they need and not what they want.  What they need more than anything is the glorious Gospel of our Lord Jesus.  Let's proclaim it to them!

What are some dangers that you have seen in youth ministry? How can we correct these dangers in the life of our churches?  Love to hear your thoughts in the comments!