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!


Should Christian Teenagers Date?

The Bible doesn't talk a lot specifically about dating.  There is a reason for that.  Dating is a very new practice in the history of humanity.  The idea of choosing someone to go out and spend one on one time with outside of a marriage commitment is still very new.  In biblical times, there was no "dating".  As a result, there is no passage that instructs specifically how Christians should handle the issue of dating.  However, the Bible does share many truths and theological principles that help us think Biblically when it comes to modern cultural issues like dating.  My fear is that many single Christians think about dating, relationships, and marriage just like the world.  There is a great failure of building our thinking about dating on the Word of God.
As a youth pastor, I get a front row seat to the morally murky waters of teenage dating.  Last night at my youth group I taught from 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.  This passage describes a distinction between the people of God and the unbeliever.  Paul gives us the command to not be unequally yoked with an unbeliever and concludes this section in 7:1 where he tells us to cleanse our self from worldly defilement and pursue holiness through fear of the Lord.  As I taught this passage I made applications to teenage dating and relationships.  However before I started teaching this passage I shared my own personal opinions about teenage dating for Christians.  Although it is not necessarily a sin to date in middle school or high school, I argued that dating in middle school and high school is very unwise and a risk that should be avoided until you are ready to be married.  I know how radically counter cultural that sounded to my teenagers who seem to be in a new dating relationship every other week. However, here are my reasons.

1. Your primary focus should be on your relationship with God.  Dating can distract you.

Dating can be so distracting for Christian teenagers.  I watch them as they gossip about who is dating who.  Who broke up with this person.  There is a massive amount of emotional and intellectual engagement about the dating life of their peers.  It seems that teens are either working on getting a date, currently dating someone, or recovering from a breakup. Singleness seems to be taboo in teenage culture.
For the Christian teenager this whole business of dating can be very distracting.  As Christians, our primary focus, especially in our single years, should be on our relationship with God.  Rather than spending their energy pursuing the Lord, they are distracted by the dating culture.  Rather than spending their evening in prayer with the Lord, the spend it texting their girl friend. (FYI, Teens don't talk on the phone anymore, they just text)  Teenage dating is unwise because it can distract you from pursuing the Lord.

2. You place yourself into unnecessary temptation and sin.  Dating can defile you.

Our bodies naturally long for physical and sexual intimacy.  Teenage dating unnecessarily puts the Christian in temptation and possible sin.  It is like playing with fire.  This is why kissing always lead to more intense kissing.  Teenagers who are sexually charged with hormones as it is, put themselves at risk when they pair off and isolate each other.  Building intimacy without commitment is dangerous.  I can't tell you the number of Christian teenagers I've seen fall into sexual sin due the pseudo marriage the've made out of their marriage relationship.  Don't play with fire unnecessarily, don't start dating until your able to commit in marriage and then you will be able to joyfully and freely act out on your God given, but sin corrupted, sexual desires.   Teenage dating is unwise because the temptation to sexual sin is great, and sin defiles you.


3. You don't have the spiritual maturity and refuse to guard your heart. Dating can damage you.

Many teenagers just don't have the emotional or spiritual maturity to handle dating.  I see this especially in teenage girls.  In a culture of absent Dad, these girls long for the affection and care of a boy.  As a result many teenagers go from boy to boy looking for something that only Christ can give.  In the process these sweet young girls get their heart abused and taken advantage of time and time again.  Before you every start thinking about dating you must make sure your identity is sealed in your union with Christ, not in a boyfriend or girlfriend.   Teenage dating is unwise because it can damage you when you refuse to guard your heart and find your identity in Christ.

4. You affections for your date is greater than your affections for God. Dating can deceive you.

We live in a culture that idolizes romance.  At the time of this writing it is Valentines day, the holy day of our false-god cupid. So many Christian teenagers get caught up in the idolatry of the culture and begin worshiping the idol of romance.  As a result, we can be deceived to idol worship if we are not careful.  As I watch the dating life of Christian teenagers, so often their affections for their boyfriend or girlfriend exceed their affections for Christ.  When this happens, idolatry has occurred in our hearts.  Teenage dating is unwise because it can deceive you to bending knee to cupid instead of the Lord Jesus Christ.

5. Dating handle wrongly can hinder your witness as a missionary.  Dating can hinder you.

Christian Teenagers are missionaries.  They have been sent by God into their local schools to be ambassadors for the Gospel.  Yet, the dating life of teenagers often hinders the evangelistic mission God has given them.  Many Christian teenagers are known more for who they date than for their love for Jesus.  Lunch table conversations revolve around dating drama about them then their radical unselfish love for Jesus and other people.  Dating for teenagers often damages their witness to the unbelievers in their school.  This is a shame.  Rather than distinctness from the world, Christian teenagers imitate the culture of their school.  Their dating lives often hinders the mission God has called them to do.  Teenage dating is unwise because it hinders the mission of sharing the Gospel.
It is no sin to date other people as a teenager, but these five reasons I think are enough to put dating on hold until you reach the place in your life when you can begin to seriously think about and prepare for marriage.

Why Do Teens Abandon the Faith in College?

Paul Tripp in his book, Instruments in the Redeemer's Handstalks about a practice he calls "Fruit-Stapling", in which we staple good fruit to a tree with bad roots.  His point is that often in personal ministry, we never get to the heart of the matter.  Often times ministry is focused on the external, and neglects the internal.  Tripp applies this truth to teens leaving the faith in college.  Here is what he writes:

This is what happens to the teenager who goes through the teen years fairly well under the careful love, instruction, and oversight of Christian parents, only to go off to college and completely forsake his faith.  I would suggest that in most cases he has not forsaken his faith.  In reality, his faith was the faith of his parents; he simply lived within its limits while he was still at home.  When he went away to school and those restraints were removed, his true heart was revealed.  He had not internalized the faith.  He had not entrusted himself to Christ in a life-transforming way.  He did the "Christian" things he was required to do at home, but his actions did not flow from a heart of worship.  In the college culture, he had nothing to anchor him, and the true thoughts and motives of his heart led him away from God.  College was not the cause of his problem.  It was simply the place where his true heart was revealed.  The real problem was that faith never took root in his heart.  As a result, his words, choices, and actions did not reveal a heart for God.  Good behavior lasted for a while, but it proved to be temporary because it was not rooted in the heart


Youth Pastor, Live Up to Your Name

Many Youth Pastors think of themselves more like wanna be youths than pastors. It is easy to fall into the trap of trying to connect with teenagers that you become one. Many Youth Pastors need to realize that they are not youth workers, youth buddies, or youth babysitters, but youth Pastors. In Youth ministry, we need to realize that our primary task is to be a pastor to those students Christ has entrusted to us. The mantal of pastoral ministry is not one to be taken lightly. As we read the qualifications for elders and overseers in the pastoral epistles, those same qualifications apply to those who are youth pastors. Youth pastors must be spiritually mature, grounded in the Word of God and able to teach it clearly. The fruit of the Spirit of God must be clearly evident in their life. His family must be carefully examined to see if he is a good Husband and Dad.

The sterotype of youth pastors, and one that too often proves true, is that they are spiritually immature relevant youth entertainers. The students might like hanging out with the youth pastor, but they never respect him as a spiritual authority. That's because they see him as 'one of them' rather than their pastor.

Don't get me wrong, we need to cross those cultural bridges. We need to connect to youth culture and figure out the best ways to communicate the Gospel. Never sacrifice the Gospel in the name or cultural relavance. Be first a formost a pastor to your youth group. Teach the profound truths of God's Word. Disciple them, pray with them, counsel them. Don't spend your entire youth ministry playing ping pong and miss the opertunities to pastor your students.

Youth Pastor, Jesus is going to hold you accountable for how you shepherd your youth group. Will he be pleased with that short time you have with those students or will he be dissapointed? Are you stewarding your time well? Your first priority is to pastor your students not to just be their buddy or entertain them. Pour your heart and soul into discipling them and watch as Jesus works powerfully in your Youth Ministry.