Clash of the Titans VII: Youth Ministry

March 23, 2007, 9:30 am; posted by
Filed under Debate, Job, Josh J  | 10 Comments

In this corner, arguing for the abolition of modern youth ministry, is Job!

And in this corner, arguing for the value of modern youth ministry, is Josh J!

Telling other Christians you don’t like youth ministry is like slipping up and implying to a woman that she should lose some weight; shocked disbelief melts quickly into scorn. Fortunately, my disregard for such is an orbital blessing of having zero tact — you just get used to people’s disgust.

I’ll preface this harangue by saying souls have been won via youth ministry and that is, truly, the end of the argument. We count such as joy. People have been called to it, some are genuinely and admirably good at it, and much of the unbelieving or disbelieving world is moved by it. And the people I know who do youth ministry are the some of the best believers in my Rolodex. Should any of those souls read this — you know who you are — I trust you won’t see it as a personal attack. I would test your food for you or check under your beds for intruders; I would gladly relinquish any pulpit to your greater gifts. And though I’ve been known to mock youth pastors, I regret that our subculture has lampooned them to a point where their enthusiasm and uniqueness are treated like the Kool-Aid pitcher crashing through your wall.

But I come at youth ministry from a comprehensive viewpoint. I see it as a huge financial expense that produces very little return, treated with special honor though it’s relatively new. In a country as morally orphaned as ours, the desire to tag in for parents incapable of teaching their kids about the gospel and moral living is intoxicating, I know. But this is impossible in the broad sense, a hacking at the leaves, not the root — especially when most youth pastors are emerging from their early twenties themselves. Still the Church throws millions of dollars at the institution because it seems so relevant, obvious and even sexy?

A major problem with youth ministry is that young people develop close personal relationships with their youth pastors, not with Christ. And by definition, this relationship ends, kicking the crutch out from under the teen. I’d be more comfortable with the ministry if pastors acted like shepherds, not buddies filling the hole of good influence for a time.

When I think of what we could do with the funds spent on youth ministry, I get excited. Churches could hire a prison pastor, a pastor for the elderly, a director for service projects. I’m uncomfortable with the fevered sense of inadequacy some bodies feel without a youth pastor, and the depth of our love for this template for success in the face of such a morass of spiritual needs. The preoccupation with youth ministry baffles me.

But in short, I’m a Christian fanboy; I love this faith to death and I’m already in line for the sequel. And youth ministry is my Jar Jar Binks. I don’t like seeing so much money and talent spent on a guild and culture that doesn’t produce the lasting belief or believers to account for all we pour into it.

I know, I know; I’m a pig. But that was a pretty big lunch she ordered.

Full disclosure — I’m what you might call a “professional Christian,” having made the entirety of my adult living working for the church, much of that with youth. But I also grew up exclusively in churches without a professional youth worker, and I believe very strongly in a full-Body approach to ministry.

In many ways, I agree with Job that the efficiency and effectiveness of youth ministry should be frequently evaluated, even scrutinized, just like every other effort of the church, to ensure we are doing what is right. But the idea that a church should not make a significant and concentrated investment in youth fails to measure up logically, Biblically, or even from Job’s preferred viewpoint, the “business model.”

Taking the coarsest argument first, from a business standpoint, it’s pretty much a given that developing product loyalty at an early age is sound business. Even if it involves an exorbitant present expense, hooking a customer early brings a payoff for the rest of his life. Just ask our friends at the tobacco companies (Oh, I forgot, they don’t advertise to minors anymore! *wink wink*). And if you don’t hook him early, someone else probably will, and you’ll have a much tougher time selling him later in life.

If Job wants to know where the urgency and insecurity comes from in churches without an intentional youth ministry, I have a theory — they don’t want their church to die off. Which is exactly what would happen to a group that failed to bring in new, young blood, and is, in fact, exactly what has happened or come close to happening in many churches.

“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”

In a world where more and more parents will not or cannot do this, the church must. Certainly every effort should be made to reach the whole family, but for those adults who choose to go their own way, yet send their young off to church, we must step into the gap. The church must stand up and give our youth the best possible opportunity to choose the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I know that I am the man I am today because of the lessons I learned when I was young. I was blessed to learn them in my home, and I take that blessing seriously enough to fight the uphill battle to teach them to kids whose homes contradict them daily.

Do we need to make sure we’re giving our kids the real thing? Absolutely. Do we need to be careful not to segregate the Body? Without a doubt.

But where there are failings in these or other areas, it’s an area for that church to improve, not an indictment of focusing on such a bountiful harvest.



10 Comments to “Clash of the Titans VII: Youth Ministry”

  1. Laura on March 23rd, 2007 1:58 pm

    I’m new in general to professed Christian faith so my views are less educated than most…and I will admit right off the bat that I recoil from anything that smells, walks, or talks like “the machine” …which is my term for worldly promotion of an otherworldly Lord. BUT, I do think that a ministry specific to youth is important because this is exactly the age at which most people begin to face difficult “adult” challenges, when depression and peer pressure take a deep toll, when we are learning formative responses to responsibility and consequence, and when most people begin to question just what all this “God” stuff is really all about. In short, it is pivotal.

    In my opinion, if any one person, or church, or otherwise affiliated group believes that they, and they alone, have THE answer to youth salvation or that ministry must be packaged in some slick promotional video then, clearly, they are missing the mark. The Lord seems to take honesty and humility a lot farther than good looks and a bank roll. Having said that, I can never assume that these types of worship don’t offer people the opportunity to get to know the Lord…I’m sure they do. The Lord has revealed in my life that He is the ultimate opportunist and uses all means Godly to get our attention.

    And THAT is what it is all about. Allowing the Lord to work though us in order to reach others, give love to others, and offer testimony about what our relationship with the Lord has done and is doing in our lives. That is no easy concept…for youth or adult. This notion of having a personal relationship with God…taking some abstract and ritualized decree of “God” and brining it to an every minute of every day dialog and personal awareness.

    You can’t TEACH that…you can’t REGIMENT that…but you can be open to acting as a conduit for it; however and wherever the Lord compels you to do so.

    And why should we NOT be concerned…and SERIOUSLY concerned about providing youth with real Christian fellowship, honest advice on doubt and fear, and genuine opportunity to SERVE the Lord. Where else will they get this? School????

    You can rail all you want against bad parenting…but complaint gives no breadth to solution or opportunity. Ideally, and we are trying to do this in the group I am volunteering with, youth ministry involves BOTH youth and their parents so that both can grow together in the Lord.

    There are no easy or pat answers to things…but simply because the world has begun to infiltrate ministry (and has for generations!) does not mean that we should give up altogether and admit defeat. I walked out on the Lord at age 16 and never looked back for over 10 years. He finally broke through my hard heart and brought me to Him and I can’t express how happy that has made me. Would a heartfelt youth ministry have saved me from those 10 years of misery? Only God knows…and that is too simplistic of a debate at any rate. But I for one can not stand by and tell these kids, who are so intensely SEEKING something real, that they are on their own…that no one will step in to try and help. I feel the Lord asking me intently NOT to abandon them to the world and I am stumbling to follow His lead, slick video or no:

  2. Karen on March 23rd, 2007 10:57 pm

    what kind of a person can honestly argue AGAINST youth ministry? I’m baffled.

    It will probably fade into scorn soon.

  3. Andrew on March 24th, 2007 12:00 am

    A person that feels that too much of the church’s resources are poured into youth ministries that are nothing more than a “good time” as opposed to a building and learning time.

    I have nothing against the institution of youth ministry, but lets get rid of the PS2s the Xboxs and pizza parties and lets get into the Word or helping the elderly or sick.

    I have visited churches where they funded these sorts of “parties” every Sunday night.
    I never saw a bible or heard anything that would lead me to beleive that it was at all a christian event. And these were saved kids.

    Ultimatly, I do not feel that it is the church’s responsibility to keep their teens and young people entertained or amused. There are bigger problems facing the church and MUCH better ways to spend our resources.

  4. Steve on March 24th, 2007 12:46 am

    Fair argument. But that argument is based on specific churches, not the vast majority, or the principle of youth ministry. I’ve never attended a church that even pays their youth minister, let alone funds PS3 pizza parties where no one brings a Bible. That’s a ridiculous travesty, but it’s a straw man argument, because it’s so divorced from reality for 99% of churches. It’s like arguing we should do away with pastors because you knew one who ran off with the offering plates. Real youth ministry — which is what we should be discussing — is not about entertainment.

  5. Emily on March 24th, 2007 1:04 am

    I am a PK and my mother’s church is experiencing the dilemma of an aging congregation with almost no young people. While I understand the obvious merit of a faith-centered youth group meeting, sometimes it’s necessary to do something to get the kids to go to the meeting in the first place. In a lot of rural communities, including where my mother preaches, the population is spread out and it can be a chore to get a large number of people together in one place, which means that there sometimes is a need for a little bit extra. I see no reason to exclude “fun” activities like ball games and pizza from youth gatherings, because in many of the aforementioned communities, kids may never have opportunity to do those things otherwise. Besides, if kids don’t enjoy youth group meetings, they won’t attend. I must agree that many youth groups tend to lose sight of the original point of the gatherings with some of these activities, but certain communities can benefit incredibly from something a little unorthodox.

  6. Andrew on March 24th, 2007 7:52 am

    I see where you are coming from and agree, every church does it different. I wasn’t meaning that every church has a youth group like that and most probably don’t. That is just one area where I have had the most experience in and I felt that it was a complete waste.

    I don’t have a problem with a youth group that employs itself with bible study or something having an impact on the Kingdom, which I’m sure many do. I’m not stating that there are never any exceptions either as far as parties go or whatnot.
    But overall,I have to agree here with Job.It has become such a selling point for so many churches that it seems to many times take away from other ministries that I feel are just as, if not more relevant.

  7. Steve on March 24th, 2007 3:57 pm

    The balance is key indeed, Emily.

  8. Job on March 24th, 2007 10:08 pm

    99% Steve? That’s either an intentionally gross over-generalization or an unsettling naivety.

    The church you describe, and the one we have talked about over electronic and telephonic modes many times, is the model I am endorsing ultimately. Sounds perfect.

    But I will have to tell you, from my experience, it is a rarity. Perhaps my experience is stunted but it is the only experience I can draw upon and I if I see a problem with the YM I’ve seen practiced it would be against my better judgement to just assume it’s better elsewhere and keep my mouth shut.

    As for geriatric churches dying out…perhaps it will lead to some more scorn, but churches don’t need to be for forever.
    The Church does; The Bride…but not necessarily every church.
    And instead of trying to throw whatever weight they have behind a gamble on a few teens in the interest of self-survival they could, rather, seek obedience in spreading the gospel to anyone – no matter their age.

    The last thing America needs is a gimmick.
    Lastly, I think a shepherd should, and should be able to, look out for the rams, ewes and lambs at the same time.

  9. Job on March 24th, 2007 10:10 pm

    “It has become such a selling point for so many churches that it seems to many times take away from other ministries that I feel are just as, if not more relevant.” – Andrew pretty much perfectly summed up my argument with this sentence…

  10. Steve on March 25th, 2007 2:00 pm

    You’re right, Job — 99% was a “gross over-generalization,” though not intentionally so.

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