Clash of the Titans VII: Youth Ministry

November 27, 2007, 3:00 pm; posted by
Filed under Debate, Job, Josh J  | 1 Comment

Originally published March 23.

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.



1 Comment to “Clash of the Titans VII: Youth Ministry”

  1. Roxanna - Aunt Roxanna to Josh and Job on November 28th, 2007 3:06 am

    This would not let me vote but if I did, it would be on Job\’s side – and not just because I\’m his aunt. I agree with the return on the dollar thing and on the thing about following the director rather than Christ but more I would say it is the tendency to shove money at something when it should be done by volunteers – the adult population of the church MUST be engaged in youth ministry not just on the financial level. The church must have a youth ministry just as it needs a Sunday School but not paid ministries. I\’m in a very small church – few volunteers available – and no money for a youth pastor and perhaps we are blessed with that. I praise God for the Crimis, the Shirleys, the Glovers, the Lays – all volunteers who made a difference in the lives of youth in the Pasadena AC Church in the late 50s and early 60s.

Leave a comment!