A Hidden Dependence
Let me start with a couple of facts. 1. There is no biblical demand for a church to have a youth or children’s ministry and 2. throughout history, the Church has experienced seasons of exponential growth without the use of youth or children’s ministries. To be honest, those are facts that don’t sit well with me…you know, being a youth pastor and all. They are ones that don’t provide a lot of job security for me. However, they are helpful things to remember for parents and even for me, the youth and family pastor.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to even imagine the Church ever existing without youth ministry. I have become so conditioned to think that a healthy local church automatically means they have a flourishing and healthy youth group. It’s an assumed thing for a church to have a youth group. Many of us don’t even have a category in our minds for a church that doesn’t have one. I’m not saying, “Let’s throw away our youth and children’s ministries”. It’s ok. You can let out your sigh of relief haha. That’s not what I’m getting at. I’m just pointing out the assumption that many have of the necessity of youth ministry, and, tied to that, an unhealthy dependence on it. Even though the Church has existed for centuries before youth ministry made it’s big debut, for many, one of the biggest determining factors for the health of a church is how well the church ministers to their children.
In this type of environment the ministry model becomes, “I, the youth pastor, will plan the events and the times of ministry. You, the parent, make sure your kids get there. We’ll take it from here. You have done your job by getting them in the door”. Suddenly parents are reduced to being a chauffeur subject to the youth pastor’s agenda. Of course, every sane parent who wants their child to love God loves every opportunity that puts the gospel before their child, but a slippery slope needs to be seen in this. What needs to be noted is how, many youth groups are assuming the primary role of discipleship for youth in the things of God. In doing so, they rob parents of their God given responsibility and delight to disciple their children.
At this point, I wish that I could pat myself on the back here and say that my hands are clean in this matter. Unfortunately, I have contributed to some of the mindset of, “Bring your kids to us, the church. We’ll take it from here.” Sadly, while preaching from day one of being at Forrester Community that parents have the primary role of discipleship, I have preached another message with my negligence to unite youth group and home. For that, I apologize.
Doing Youth Ministry Carefully
For some, such talk about youth ministry not being a necessity for a healthy church brings questions and maybe even fear. “If FCC doesn’t see youth ministry as one of the top priorities, if not the top priority, then do they even care about the next generation? Do they even care about my child?” And of course we would answer those questions with, “We absolutely care about the next generation and we absolutely care about your child! We care about the health of our church. We care about the longevity of our church and continuing to minister the gospel for generations to come!” Let it be known that nothing that I have mentioned here has come from a heart that is careless about the next generation, rather it has come from a carefulness.
Here is what I mean. With the growing demand for the youth minister to be the key spiritual mentor in a student’s life, the fear that leads many parents to hand over the role of discipleship to the “professionals”, and with the need to ensure that what we do as a church at the very least doesn’t contradict the biblical framework for families, one thing is sure; we need to be careful how we think about youth ministry. Care needs to be exercised as we attempt to equip parents for the work of ministry towards their children so that we don’t cripple those parents in the process.
Again, I’m not concluding that we do away with youth ministry. I suppose some could see the dangers of creating something called, “youth ministry” and walk away with not having one. What I am getting at, however, is that we need to rethink youth ministry. If youth ministry is going to continue and not completely derail from the biblical principles that God has set up for the family unit, then we need to change how we view the relationship between parenting and youth ministry.
Rethinking Youth Ministry with Clear Convictions
One clarification is important to note here. It’s important to see that this conviction has not come primarily from critically thinking about how to reach the next generation with new engaging methodologies, although that would be a worthy discussion. It hasn’t come from this, “How can we do youth ministry in a new, fresh way” sort of mindset. No, this take on youth ministry has come from a growing conviction, from scripture, that parents have the primary role of discipleship for their children.
I’m not claiming that I know the perfect model for a youth ministry, and to be honest, there is freedom in the way this can look in different contexts. The important thing for now is not to have a bulletproof plan how to minister to youth, but to begin rethinking youth ministry.