Saturday, March 07, 2009

Theology & Youth Ministry: A match made in heaven

Theology: the study of God.
Youth Ministry: the act of discipling Junior and Senior High students.

These definitions may not be perfect, but I think they communicate the basic premise of both theology and youth ministry. For some in the church these two things are mutually exclusive. Youth ministry for years was viewed as a stepping stone to becoming a "real" pastor. While this mentality still exists in some places, it has wained in recent years and youth ministry has begun to grow up. Today youth ministry is viewed as serious business. For this I am grateful. My purpose is to provide a theological basis for youth ministry. This has been done before by others, but my hope is that thinking theologically about youth ministry and leadership in a youth ministry context will not be something that takes place in the background, but rather it is brought to the forefront.

Theology is the study of God, but it has become a broader term that encompasses much more. God does not exist in a vacuum, instead we have a history of how he has interacted with mankind and with youth throughout all of history. This is part of thinking theologically. Modern youth ministry may be young, but youth ministry as a whole is not.

Genesis. ya, I know it's kind of canned to start with a book that literally means beginnings. But then again, there must be a reason it is called Genesis. I can't prove it but I have a theory about Adam and Eve. I think they were in essence adolescents when they were created. I think if we were there to see them walking down the street (clothed of course) a day after they were created they would look like teenagers. In essence, God created his own youth group by speaking them into existence (how about that for a growth strategy). I can't imagine why God would create them with older bodies, maybe they were the equivalent of a 17 or 18 year old. God in his wisdom certainly would have wanted to skip the diapers and having to do everything for them, but He certainly would have wanted to create them still in their physical prime.

Whatever your thoughts about the last paragraph, they were young in their appearance and they needed to be taught the ways of God. Thus God gave them freedom within boundaries. Wow, that might be profound. God also allowed them to endure the consequences of their choices. Of course the history of youth ministry goes on:
  • Joseph was young when God began to work in him, giving him dreams.
  • Samuel was very young when his mother dedicated him to the ministry and grew up around the temple learning the ways of God.
  • David was called by God (Through his youth pastor Samuel) when he was young and was probably a teenager when he defeated Goliath.
  • Josiah was 8 when he became king and Joash was 7 God used both of those boys as they became men.
  • some of the disciples were likely teenagers (they certainly acted like it at times).
  • Paul raised up Timothy who was a young church leader
  • etc...
God has interacted with people who were young for all of history. Not only is this youth ministry, but it is theology. Youth ministry and theology are meant to be together. More could be said about the numerous passages in the Bible that in one way or another address the issue of youth ministry.

Youth Ministry is not simply a response to a consumerist culture; however, just like the church as a whole youth ministry has responded to culture in negative and positive ways. Thinking theologically about youth ministry will help to differentiate what is good and what is not. Youth Ministry is Biblical and good, it is not a question of whether we do youth ministry, but how we do youth ministry.

  • As you think about scripture and the stories that likely involve teen agers what can we learn about how God interacted with young people?
  • How has youth ministry appropriately and inappropriately responded to culture and fads?
  • How have you responded appropriately or inappropriately to those things?
  • If youth ministry and theology are a match made in heaven, how might that impact our teaching? How can we help students develop good theology?
Coming up in two weeks: "Learning to Use Ministry Models"

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