Saturday, June 06, 2009

Youth Ministry needs to Push Back

I am anticipating that this blog post may get some negative reaction. Still I think it is important. This morning I watched some commentary on the "Jon & Kate Plus 8" television show. I have never watched the show and I am not sure what the actual circumstances are in that home. My purpose is not to actually talk about the family, but to commentate on the commentary. As I watched, thoughts I have been having about family and youth ministry for years rushed through my brain as a significant mistake was being made in front of my eyes. I wish it was a mistake exclusive to the media, but i fear it has found its way into our homes and our churches.

According to this commentary the couple has been having some marital difficulties. Of course the primary concern was the children and the impact this is having on them. Might I suggest that focusing on the children is mistake number one? Yes, I know we look at children and think they are fragile (in many ways they are) and they need our help to navigate difficult waters (they do). Perhaps what we should be worried about instead is the marriage of Jon and Kate. Wouldn't it be best for the children if the marriage was saved? Why do we write the marriage off as if it is no big deal? Still that is not the primary mistake that was made.

Mistake number two is significant because of the impact it has on our culture overall. Multiple times it was stated or insinuated that the difficulty the couple is having combined with the TV cameras is not really having an impact on the students (the one exception was the aunt and uncle). The way we know it is not having on impact on the kids is by simply asking them. That is mistake number two. I can't help but wonder how often we as a culture make decisions based on what kids tell us. My guess is we do this often. For our purposes in the church as youth workers, parents, pastors, and so on, how often do we make decisions based on what our students or kids want? Certainly there are appropriate times to do this, but I think we may be doing this in important areas. What curriculum we chose is based on what they will find interesting instead of what will give them a better foundation in their faith. Elements in a program are based solely on whether they are fun instead of what kind of impact they will have on the students. What is best for our students?

So, where is the push back? It is here. In my opinion Scriptrue provides significant support for the existence and practice of youth ministry. Scripture also lays at the feet of parents the responsibility of discipling their own kids. This means Youth Ministries should not be asking students and even parents (at times) what they would like, but instead they should be asking what is best! How can we best support parents in discipling their kids? How can we best equip parents to disciple their kids? Dueteronomy 6 makes clear important role parents are to play in their kids life.

The High School programing at our church is changing significantly this year. There are many reasons for the change. One of those reasons is our desire to push back a little. In many ways we have an attractional model of ministry, but there comes a time when attraction is just attraction and not ministry. Our desire is to encourage parents to take a more significant role in their student's life. A common worship experience is part of that. We also believe that this will help High School students learn how to go to church. Over the past several years there has been a buzz in youth ministry about the number of students leaving church when they graduate. Might I suggest that one of the reasons they leave is because we have made our programming and curriculum decisions based on what they like and not on what they need? We have specialized our programming in every aspect, because of that students have never learned how to go to church and they don't like the church they are face with when they leave the High School or college ministry. Our goal is to teach students how to attend "big church". You might say the church needs to be more relevant to a younger generation rather than teaching students to participate in something that isn't good. There may be some cases where that is true, but I can't think of a better way to do that than to get the students involved in the first place. We have several additional reasons for chaning our programming, but this was certainly in the mix.

The challenge for those of us in youth ministry is to ask different questions. These are some questions I ask regarding our ministry at The Rock:
  • How can I creat the best environments for God to work in students lives?
  • How can I equip parents to better disciple their own students?
  • What tools can I provide to both students and parents that will help them follow Jesus as a family?
  • How can we, through our programming, help students who do not have parents that will disciple them?
Ask these questions of yourself of some of your parents, your staff, and Senior pastor. See what you come up with and consider changing the programming to support the entire family.


  1. You're starting to sound like Brett Kunkle and others who have given up youth ministry as a people pleasing business to youth ministry as a mission. I like it.

    Jim Piper

  2. You are right. Thank you. Our job as parents is to work our way out of a job. Our job as Christian adults is to teach children to become adult Christians.

    If a high school age Christian is not taking their part in 'The Great Commission' seriously, we need to find out why.

    The purpose of childhood both spiritually and physically is to learn to mature and become responsible, mature, and productive.

    It is refreshing to see you are taking it seriously, rather than just being after a good head count at youth activities.

  3. Anonymous1:30 PM

    I agree!
    Amazing what thoughts can come out of a Youth Pastor's head while watching a comentary about reality TV show!