Three Truths to Help Avoid Idiocy in Youth Ministry

Much ink has been spilled and many hands have been wrung about the necessity and vitality of solid youth ministry in the church today. There is good reason or this. The vast majority of people who will live Christian lives to their death will get there after coming to grips with salvation in Jesus as teenagers. Life-long Christians, by-and-large, either surrender to Jesus or have their faith in Christ strongly affirmed in their teen years.

1) Local church youth ministry provides unparalleled opportunity to reach teens.
Unlike any other ministry of the church, youth ministry can function as a ‘church within the church,’ without becoming a silo.[1] Because it pivots on a main weekly youth gathering, and is executed based upon a strategically ordered annual calendar, there is ample opportunity for contextualization to youth. If this opportunity is missed, a youth ministry most often develops into a place where the teens of a church (or those associated with them) develop a comfortable socially focused culture where they can receive spoonful’s of spiritual experience in ways that satisfy their preferences. They learn to be “church-kids” who attend weekly but have very shallow Christian lives filled with duplicity. Being confronted with the gospel is the only antidote to youth ministry lite.

2) It is foolish to mimic popular youth culture.
Youth are the primary target of most media and advertising in America, but youth culture has an amorphous quality to it. It’s hard to nail down, new trends constantly pop up; so if one purposes to be a student of youth culture, the course-load demands immersion. Because of this, it is easy to get lazy and fall into a mimicking posture in church youth ministry. We can organize our environments, our vocabulary, and even our content in a way that simply parodies the youth culture of the world, while sanding the edges off so that we don’t upset Christian parents. The head of the nail constantly shifts. If you’re going to mimic a radically shifting popular culture, you’re going to erect a structure just in time for the foundation to move. There is a better way. And this way is not only functionally better, but it actually creates a context where you can accomplish the main goal of youth ministry: the salvation of teens.

3) You have one job: give them the Bible.
A solid plan for contextualized youth ministry starts with an emphasis on the Scriptures. From Genesis to Revelation, youth need to be taught the Bible so that they will be confronted with the gospel, in clarity and conviction. They don’t need an environment that is dictated by perceived preferences for youth, but a community culture that is driven from and centered on the gospel. Trying to develop a youth ministry based upon what you think will attract youth is idiocy, because teens (of all people) have no idea who they are. Those who attempt this will just keep swinging the hammer, putting more holes in the wall. A sound youth ministry must pivot on the axis of the word of God and the gospel of Jesus, in order to develop a redemptive youth community founded on relational discipleship.

[1] A silo is a stand-alone ministry which competes for resources with other ministries within the church. For a good book on breaking silos down in organization culture, check Patrick Lencioni’s Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars.