We shouldn’t make fun of youth pastors and the painful things they have to go through.
Yes we should.
HT Michael Hyatt via Twitter
“I can’t believe she disappointed us like this. She’s only fifteen! What was she thinking? What are we going to do now?”
I may not be the most intuitive person around, but even I could tell that he was angry—body tense, jaw clenched, voice shaking. But, it was a special kind of anger, the kind driven by love and fear, lashing out from a frustrated desire to protect. The anger of a parent.
Barely pausing for breath, he continued to vent, “How am I supposed to explain this to her mother? This is going to be my fault. I just know it!”
I was at a loss. Four years at a Bible college hadn’t prepared me to face the wrath of a frustrated father. But I still should have seen the next one coming.
“Where have you been through all this? Why didn’t you see this coming? What do we pay you for?”
Why do they always blame the youth pastor?
Parents have a lot to worry about: drugs, sex, crime, grades, attitudes, bad influences, music, movies…on and on the list goes. Is there a harder job on the planet? So, I understand the fear that nestles in the back of every parent’s mind. And, when fears are realized, they quickly turn into anger. I get that. I don’t like it when the anger turns in my direction, but I still understand.
After many years in youth ministry, I think I’ve talked with parents about every one of these issues. We’ve spent hours agonizing and strategizing over how to help their kids navigate these hazards and sail successfully into a hard-earned adulthood.
In all these years, I’ve heard a lot of question. But, even more important than the questions I have heard are the ones that I haven’t. In all my time in youth ministry, I never once had a parent say, “I’m concerned that my child doesn’t really understand the Gospel. Can you help make sure she really understands the power of God’s love and grace?” And, I’ve never had a concerned mother or father come up to me wanting to know “Do you think my son/daughter is really growing in his love for God?”
I faced countless questions about who they were dating, what they were doing with their bodies, and how they were performing in school, but no questions about the Gospel or their heart for God.
If you’re a parent, that should scare you.
The enraged father I mentioned above was upset because his daughter had gotten a tattoo. A tattoo. He’d never approached me to talk about his daughter’s spiritual well-being. Apparently that wasn’t worth an office visit. But a tattoo? That’s something else entirely.
The Gospel should change the way that we approach our families, our children. We don’t need to ignore the important issues that I mentioned above, but they shouldn’t be our only, or even our primary, concern. Instead, we should be ultimately concerned about whether we are doing everything that we can to make sure that our children understand the Gospel.
What gets your attention? Do you spend as much time talking about the story of God’s faithfulness as you do on math? Are you as concerned about your child’s heart for God as their newly discovered love for the opposite sex?
Does the Gospel matter at home?
You are destroying the church. At least, you are if your church has age-based programs like Sunday school classes youth ministries. This is according to a new video put out by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches. The video is well-done, provocative, and worth watching. But, even though I’m sympathetic to some of its arguments, the video itself is quite flawed.
As soon as I saw the video, I passed it along to Ron Marrs, who directs the youth ministry program at Western Seminary. And, I asked him to offer his thoughts.You can watch the video below for free until September. So, check it out and then see Ron’s comments below.
- Parents are to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
- Many parents have abandoned their discipleship responsibilities.
- Churches need to help parents disciple their children.
- The Bible is the absolute authority for our Christian practice.
Having said that, here are a variety of things that concern me about the movie.
Problem #1: It Uses Some Flawed Arguments
1. I give you statistics to convince you how we are failing to raise our youth to follow Christ.
The most prevalent statistic is a bogus statistic that appeared in a report by the Southern Baptist Council on Family Life in June 2002: “88 percent of the children raised in evangelical homes leave church at the age of 18, never to return.” I tracked down the source of this statement and found it to be the result of a meeting of youth pastors sitting around speculating on a percentage of students who are in church after being involved in church youth ministries.
This “88 percent” quote has been used for nine years to fuel much of this discussion! I have been pushing back for about 5 years, writing to speakers and authors on this and other statistics being used in the debate.
Check out my article “Stop Abusing Stats” for more on this use of statistics and my response to the issues.
2. I blame a program or philosophy of ministry in the church for the crisis.
In this case, the “straw man” youth ministry is attacked as the culprit. This youth ministry is all about fun and games. This youth ministry takes students to worldly sounding Christian rock concerts. Youth pastors don’t teach the young earth perspective on creation, therefore the Bible is undermined as the absolute source of truth.
In fact, there are numerous youth ministries and church families of which I am aware that produce strong Christ-followers.
3. I tell you that my philosophy, seminar, conference, book will “save the day.”
Research is seldom cited that attempt to explain the causes of the rejection of the faith although research is being done in this area. There is no connection between quality research and solving the “crisis.”
The solution to the crisis is following my philosophy of ministry. Mine is biblical and yours is not
Problem #2: The Movie’s Arguments Don’t Support Its Conclusion
Here are (not nearly all) of the movie’s main arguments:
- Youth ministry is not found in the Bible.
- Youth ministry flows out of ungodly, evolutionary educational philosophy adopted by the church.
- To continue youth ministry it is to corrupt the church.
- There is no age segregation in the church gatherings of the New Testament.
- Fathers are to disciple their children. This is the only pattern justified by a reading of Scripture.
Therefore, age-segregated groupings in church goes against Scripture. Youth groups must cease.
There are so many logical fallacies and anecdotal evidence used to make these arguments that it is difficult to know where to start. So, I’ll offer just some quick thoughts. If you need more convincing, let me know in the comments and maybe I’ll write some further posts.
- Isn’t it true that when a person comes to Christ that they are to be equipped by the entire Body of Christ as articulated in Ephesians 4:1-16? Parents are to raise their children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). The church is responsible to disciple the parents in such a way that they are able and motivated to obey this command.
- Who will reach the millions of teenagers who are not in Christian homes? Much of the discussion surrounding youth ministry in the church centers on taking care of our church family kids. This is critical. But who will move into the lives of the unsaved youth? They tried to address this issue but the recommendation was not compelling to me.
- Church leadership and parents will be wise to truly collaborate in the nurturing of children in the church and reaching students outside the church family to see youth respond to the Gospel in faith and grow in their faith. I am concerned that products like this do not enhance problem-solving and strategic planning in the church.
What do you think? Does the video have a point? Are age-based ministries harming the church? Or, do you think that there’s a role for them in a healthy church?
(You may also be interested in Tim Challies interesting review of the movie.)
[Scientia et Sapientia is sponsored by the Master of Theology (Th.M.) program at Western Seminary. It’s an open forum, so please feel free to join the discussion.]
- Peter Singer is at it again, this time arguing that children do not possess full moral status until they are at least two years old.
There are various things that you could say that are sufficient to give some moral status after a few months, maybe six months or something like that, and you get perhaps to full moral status, really, only after two years.
- Techland explains why the best e-reader may be no e-reader at all. I’m curious whether anyone out there does a lot of reading their phone (e.g. iPhone) and, if so, what you think about the experience.
- Koinonia is giving away copies of Tim Keller’s The Reason for God and N.T. Wright’s Surprised by Hope.
- The interaction between Larry Hurtado and James McGrath continues,as they discuss whether the early church’s worship of Jesus entails that they thought of him as divine.
Let it be clear: The earliest Jewish Christian believers did not see themselves as departing from full loyalty to their ancestral deity. They saw their devotion to Jesus as mandatory, in response to God’s exaltation of Jesus as recipient of this devotion.
- David Fitch explains why he thinks that Youth Groups Destroy Children’s Lives. He concludes by saying how important that well-done youth ministry is for the church, but here’s his critique in a nutshell.
I think youth groups often do things that work against the formation of our youth into life with Christ and His Mission. They also soak up huge time and resources in ways that are a detriment to the community life of the church.
- A terrorism task force in New York shut down the Lincoln Tunnel last week because they mistook a dance troupe wearing camouflage for a terrorist group. Best comment of the day:
it seems fairly obvious that if a squad of terrorists did try to infiltrate Manhattan or any other urban area, they would not dress in camouflage to do it, and would not be sprinting.
Okay, as a former youth pastor, this one just hurts. I think I met this guy at a youth retreat once. You don’t need to watch the whole thing, but it does do a nice job highlighting where youth ministry can (and often does) go terribly, horribly wrong.