November 2013


(Hat tip to Walt Mueller at Learning My Lines via Tony Myles at More Than Dodgeball)

A recent issue of Charisma News featured an article entitled Youth Groups Driving Christian Teens to Abandon Faith, dealing with a ‘survey’ (you’ll understand the quotes in a moment) by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. You can see the survey yourself if you like at youthgroupsurvey.com. I think you’ll pretty quickly see the problems with this approach, especially because the NCFIC is passing this survey off as a study to back up their pre-conceived notion that youth groups are unbiblical, and should be abolished. They cite George Barna’s statistic that over 60% of today’s 20somethings “who had been churched at one point are now spiritually disengaged.” Because of their methodology, I’m not going to publish the statistics they shared on what Americans apparently think of youth groups, because frankly, their methodology is terrible. I do want to address the points made by their spokesman, Adam McManus.

“Today’s church has created peer dependency,” McManus says. “The inherent result of youth groups is that teenagers in the church are focused on their peers, not their parents or their pastors. It’s a foreign sociology that leads to immaturity, a greater likelihood of sexual activity, drug experimentation and a rejection of the authority of the Word of God.’

Where to even begin? They are laying a lot at the feet of the modern youth group, a lot of which I’m not convinced is deserved. Do they really think that the few hours a week we spend with teenagers are causing them to focus on their peers instead of their parents? And how exactly are we to blame for their sexual habits and drug experimentation, when these things are so prevalent in the culture around them? Aren’t we the ones telling them they should wait to have sex until they are married, and telling them why they should avoid drugs? And rejection of the authority of the Bible? Where are they even getting that from? We’ll dig into a bit more of this later, but for now, let’s read on:

“Proverbs 13:20 says, ‘He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm.’ The result is that the youth stumble, they can’t see beyond their noses, and spiritual adolescence is prolonged well into adulthood. It’s crippling the body of Christ. That’s why it’s time to return to the biblical paradigm and throw out the youth group structure entirely.”

One of the major parts of a youth ministry is that older people come alongside students and walk with them through the challenges of their lives. That sounds to me like giving students opportunities to walk with the wise. Even though I came into the youth group quite late (after I had graduated high school), the influence of the sponsors that I met had a huge impact on me. That’s a big reason why I’m part of a youth group today, is to give back and pay forward what was given to me. Youth groups exist to give students fellowship (which is Biblical), to give them guidance and instruction (which is also Biblical), and to be a reinforcement to what they are (hopefully) getting at home, and for some students, to give them what they *aren’t* getting at home. It’s a sad reality that many youth group students come from unchurched homes, and youth groups fill a crucial gap in their lives.

He continues,

“I am greatly encouraged by the results of our survey. American Christians are finally waking up to the disconnect between the clear teaching in Scripture in favor of family-integration and the modern-day church’s obsession with dividing the family at every turn. Age segregation, especially during the tender and impactful teenage years, not only hasn’t worked, it’s been detrimental. Even worse, it is contrary to the Bible. But the good news is that practices in the churches related to youth groups are changing dramatically. Twenty years ago no one was even asking this question.”

I’ll bet you’re “greatly encouraged.” Your survey is practically forcing people to respond the way you want them to. You’re stacking the deck in an absurd manner, not to mention you’ve based a lot of this on some pretty big assumptions, which is an incredibly dangerous thing to do.

McManus cited the following Scriptures to document his contention that it’s God’s will for the church to embrace the biblical model of families staying together in the service as the Word of God is preached: Deuteronomy 16:9-14, Joshua 8:34-35, Ezra 10:1, 2 Chronicles 20:13, Nehemiah 12:43 and Joel 2:15-16.

Let’s break these down one by one.

Deuteronomy 16:9-14 deals with the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles, gatherings of the nation of Israel to celebrate the harvest and God’s providence. Joshua 8:34-35 takes place when Joshua renews the covenant with Israel; he reads the law to the entire assembly; it’s reasonable to think that Israel would have been gathered in their tribes and families. Ezra 10:1 finds the assembly coming before the prophet as he laments before the Lord in repentance for their intermarrying among the pagans. 2 Chronicles 20:13 finds the congregation gathering before the Lord in advance of a battle. Nehemiah 12:43 is another special occasion; the dedication of the rebuilt wall around Jerusalem. Joel 2:15-16 is part of a greater call to corporate repentance.

While these are all great examples of the Body coming together to worship, pray, repent, seek God, etc., there is nothing to suggest that this is the *only* way the Congregation comes before the Lord. To my reading, there is nothing here to suggest that having a time when we speak specifically to teenagers about issues that affect them in a way that is relevant and understandable to them, is sinful or unbiblical.

“Our fervent prayer is that God will raise up Spirit-filled, Bible-preaching, Christ-centered, family-integrated assemblies from the ashes of our man-centered, family-fragmenting churches,” McManus adds. “Plus, the church needs to begin to equip Christian fathers to communicate the gospel to their families.

This is a huge assumption, to say that churches that don’t follow the model they advocate are man-centered. I’ve been blessed enough to call two different churches home, and visited many more, and they have all been Christ-centered, Biblically strong churches that have services where the family comes together, and where each group goes off to their own area for worship, teaching, and fellowship.

To the point about Christian parents, fathers especially, needing to communicate the Gospel to their families, I absolutely agree. But instead of blowing up the entire church as we know it, why don’t we improve on it? Why don’t we start equipping Christian men to be the spiritual leaders in their homes? I know of churches that do this, and do it well, and part of how they do it is, you guessed it, MEN’S GROUPS. There’s that darn fragmenting again…

Today, Christian parents are beginning to realize that they have not fulfilled their spiritual duties by simply dropping off their kiddos to Sunday school and youth group, allowing other parents to disciple their children by proxy.

The goal of Christian youth groups is not, or should not be, to “disciple by proxy,” and I’m sure most (if not all) youth groups don’t set out to do that. They, and we, are working to reinforce what students are (hopefully) getting at home, and teaching them things that Mom and Dad have maybe not touched on. Also, as I discussed above, for some of these students, this is the only discipleship they are getting. Like it or not, our students come from homes where their parents are not believers, much less regular attenders at a church of any kind. Many of them come from divorced homes, where they have only one parent. Some of them don’t have that mother or father figure in their lives, and a youth group can help fill that gap.

“Let’s not forget the powerful words spoken by Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4-7: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.’

“It is the parents’ primary obligation to disciple their own children, impressing God’s commandments upon them in the home on a daily basis.”

Once again, we are not trying to go against what parents are teaching, we are trying to reinforce it, and in some cases, fill in the gaps when students are not receiving that discipleship in the home.

Cameron Cole, youth director at Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Ala., says, “There is a propensity in our culture to outsource the development of our children. For intellectual development, we send them to school. For athletic development, we send them to Little League. And for spiritual formation, we send them to youth group. The church has done a poor job of communicating to the parents that they are the primary disciplers of their children. Parents don’t believe this, but the reality is that kids listen to their parents far more than they’re going to listen to a youth minister.”

Once again, we’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and making some big assumptions. Maybe we haven’t communicated that parents are the primary disciplers. If that’s the case, what’s the best way to correct that: to start teaching them that, and equipping them to be the primary disciplers, or to blow up the entire system and start over, which could have disastrous consequences? One way that I can think of to improve this is to form groups for parents where they can talk to each other about what works and what doesn’t. Iron sharpening iron, which is very biblical.

“It’s time for the Christian father to take the central role which God has ordained,” McManus concludes. “Gathered around the dining room table, the father needs to lead family worship once again, which had been standard behavior for a vibrant American Christian family for hundreds of years, dating back to the Plymouth, Mass., colony of 1620. Dad needs to read from and discuss the Bible, sing Christian songs and pray with his family, his little flock over which God has appointed him shepherd. Frankly, I’m not as concerned about what happens in Sunday school in church as I am with what happens in ‘Monday school’ and ‘Tuesday school’ at home with the family.”

I don’t disagree with this statement, and I’m sure my life would have turned out much differently had my own father done this. However, my dad was not a strong believer, and the very issue of his salvation was unknown until very late in his life. Dads should be leading family worship and devotions. Maybe not every night, but at a regular interval. Equipping men to do this would go a long way in making this happen. Iron sharpening iron, again.

Let me finish with this. I am not a parent, I’m not married, and I don’t have any plans or prospects. For that reason, I make it a point to refrain from offering parenting advice, seeing as I have no experience in that field. It’s very possible that someone who is a mom or dad would have a different take on this issue that would, by default, be more informed than my own. If that’s you, I invite you to join the discussion, either here on the blog or on the associated Facebook page. I do, however, have 11+ years of experience as a volunteer youth leader, having worked in two different churches under six different youth pastors. I have experience with students, and I have a heart, a calling, and a passion for student ministry. I find it hard to believe that God would give me all of those things if He found youth ministry to be contrary to His word.

This is the bulk of the comment I left at More Than Dodgeball, where I first learned about this survey and the accompanying article:

Are we just going to throw aside all of the youth pastors in the country, not to mention the world, who wake up every day and go into work, which in many ways is like going into battle, for the young people of this world? Are we going to cast aside the volunteer youth workers like me, who give of their time, talents and treasures to reach young people, to carry out and live out the passion that God Almighty has put inside of us? Am I to simply cast aside and forget about the eleven years I’ve spent in volunteer ministry, and all the success stories along the way, just because there were some failures too? (I’m not so proud as to gloss over my failures, and I think my blog serves as evidence of that) Are we going to throw away decades of what churches of all denominational stripes have been doing because not every student who graduates out of a youth group becomes a mature Christian? And who’s definition of ‘mature Christian’ are we going to go with, anyway?

Perhaps this post is a bit more harsh than it should be. If it is, I ask God to forgive me. However, when the very model of youth ministry that I have been so passionately involved in for so long is attacked, I simply can’t stand by and stay silent. Thanks for reading, and I do hope you’ll share your own reactions as well.

Well, a few of them, actually. Let me explain.

When I started Ten Years Young, I wanted to create a place where I can share what I’ve learned in my time in youth ministry. In the year or so since I’ve started the blog, the mission has changed a bit, but sharing my knowledge and experience is still part of it. One of the things I’ve learned is that I still have a lot to learn, and I want this to be a place where we all learn from each other. I’m hoping this will be a place where we can all come together and talk about the challenges we face, give each other advice, and share in both the sorrows and the joys that come with youth ministry. But in order for all of that to happen, I need to get the word out about this place to more people. That’s where (I’m hoping) you come in.

First, if you know other people that work in youth ministry, paid, volunteer, or anything in between, tell them about Ten Years Young. You can follow the blog on twitter (@tenyearsyoung) and you can join the community on Facebook (facebook.com/tenyearsyoung).

Second, if you have a blog about youth ministry, would you consider allowing me to write a guest post for your blog? We can talk over topics, I can repost something from here, or create something new. I’m willing to talk. Or, perhaps, we could “swap” blog posts, and write guest posts for each other, and (hopefully) bring more traffic to both of our blogs.

Finally, if you are so inclined, I would greatly appreciate your prayers for me. Even though this blog is about sharing what I’ve learned, as I said above, it’s also about learning all the things that I don’t know. I don’t want this to be all about me. I want it to be about all of us learning how to live out the calling of youth ministry that we’ve been given.

Thanks for reading, and for joining me on the journey.

I’m writing today from La Crosse, WI, site of the annual Wisconsin & Northern Michigan Assemblies of God Youth Convention, with about 18 students and a handful of other youth workers. It is hands down the best weekend of my year, and I wanted to share something that our speaker, Eric Samuel Timm, said last night that has resonated with me. He talked abou the Hebrew word ahavah, which means “to love” or “to give”, and talked about (among other things) how they are one and the same. “To love is to give and to give is to love.” Nowhere is that more true than in our calling of youth ministry.

To love our students is to give them our time, talents and treasures. To give them what we have to offer is to love them. It’s walking with them through the divorce that blindsided them, causing them to question everything they know and believe, down to their very identity. (As an aside, I highly recommend Andrew Root’s book The Children of Divorce if you want to understand how divorce affects even adult children; it’s a deep and tough read, but there is so much good stuff there to chew on.) It’s walking with them through the valley of the shadow of death, when a parent or other loved one, a close friend, or even a fellow student dies, and they need help to navigate the grief that they don’t understand. But it’s also sharing in the good times. It’s bringing along snacks for a weekend trip to share freely with them (my students know I’m always good for plenty of Mountain Dew and Swedish Fish). It’s celebrating with them when one of their friends or loved ones comes to a relationship with Christ. It’s rejoicing in the small things like an A on a tough test, or the milestones like earning their driver’s license.

To love is to give and to give is to love. Let’s live that out in our ministry to students.

As a footnote, I would be remiss if I didn’t let you know about the dynamic and engaging ministry Eric Samuel Timm offers. To find out more about him or to book him for an event, visit his website at http://www.nooneunderground.com/ or follow him on Twitter at @ericsamueltimm He’s also just released a book called Static Jedi, which I have not yet had a chance to read (my reading list is never ending) but I have heard awesome reviews and would recommend you pick up a copy and add it to your reading list. (For the record, Eric didn’t pay me to say any of this, and he doesn’t even know I’m writing this. I do hope he approves, though)