An argument for youth ministry

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Is youth ministry that important? Do we even need it? I wanted to give a few points on why I think youth ministry is in fact important and needed:

There are some who feel that the biblical mandate for discipling children is a relegated only to the parents. Now, you certainly won’t find me downplaying that importance, the centrality even, of the family. Paul tells parents to bring their children up in the “training and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Parents are held responsible to God to do this. Parents are the first and foremost disciplers of their children. No denying. However, what I want to argue is that the responsibility of the family doesn’t leave out the importance, the need even, of the church community. Ideally, the two should go hand in hand.

Just to give an example, why do churches have men’s and women’s ministries? There isn’t a biblical command to have them. In fact, Paul commands husbands and wives to grow together in the Lord in their respective roles (Eph 5). So what rationale do churches have for women’s Bible studies, men’s breakfasts, retreats, etc? The logic is simple: men’s ministries are there to help men in their respective roles: husband, father, son, worker, etc. Same with the women’s ministry. The point of those ministries is to serve men and women in their roles, not to detract from them.

What I want to argue here is that the same goes with youth ministry. The point of youth ministry is to strengthen teenagers in their respective roles, not to detract from the responsibility of parents or families etc. Teenagers are commanded to be godly students, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends, disciples, leaders etc. The end goal is that they would be better in all those areas by being involved in a youth ministry.

In addition to this, I also want to say that there are some biblical commands which are darn near impossible without the presence of some sort of youth ministry. Here are a few examples:

  • John 13:34-35 — Love one another
  • James 5:16 — Confess your sins to one another
  • Ephesians 4:32 — Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another…
  • Romans 12:10 — Be devoted to one another
  • Galatians 6:2 — Bear one another’s burdens

Now, no one is going to deny that these verses apply to teenagers as much as adults. These are communal commands and disciplines that all Christians, not just adults, should grow in. That’s not up for debate. What is up for debate is this: how can students grow in their love for one another? Where can students confess their sins to one another? In what context can teenagers bear one another’s burdens? Hopefully you see what I’m getting at. There must be a communal context for teenagers to apply these commands. My vote is for a youth group.

I want to consider one last thing. The Bible assumes that older Christians should disciple and counsel younger Christians. This assumption is all over the scriptures. Just to give you an example from Titus 2:

But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled,pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled

Now, I realize that the passage commands older women to train younger women to love their husbands and children. That makes these “young women” a bit older than teenagers! But the overall point here is that within the church there is a context of older women, who are not biological parents, discipling and teaching younger women. We can assume that Paul would urge the same of older men and younger men. Now where does this teaching and discipling take place? Well, it could take place really anywhere and in any context. But youth ministry sure is a good context for it!

There is much more that could be said on this topic, but I hope you can see the rationale behind why we do youth ministry.

 

 

 

 

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Taking a Systems Approach to Student Ministry

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Mark Devries says in his book, Sustainable Youth Ministry, that far too often, churches place the focus of youth ministries on finding the “super star” youth pastor who will fix all the problems of their youth ministry:

Too many churches are looking for a dynamic, top notch, committed, magnetic, relational, creative [etc] … 22 year old who can present powerful, life-changing messages and will gratefully work for $23,000 a year (p 44)

This one person is hired and expected to grow the ministry, to attract young families, to in essence, fix all woes.

Devries’ thesis in this book is that the focus is placed on the person or the problems, when it should instead be placed on maintainable systems.

In other words, Devries encourages us to step back from the super star stud, from the issues, and first ask: am I creating a system in and through which students can grow? Am I fostering a system where leaders can increasingly plug in and lead? Devries says: if these systems are not put in place first, any hip youth pastor will burn out; all fixes will be botched; and all forward movements will be brought back to square one. In essence, youth ministries that focus on what Devries calls “content issues” (who can be the dynamic leader, what cool things can we put in place to draw students) will always be patch-work ministries.

Mark Devries explains:

I [want to] invite you into seeing (and doing) youth ministry with a systems perspective. More and more, we are discovering that sustainable youth ministries are led by systems leaders. The day of the camp counselor youth minister who focuses only on students is over.

Sustainable youth ministries make the leap from a short-term, patchwork ministry to ones based on established systems that last long after the current leadership team has moved on. (p. 53)

Devries goes on to explain that there are two ways to do youth ministry (really any ministry!!): you can focus on content problems, or focus on sustainable systems.

He explains:

As I have tried to get my head around the power of a systems approach to initiating strategic change, family systems theory has been immensely helpful, particularly in its distinction between “content issues” and “system issues.”

A content issue involves a specific topic, usually a topic of conflict. In youth ministry, typical content issues can be anything from a problem with cliques to a problem with the seventh-grade curriculum. System issues, on the other hand, are those processes that take place beneath, around and within the particular topics of concern, things like trust among the leadership, clarity of expectations for staff and volunteers, or ownership of the ministry beyond the staff.

Trying to initiate change while staying solely focused on content issues is like sprinting up and down the aisle of a speeding jet, believing that the sheer force of effort will speed up the plane. Too many youth workers are wearing themselves out, completely unaware of the fact that they are a part of a system that is carrying them (and their ministries) in a direction that may be completely independent of their exhausting labor. (p 53-54)

Put another way, reactionary planning will exhaust the ministry and the leaders. Focusing on processes that initiate students on the path of discipleship are best.

[D]ramatic, sustainable change happens in youth ministries only when we take our focus off the ‘presenting issues’—the obvious concerns that seem to be creating so much anxiousness—and put our focus on the system patterns that keep us locked into unproductive ways of doing things (p 54).

Notice Devries says to focus on the systems that keep us locked into “unproductive ways of doing things”. Very often we focus on what is deficient in the youth pastor, the unsatisfactory teachings, the gossip between students. Devries says to step back and ask: is this system serving us best? Is this manner of doing things most effective? Are all the moving parts serving one another best? These are big picture questions, and not instead: what did Jenny say about Sally at youth group?

Devries encourages youth pastors to focus on 5 things in building an effective ministry:

  1. Directories: lists of students and volunteers, who’s going, who’s not etc
  2. Annual events calendar: “There’s no reason for a youth ministry not to have its major-events calendar mapped out at least a year in advance, except laziness. Every September, parents should be able to plan around events, including trips, for the upcoming summer (nine months away). Too many youth ministers complain about the lack of committed volunteers and youth who don’t sign up for programs, when those programs are announced less than six weeks before they happen. It’s almost impossible to recruit volunteers to take load-bearing responsibility for programs less than six weeks away” (p 61)
  3. Job descriptions: Who’s who and what’s what of leadership and volunteers
  4. Recruitment list: who is a potential volunteer/leader?
  5. Curriculum Template: “We call the final control document a curriculum template, a six- or seven-year game plan of how the teachings in the youth ministry will be structured” (p 62)

Beyond this, Devries suggests having a vision, mission, and values statement through which to evaluate calendar, events, teaching, etc.

What I want my students to know about gay marriage

So SCOTUS ruled last week that gay marriage will now be accepted by the government. And I’ve stayed off social media about it for several reasons. But I did want to write something about it from the perspective of a youth pastor (which I am), because I believe it’s incredibly important for students to have a biblical and loving stance toward this issue. With that said, here are a few things I want my students to know about gay marriage:

First of all, I believe the Bible is incredibly clear on issues of sexuality and marriage. What the scriptures say is that God was the one who invented marriage, and he designed it to (1) be between a man and a woman (Mark 10:7-8, Eph 5:31, Gen 2:24), and to (2) be a life-long relationship of sacrificial love that images the gospel of Jesus (Eph 5:25-31). Biblically, marriage is not just about love. It includes gender. It includes the gospel. Man and woman together, imaging Christ and his bride. The Bible is clear on this point. What this means is that anything outside of those boundaries is inherently not biblical. This includes gay marriage, but it also includes sex outside of marriage, live-in relationships, pornography, prostitution, etc.

Second, the ruling from our government in no way changes this definition of marriage. While the government may have redefined marriage in their eyes, it’s not changed in God’s. God has spoken, and no man can change that ruling. For this reason, we shouldn’t react as if it has changed the biblical definition. That’s impossible.

Third, our attitude toward this bill should be nuanced. Why? Well, first, the bill is not a threat to the biblical definition of marriage. And so we shouldn’t fear, or panic, or worry. In many ways, the game has not changed. Christians are on the same mission and plan: go make disciples of all nations. But at the same time, this doesn’t mean we should be indifferent. We live in a relativistic society: “Whatever works for you” is the mindset in America. And it would be easy to say to this bill: “whatever works for them. Just don’t take away my religion”. The massive problem with this, is we worship a Man who not only rose from the dead, but now reigns over the universe at God the Father’s right hand. And he calls all men to worship him or perish. Psalm 2:10-12 says this

 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
    be warned, O rulers of the earth.
 Serve the Lord with fear,
    and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
    lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
    for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Philippians 2:8-10 says this:

Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus calls kings and rulers and men from all nations, “kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish”. “Confess that Jesus Christ is Lord”. This applies to everyone. And as America whole-sale enables people their sin, we should grieve. Relativism or indifference is not an option (much less celebration!). Jesus is the risen King, and he calls everyone to allegiance to him.

Lastly, and most importantly, we must remember that homosexual practice is not a special sin. It certainly is a sort of the taboo topic right now, especially with all the media buzz. And we are forced to address it for that reason. But let’s not forget the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 

Notice the sins that Paul lists along with homosexuality. And, notice that all of them are equally condemnable. The “greedy” are no better than “idolaters”. “Revilers” are no better than “men who practice homosexuality”. The point here is that all sin is grievous in God’s eyes. Homosexuality is not any worse than the rest. Every type of sinner is on equal ground. The trouble is that it is often our temptation to “tame” sin. Greed is bad, but it’s not as bad as that sin over there. Stealing is pretty bad, but at least I’m not that guy over there. The Bible simply doesn’t allow us to rank our sins. All sin condemns. And Christ redeems every type of sinner. This is the humbling power of the gospel. And so, as we are forced to look at this issue of homosexuality and marriage, we simply cannot forget that God loves every type of sinner. And we are called to love them as well.