I was a youth pastor for about 15 years, and I loved (almost) every minute of it. It wasn’t just the fact that the music was louder, or that the we played ice-breaker games that, today, might land you in litigation (we had some fun times, for sure) but the best part was watching students figure out who God is and who they really are in Him. It was the late nights beyond the video games, that developed into deep discussions on brokenness and healing. It was watching students, hungry for more than just pizza, hanging out in God’s presence at the altars long after their friends had left.
I loved youth ministry, and I still do.
Yet, I’ve been told for years now that youth ministry is a relic of years gone by. We’ve heard talk that youth ministry was dreamed up by some forward thinking churches 40+ years ago, and that it has run it’s course. We’ve also supposedly learned that it, in some ways, it proved itself unsuccessful in the long run (thanks to the “88% or more leaving God after graduation” rhetoric and statistics).
Certainly, there might be some things we could have, and maybe should have, done differently. For years, we often graduated students who learned how to be in youth group, but never learned how to become a part of the church as a whole. There were times it felt that youth ministry was often very vast, but not always theologically deep. That argument certainly seems to be the case when we realize that research tells us that today Bible literacy is at an all time low (you can even check out stats at Barna.org).
So, if youth ministry has failed somehow… shouldn’t it be killed off? I admit, I treasure my great memories: the services, the trips, the events, yes… even the pranks. However, much like an old wounded pet that has been given a dire prognosis, at what point do we humanely end this?
Maybe things could be done better, but I think it’s unfair to make a scapegoat out of youth ministry. The truth is, Bible literacy is at an all time low because… well, people have stopped reading the Bible. People have stopped reading the Bible because they have stopped chasing the God of the Bible. Jesus Himself told us that there would come a time when wickedness would increase and that the love of most will grow cold (Matthew 24:12). I’m not so sure we are coming to the “end of the age” that Jesus was foretelling, but we sure see some things playing out in that direction (but then again, they’ve been moving that direction for 2000+ years). Don’t get me wrong, this world is still pretty fantastic in lots of ways, and it’s an exciting time to be alive. We still see conversions, experience miracles, and when else in history has there been a delicious cookie based upon an ice cream flavor that was originally based upon that very same cookie (we’re looking at you “Cookies-N- Cream Oreo”)? Exciting times indeed!
But it’s also an exhausting time.
It’s overwhelming to see the attack on our youth in this day and age. We could make a long list of issues with students today, or a breakdown of how bad things have gotten out there. But truth be told… if you are a Jesus’ loving, Bible believing person who values holiness in any way shape or form, you probably see it already. There are 1000’s of blogs or articles that will lay it out much better than I can, and many others that would probably contest it all anyway.
So here is the crux of it… the youth are getting hit harder than you.
If you are overwhelmed, confused, enraged, or even just dumbfounded by talks of gender bathroom availability, the value of gorillas’ lives versus peoples’ lives, political messages, moral relativism, etc. etc…. than you should know that, even though these things may just be the latest news story to you or me, our kids are actually being raised and shaped in it. They hear a million voices a day coming at them through friends, schools, smartphones, and TED talks. Not everything is bad. The fact that many in this younger generation fancy themselves as “activists” (though keyboard activists they may be), is actually encouraging that they recognize there is purpose greater than themselves. But what they are learning to fight for may not line up with the Bible either.
So… back to my original point. Youth ministry CAN’T be dead, because it’s still needed. In fact, it’s going to happen regardless, it just may not be the church who does the talking. You think that kids aren’t getting “ministered” to on a daily basis? There are multiple ways they are getting their needs met and their character and belief systems shaped more and more each day. Yet, we are told that youth ministry… BIBLICAL youth ministry should no longer play a part in that shaping.
Yes, I know… the Bible never mentions “youth ministry”, but it does mention that we should be doing everything in our power to save people. Our youth are drowning in a spiritual “fog of war” so much so that they don’t even see they are under attack. They are the ones fully bearing the weight of what this society has created. I say there is no better time to increase our dedication to youth ministry. We should be doing more of it. We should be raising up more and more people to invest in their lives (and we should encourage the church as a whole to play a part as well). We should unleash youth pastors to go after students with every resource available. We should let them use the building, and risk trashing it at youth events for the sake of the gospel (don’t get carried away Pastor Russell). I don’t mind repairing a hole in the wall after a youth night, if it means there was also an opportunity to repair a student’s broken life.
No, youth ministry isn’t dead… because God still has plans for our students. Many churches will reevaluate their youth ministry programs, some are shutting them down completely in favor of other departments or programs. That’s ok, each church, pastor, board, city is going to have a different way of doing ministry. I simply implore you this… DO YOUTH MINISTRY! I don’t care how you do it, I don’t care what you call it, just do it. They need it.
The world is going after them, so let’s go after them harder.
Finally, on a personal note, thank you Pastor Russell and Melissa. God bless you for wanting to invest in our own youth at RockPile Church. Know that those days and nights praying for God to show you how to best feed into our youth are priceless. You may not see some of the results yet, and that’s ok. It may sometimes feel like you’re the tender of the vineyard in Luke 13 that has yet to see the fruit develop off the fig tree… and wondering if much of it’s in vain. But much like that guy, who asked for more time to fertilize the tree and care for it, you just keep investing, God is at work. You are changing student’s lives.
Go do youth ministry.