Wednesday, February 10, 2010

On Youth Ministry and Raising Up Disciples in the Church

A guest post by Chris Woodrow

Regarding Kate Murphy's recent piece, "Is youth ministry killing the Church?", the concern she shares isn't new, at least in my youth ministry circles. I'm glad it's getting larger exposure, because that is a huge problem. Murphy's unstated solution, however, is as reactive as the same shift that caused this problem in the first place.

With the development of mandatory public education and adolescence—the idea that youth have a transitional period where they develop physically and mentally from child to adult—churches tried to focus more on the spiritual development of the adolescent. This began with a focus on curriculum and eventually paid ministers, hired specifically to focus on youth.

This shift grew out of a few concerns:
  • loss of influence at the church and family level (being replaced, at some level, by public education and more peer interaction)
  • fear of losing the youth to other denominations or no church participation at all (more common with the growing urbanization)
Unfortunately, when a church hires someone to do a job, they seem to think that person should take all of their previous responsibility! When a church supports a missionary, many see that missionary as fulfilling the Christian obligation of evangelism. When people hired a preacher, they might expect the preacher to fulfill their Christian obligation to read/study the Bible. And when people hired a youth minister, they stopped worrying about discipling the youth.

This leads us to the problems Murphy identifies:
  • separation of youth from the larger church (popularly called a "satellite model" of youth ministry)
  • consumer mentality, where everything we do seeks to serve the youth
  • major drop-off from high school to college (unless, of course, you've built a college ministry with a similar consumer mentality)
  • (And I would add) lack of faith development within the go to church to learn about God
At this point, however, I would separate from Murphy. Since "[youth ministers] may have been unintentionally disconnecting kids from the larger body of Christ," her solution is to get rid of youth ministers altogether. My solution is that youth ministers should stop enabling the congregation's lack of responsibility. If, instead, they provided resources for parents, bridged the generation gap between teens and older members, and created an environment where teens feel safe to grow in faith and invite their friends, I think youth ministers have significant value.

Yes, it is possible to develop strong faith in children and teens without a specific youth minister. In fact, parental involvement with faith is the #1 factor of continued participation of teens as they become adults. (Here's one survey, though it's not the one I was looking for.) But if you have the money as a church to hire someone who's been focusing on the youth culture, why would you ignore that resource? Just make sure they're aware of the dangers, and as a church, hold them and yourselves accountable, together, for the faith of your teens.


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  2. Chris Woodrow's reaction to Kate Murphy's article (self incriminating I might add) is spot on in my opinion.
    The great commission applied to youth ministry aids in developing youth and then young adults who are passionate followers of Jesus. It should not usurp the role of parents (when there are Christian parents available...which isn't often enough), but with intention it can be a great parallel resource.

    There have been (and still are) many churches that have done youth group without any sort of discipleship goal either murky or clearly defined. Kate seems to assume that because she was guilty of that, all youth ministries are the same way. I don't mean it as an attack, but I have to wonder how gifted of a youth minister she was in missing the bigger picture of the integrated discipleship? Unfortunately, if her discipleship goals were vague when she was doing youth ministry...and she was not able to integrate the youth into a broader Christian good of a job do you think she is doing now?

    Aaron J. Babyar

  3. I think most of the times it's better for youths to learn the faith and word of God with people of their own age. That's how they feel more confortable.