Are youth ministries killing our churches?
image courtesy of games4youthgroups
From time to time I’ve hinted at my thoughts on youth ministry as it is being done today, but I’ve never come out and said plainly what I believe. I did link once to this article once — Youth Groups Destroy Children’s Lives (which is a great read, by the way) — but I’ve never written a blog post on the subject. While I don’t believe youth groups are necessarily destroying the lives of our children or singlehandedly killing our churches, I do believe they provide a tremendous obstacle to be overcome if teens are ever to become mature Christians.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the subject (I worked hard to narrow it down):
- Children must learn how to be responsible Christian adults by spending time around responsible Christian adults who are acting as responsible Christian adults. This means that youth group volunteers and chaperones generally do not count, as they’re only acting as chaperones at the time — and not adults. Somehow our children have to witness adults actually being adults and doing what Christian adults do in the world. [I remember going to work with my dad when I was little….]
- Kids are spending increasing amounts of time only with other kids, and youth groups often exacerbate this problem. Sports, school functions, going to the mall and the movies, youth group, camp, etc. We allow this because we want our children to be happy (or because we’re too busy), but I believe (even Christianity aside), this is causing a prolonged adolescence in American youth. Maturity cannot be modeled by peers, and the adults who could model it are not present. [This is also why I believe teens in rural areas are often more mature at earlier ages, because their social communities and get-togethers extend beyond age-group friends to entire families. Also, churches in these areas (almost by necessity) have more church-wide events than do larger, urban churches.]
- Children are not the center of the universe, yet we often treat them as such. I’m afraid the youth in many churches are being prepared for a huge letdown when they graduate high school, because every event and activity up until that time has been designed specifically for them — for their enjoyment, for their education, for their well-being, etc. But that’s not real life. Nor is it real church. The church exists largely for those outside it.
- Youth ministers are routinely expected to do parents’ jobs for them. The Bible is clear that spiritual development is first and foremost the parents’ responsibility. If you haven’t read Deuteronomy 6 lately, please do. [And here’s a blog post on the subject: raising children according to deuteronomy 6.]
- We’re also teaching our children that church involvement (and Christianity in general) is great for kids but not that important for adults. This might explain why so many youth give church up for their college, young adult, and young married lives, but then begin attending again once they have children. We’ve programmed them to believe church is important for kids — but not so much for everyone else.
“All this complaining, Brett… I hope you’re going to offer some practical solutions, because I’m tired of your constant moaning and griping. All you do is criticize, criticize, criticize….”
Well, I will indeed offer just a couple of ideas (and I may revisit more practical solutions later):
- Let’s stop with all the age-group specific stuff. Let the church be the church together. If we are the body of Christ, should the elbows always be eating pizza and worshiping without the rest of the body? [Okay, I don’t mean stop with ALL the age-group stuff, but with much of it.]
- If our churches truly want to provide a service to the children of Christian families, let’s spend more time encouraging and enabling parents to be Christian parents. If parents aren’t taking responsibility for their kids’ spiritual well-being, my guess is it’s usually because they feel inadequate or don’t know how — and not because they just don’t want to. Let’s support them in their roles. I’m convinced much greater good would be done by parents taking seriously their God-given positions in the kingdom (as parents) than by our youth ministers and volunteers entertaining children and teaching them what’s not being modeled at home.
This subject very well may find its way back onto my blog in the next week or two, but for now I’ll leave you with this article by Jay Guin. He (and his fellow elders) say it quite nicely. I’m glad to see a church moving this direction:
What do you think about youth ministry?