I have now been a full-time, vocational youth pastor for almost 3 years (party hats! Whoop whoop!) Every year I grow more and more in love with teenagers and in the conviction of the importance of specific ministry toward them. To pass on seeing the importance of youth ministry in the local church is to pass on faithfully shepherding a needy section of the church. It is enjoyable and fun, but youth ministry is also challenging and demanding. It is in every since, work! Why? Simply, youth are people (against popular opinion 🙂 ) who have emotions, make decisions, must live with the consequences of those decisions, and who also have a spiritual life that God is interested in.
I am thankful to my great God that He has called me to the work of student ministries. I am thankful to the elders of my church who have made youth ministry a priority by devoting a large chunk of the church’s budget to the youth. I am thankful for the parents of the youth who allow me to meet with their students on a regular basis to get to know them and encourage them spiritually. I am thankful for my youth leaders who tirelessly love on, pray for, and care for the students in ways I am unable. I am thankful to my own parents who gave me an excellent example of how to do youth ministry, even though they were only volunteers.
Now, with all that said, I want to give you a blogpost I wrote about two years ago on “Why Youth Ministry Matters.” Many people feel youth ministry is a waste of time or just a type of baby-sitting with no real spiritual point. I agree, but only if youth ministry is about fun and numbers. BUT, when youth ministry is done in an excellent, faithful, God-honoring, gospel-proclaiming, Christ-centered way, is a powerful ministry of the church. This conviction and the ones below I held before I was a youth pastor and I hold them even stronger now.
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IN DEFENSE OF YOUTH MINISTRY
The church belongs to Jesus. It was started by Jesus (Matt 16:18). It is continued to be run by Jesus as the head (Col 1:18). He is both the cornerstone (Eph 2:20) and the foundation (1 Cor 3:11). People get in to the church through Jesus (1 Cor 12:13) and continue in the church to become more and more like Jesus (Rom 8:29). The church is Jesus’ body (Eph 1:22-23), His precious bride (Eph 5:25-32), His building project (1 Pet 2:5), His flock (John 10:16; Acts 20:28), and His priesthood (Heb 4:14-16; cf. Lev 1-7). Without Jesus, the church is dead (John 15:6). Jesus says it best: the church is “MY church” (Matt 16:18).
As a member of a church that is rightly following the prescribed way to do church as laid out in Scripture, I hope you love your church, because, as a Christian, you love your Savior (1 Cor 16:22) and the church is His.
Now, my goal here is not to re-hash what one of my past PS23ers have already done in this area. My goal is to ask the question: where does youth ministry fit into the church? Youth ministry is not mentioned in Scripture and God gives no specific “youth ministry guidelines” to follow like the guidelines of church leadership (1 Tim 3; Titus 2). So why do youth ministry? Does youth ministry have a place in the local church? I believe it does for the following reasons:
YOUTH MATTER TO GOD
In this culture we live in here in America, youth are seen as riff-raff, unwise, untrustworthy, adolescent, and just a subset of humanity. Don’t get me wrong: many youth are this way making these descriptions true. But to God, youth are not a subset of the human race. They are humans. Just like every human since Adam and Eve, youth are sinners in need of a Savior. God, in His love for the world, sent Jesus to die on a cross so that those who would believe in Him would be saved from eternal Hell. Youth, as part of the world, are people that God loves, therefore we need to show the love of God by sharing this gospel message. Youth need to know that God loves them, and that only through repentance and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ will they be able to honor and glorify God in their daily lives and have hope, peace, and joy in this life.
Furthermore, Jesus said it is the church’s duty to “Go therefore and make disciples of ALL the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28:20). The Greek word for “all” means “to totality with a focus on its individual components.” So all means all. This includes youth! If the church is to properly carry out this mandate, they must see youth as a lost sinners who need to come into proper relationship with Jesus Christ and then discipled to become more like Jesus. Here is the overarching purpose of the church: to disciple people. Youth ministry is a ministry extension of the church. It does not replace the church, but comes underneath the church leadership to disciple youth. Just like men’s ministry, women’s ministry, children’s ministry, outreach ministry, etc., youth ministry has a specific focus (in this case on discipling youth) in obedience to Jesus for the glory of God.
Youth are at a grave disadvantage. Youth have only ever had the experience of being children. They have only ever thought like children, spoke like children, reason like children, and act like children. Then, all of a sudden, when they turn 13ish, we, as adults, expect them to act like adults and if they don’t, we look down on them, humiliate them, etc. Youth then are looking for ways to grow up. If they are not discipled by the older men/women of the church, the culture surrounding them will swallow them up. Youth have physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual immaturity to their disadvantage which means youth tend to be more susceptible to adhering their beliefs, attitudes, and actions “according to the course of this world” (Eph 2:1). They are already born as futile-minded, dark-hearted enemies of God who do not seek God, but rather are ignorant, calloused, greedy and spiritual dead (Eph 2:1; 4:17-19; Rom 3:11-18). Furthermore, the culture is anti-Christian (John 15:18-19) and will always try to attract youth to its evil (Prov 5:3; 7:4-23). Knowing this is why youth ministry is so important. The church raises up men and women of spiritual maturity to come alongside this youthful immaturity and teaches the eternal truths of Scripture by showing that it is of utmost importance to believe the gospel message for the saving of their eternal souls and to live a changed life according to the Word of God (Col 3:16) while relying upon the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:16, 25).
IT SERVES THE PARENTS
The home is the center of faith formation for the next generation (Eph 6:1-4; Deut 6:5-7). Parents are responsible before God to do all in their power to impress the hearts of children/youth with a love for God through active biblical training, both in speech and action. God’s desire is that generation after generation of believers would go forth and fill the earth with His worship and the good news of Christ (Acts 2:38-39). Youth ministry is an extension of that home training. Youth ministry does not replace the home training, but is to be the continued work of the discipling at home.
I cannot tell you how many parents have come up to me and have said that they have been teaching a certain biblical truth to their youth for years and it never stuck. Yet for some reason when their youth leader at church says the exact same truth, it sticks and changes the student’s life. This is not an argument for youth ministry being superior to parenting, but rather the joining together to prepare the student for growth in godliness. Better said,
“What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. 7So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor 3:5-9)
Youth ministry and parents are doing the same work; working on causing the growth of the student. Parents plant and water. Youth ministry plants and waters. But only God’s causes growth. Neither parents nor youth ministry take the credit for a student’s growth. We both just work hard to get the students heart into a place where God can cause the growth. Then we give Him the glory. Youth ministry is a servant to the parents.