I now come to the final blog post of my series on youth ministry as a mirror for your church. Thus far, my thesis has been: when you look at the youth ministry of your church, that should give you a good idea what is going on in the rest of your church. So when you wander down the hall to Sunday school or show up on a Wednesday night or join a youth small group, you are going to find out what is most important to a church because those values have made their way into the youth ministry. In other words, if you have excellent Bible-teaching, Word-driven music, a maturity of leadership, and a heart for evangelism (all four I have already discussed here and here), then you can rest assure that the rest of your church is following the same pattern. But if you have shallow-worldly teaching, theologically-askew music, immature leadership, and the lack of evangelism, then you can know that the rest of your church is the same and is unhealthy or a false church.
Two more aspects jump out to me that you can look for in youth ministry that give a helpful barometer to the health of your church: shepherding and serving. Let’s look at them briefly.
In my last post, I said youth ministry (and the church as a whole) must be gospel-centered. But that is not the place to stop. If a youth ministry and church stops at only proclaiming the gospel, they have missed the whole point of the Great Commission, which says to “make disciples … baptizing … teaching them to observe all that [Jesus] commanded” (Matt 28:19-20). Making disciples, baptizing, and teaching/training is the goal of the church. Therefore, youth ministry and the church must be discipleship oriented by shepherding the people given by God.
Now what does shepherding mean and what does it look like? I don’t think you need to look much farther than the One who is the Good Shepherd. In John 10:11, Jesus calls Himself “the good Shepherd” and does so as a direct contrast to the false shepherds of Israel who were self-righteous and self-appointed. A simple observation here can tell us that there are leaders in the church who are false shepherds. Their discipleship “care” is about promoting themselves and not about promoting Jesus. They are in the ministry for themselves and only “care” for people because they have to, but it is always to promote their programs, their agenda, and gain complete loyalty to them instead of uplifting Jesus, His Word, His standards, and His lordship.
A bad youth ministry will be just this sad form of false shepherding. The youth pastor and leaders will be about themselves and not about Christ. They will be about fun, entertainment, and “cool,’ rather than showing the students Christ, His Word, and their obligation to submit to Him. A good youth ministry, one that honors God and is Spirit-driven will follow the example of their good Shepherd and lead the students to Christ, caring for souls, and feed the Word to their youth flock. If this is not happening, I can guarantee that it is also not happening with the rest of the leadership of your church, because only godly elders/pastors/leaders of the church would hire a man and put together a group of leaders who will be true shepherds.
Does your church shepherd and disciple the youth of your church? Your answer will show you the answer to if your church as a whole is doing the same.
I find this to be the most overlooked aspect in the church today, but in particular in youth ministry. People do not serve the church as God intended and the leaders of the church do not encourage it or expect it. This is true church-wide, but also true in the youth ministry.
Quickly, a theology of why you, as a Christian, belong in a local church, in bullet points:
- The church is the only institution God promised to bless (Matt 16:18).
- The church is Christ’s bride. He loves her and gave Himself up for her (Eph 5:25-27). If Jesus loves the church more than His own life, what could you possibly want to love more than the church?
- The local church is the place where your new life in Christ is lived out and proven. How else will you do the “one another” passages? (cf Heb 10:19-25).
- You have been given gifts for the building of the local church (1 Peter 4:10-11; Eph 4:11-16). If you are not actively involved in a local church, then you are robbing the church of your spiritual gift.
- As conversion, you were placed into the Body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13). A healthy body cannot function well without all of its members. So, you are causing the Body of Christ to be unhealthy by not being active in a local church.
- As conversion, you were placed into the (figurative) building of the church, where Jesus Christ is the cornerstone (Eph 2:20). You are a stone, a brick, in the building up the church. If you are a free brick that is not attached to a local church, then, as Spurgeon aptly stated, “You are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live, and you are much to blame for the injury you do.”
- The church is where we are spurred on to holiness, godliness, love (Heb 10:24-25), and is the place where others bear our burdens (Gal 6:2).
I could go on, but do you get the picture? If you are only a Sunday morning Christian and not actively looking for ways to serve the people of your local church, then you are missing out on one of God’s purpose’s for your salvation. Mark Dever sums this up well: “if we really love He who we have not seen, it will show itself by us loving those that we do see.”
Now where does the youth ministry paradigm I have set up fit in here. One easy question: is the youth group serving the church? Is the youth pastor and the leaders leading the students in serving the church? In my experience, I think I can safely say that this is the last thing on anyone’s mind in the church, including the church leadership. The reason: youth are seen as weird, unreachable, riff-raff, immature, and just a plain annoyance. In American society, teenagers are seen as not much use except getting into trouble and breaking things. Now, for some, this may be true. Granted. But the problem becomes that the way we deal with these “problems” is to quarantine them to a youth room, the basement, the gym, or a complete different “youth center.” Now I am not against a separate space for youth ministry, but I am against seeing that youth ministry space as a quarantine zone so that the youth do not infect the rest of the church with their teenage cooties. The danger here, church-member, is that by doing this they are not being taught the importance of the local church. They are not being shown the love mature Christians have for the local Body. Students must be shown how they can be actively involved in the building up of the Body and by separating yourself from them, you do a great disservice to the church, them, and to God.
And, as I have argued through these blog posts, if service and love for the local church is not in youth ministry, I can tell you that it is not in the leadership of the church either. The leadership see serving the local body as more of a “have to” than a heart-felt “get to.”
Simply, a youth ministry that does not serve mirrors a church that probably doesn’t either. But a youth ministry that is active in serving, whether it be church clean days, babysitting, serving meals, visiting the sick, helping at a banquet, painting, being a leader in Awana, etc., you’ll see the same in the leaders of the church. And that, my brothers and sisters, is a church that honors God, follows Christ, and lives by the Spirit.
Go to the youth ministry and you will find the reality of your church.
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 Quoted in Joshua Harris, Why Church Matters (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2004), 47.