J and I are going through a process where e are having to put down our ideas and philosophies about how we do things down on paper.
We have never believed in the current model of youth ministry. It's been yet one more bone of contention amidst friends and the world. We began a journey before marriage of "putting off the world" and it's ways of doing things. Our kids haven't grown up with TV, they have never been to public school, we don't let the dress in ways that draw sensual attention, they like hanging out with us... We have fought to be able to raise them as we see the Bible pointing us to.
I won't lie. It hasn't been fun. But I am loving the results of God's way being established in their hearts.
J wrote a bulletin about our questions and philosophy of YM. It's so good, I jut have to preserve it here.
I think we need to re-imagine youth ministry in America. God has chosen to bless the “Youth Pastor” model for several decades. It could be said that much good has been done in the name of “youth groups” and “youth ministry.” But I believe parents are being circumvented. The current model often unintentionally encourages parents to abdicate their biblical responsibility by its very existence. My questions are these: Are parents doing their job? Are parents raising godly children according to the scriptures? If not, what do we do about it? We hire a youth pastor. It’s post-modern church culture’s reflexive solution to poor parenting. We hire a youth pastor to do for us what we are unable or unwilling as parents to do ourselves.
*What about parents who lack spiritual maturity?
We cannot ignore the fact that dysfunctional families will always exist in the church. Their children will need ministry. The question is what can we do for them? A family pastor model would address the root of the issue, the parents. It’s not the most convenient answer. It’s also not as fun. But when I think 20, 50, or 100 years down the road I’m convinced that equipping and training parents is paramount in obeying the great commission and the great commandment. The standard YP model provides short term, symptomatic teen solutions whereas parental reformation would yield long term results as the next generation emerges.
*What if parents don’t want to be trained?
Godly parenting should be a budgetary emphasis for any church that desires to effectively reach the harvest. All parents with kids under the age of 18 should be required to take a class on biblical parenting before becoming members. Youth should be taught what the Bible says about obeying their parents. How much time and money is spent every year putting out fires that could have been addressed much earlier by equipping parents to do their job? Our youth need moms and dads who know the Word of God and are held accountable by a strong eldership committed to strengthening the family. This is where the rubber meets the road. We can talk about family values and parental responsibility all day long but it’s another thing completely to embody those values by making them a budgetary priority. Parenting must be intentionally and consistently addressed in the church for a healthy, vibrant, youth ministry to emerge. I believe any youth pastor model that excludes parents is predetermined to fail based on the fact that parents, not youth pastors, are primarily responsible for their kid’s souls.
*What about youth evangelism? After all, everybody knows how early people come to Christ, right?
I believe hospitality is the church’s untapped evangelistic natural resource. We should be inviting our lost neighbors and friends into our homes on a regular basis. Then we can share the love of Christ with them from a position of strength. It begins with the example of the parents. As we cast the vision of hospitality and reaching our neighbors through our example I believe our kids will follow. They’ll begin inviting their lost friends over to the house. I’m all for youth evangelism. Nearly half (43%) of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their savior do so before reaching the age of 13 (Barna: 2004) I believe that with parents leading the way our youth are called and empowered to reach their generation with the gospel much more effectively. 78% of American teens say that their parents have a lot of influence on their life. (Barna: 1997)
Parents must lead their youth. I recently found this article, dated over a year ago. It addresses many of these issues. A group of prominent youth leaders drafted a document re-imagining youth ministry. In the article Josh McDowell writes, "The most powerful impact upon a child's ethical, moral and spiritual development is the relationship with the parents. It is 300 times greater than the church." Here is a pdf of the document mentioned in the article. As of this date it has been signed by 804 local church leaders.
I believe our primary role as parents and church leaders is to prepare our children and youth for a lifetime of Christian service. I’ve learned that most youth are more easily influenced than influential. I feel using weekly youth meetings primarily as evangelism opportunities is short sighted. I’m sure the youth group evangelism emphasis has been used to produce some good fruit. My questions would be these:
A) How much of this “fruit” remains?
B) How many of these “converts” are in the church today?
C) How much discipleship potential has been supplanted in the process?
Those questions may sound cold but I believe we should regularly measure the effectiveness of any ministry and be willing to make necessary adjustments. The reason I feel much of this fruit doesn’t remain is because these same kids go home to parents who don’t love God. I agree with Josh McDowell’s assessment that parents have 300% more influence in the lives of their kids than any youth leader/ministry. So I believe in using our weekly youth services primarily as discipleship training for our Christian youth. We should create a safe, discipleship-friendly environment where our young people can mature quickly in Christ-like character. Then when their young friends visit they will have a far more compelling picture of who this God is. They’ll have witnessed His character in the lives of our youth firsthand.
Secondly, un-churched kids must be reached with the gospel. Statistically this is the harvest field demographic. Much time and prayer should be spent considering the best ways to reach them before they make permanent faith based decisions. There are many models out there to choose from and I would look forward to evaluating the different options after becoming familiar with area youth.