What We’ve Gotten Away From…

I’ve been involved with in Youth Ministry for just about 20 years now. Though there have been many tweaks and occasional shifts away from the norm, the typical youth ministry program has included some form of  hang time, game time, worship time and teaching (“talk”) time. These four elements are about a predictable as my desire for breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert!

Our youth ministry forefathers formed something that we’ve had a hard time re-inventing (and to be honest, may not be the primary area in need of an overhaul). I believe the real change in youth ministry doesn’t have anything to do with re-envisioning our mid-week programming, but an examination of some key things I believe youth pastors/leaders have gotten away from in the greater landscape of student ministry.

  1. We’ve Gotten Away From The Campus. Most youth pastors haven’t even attempted to get on the public (or private) school campus. I hear them say “the campus is closed” yet they haven’t once made an effort with the administration of the said “closed” campus. I am telling you, I have NEVER been turned down by the admin to be a volunteer on campus. Be smart, don’t look at your time on campus as a time to proselytize, rather as a time to serve the school, the teachers, the administration and to build relationship with anyone God brings you in contact with. Just being present (even just an hour a week) will pay large dividends and build major trust! It will bring a whole new ownership when attending games, musicals, concerts and award banquets.
  2. We’ve Gotten Away From Evangelism. A “discipleship-first” model is honestly the safe choice. Parents are quite happy that you’re providing a “safe” place for their child(ren) to participate in ministry. Service-based trips where we work with our hands building, cleaning, painting and serving meals are now called “mission trips.” I am a big proponent of service, it often creates an entry point into spiritual conversation, but I believe we’ve gotten away from sharing the gospel with our WORDS! I think youth missions can/should include evangelism opportunities because it is an extension of what we’re doing at home as well (what we call “Mission51” at Youthmark). I believe youth leaders (and parents) have allowed youth ministry to turn away from evangelism because we’re typically not involved with it in our own peer-community. It’s hard to teach what we’re not doing. What if evangelism and discipleship were not mutually exclusive? What if youth leaders, pastors and parents began to model discipleship that included evangelism first?
  3. We’ve Gotten Away From The Gospel! This may sound a lot like the last, but I believe student ministry as a whole has gotten away from sharing the gospel and settled for a “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”-message. The gospel is good news, in order to have good news, there must be bad news as well. This “bad news” is HORRIBLE news. Without Jesus there is no hope. No hope is hell (bad news)! Many of our programs talk about the bible, Jesus, prayer and accountability without talking about the “why” we need these things. A failure to share about the wonderful grace of God actually leads our followers down the path of works-righteousness. Students begin to “work” on the practices of faith without actually having grace-based faith.
I want to be part of a solution, not just point out what I see as some of the problems. So, I have a few suggestions for myself and other youth leaders (or pastors).
  • Start with prayer: pray for your own heart response and examine whether or or not these things are true of you and your ministry. Ask God for a peer-level harvest field for you to work in (so many youth leaders don’t even have non-Christian friends). Pray and ask for prayer. I believe your prayer will lead you to care and then your care will lead you to share!
  • Make contact today: Get up, drive to the local middle school or high school or make an appointment with the administration and simply ask the question “how can I serve this school… how can I help?” Don’t abuse the privilege to be there, keep the campus options available to other Christians by being a smart missionary if given the opportunity to serve the school. Your present on campus (or campuses) will lead you to opportunities to experience the harvest field.
  • Share the gospel in youth group! Don’t assume that even your core-students know and understand that gospel. Be clear in your presentation of the gospel. Always include the need for salvation (because of sin), Jesus’ life, death, burial and resurrection. As you share this more and more not only will it permeate your other conversations, but as more for your group place their trust in Christ, it’ll permeate their conversations outside of your group!
May your hang time, game time, worship time and message time  be an extension of everything that is taking place outside of your program! I’m ready to see us get back to some of the things we may have moved away from.

6 thoughts on “What We’ve Gotten Away From…

  1. Thank you Brian. I agree with you wholeheartedly! So, we engage, we have a “program”, but really the Gospel is where its at! Thank you for another tool for us. Our kids have been blessed to go on Mission 51 trips! It’s not “summer camp”, it’s faith-building! It’s learning how to share the Gospel!

    1. I agree with you on our first point. I’ve heard that mantra to the point where I press into it. Rarely have they actually tried to do something on a campus, they just “heard” it was “closed” and gave up. Yawn.

      Points B &C are not actually solutions to anything IMO, just circling the wagons. The problem isn’t that we aren’t “leading kids to Jesus” its that what we are (hyper generalization) leading them to often times isn’t even Jesus… it’s to youth group.

      I’d like to see youth ministry get over the idea that the midweek program as a measurement for a students spiritual maturity or growth. There’s a general (false) assumption that if they come they must be OK or getting close to OK and if they don’t they must be falling away or in the process of walking away.

      It’s a McDonald’s approach to youth ministry that is a growth limiter and not working. It is time for big change, I’m like you… incremental isn’t going to do anything.

      1. Berit and Adam, thanks for the comments!

        Adam, I appreciate your thoughts, I actually agree with you except for the “are not actually solutions” line.

        If Youth Ministry and Youth Ministers actually prioritized campus ministry, evangelism and presenting the gospel, I believe these would be MAJOR steps in a solution. Of course, I am not talking program, I’m speaking of it as a practice!

        I completely understand the McD’s analogy and the Happy-Meal ain’t cutting it anymore, but I don’t think the box has to be thrown out if we improve the contents. A ministry, even a program, that flows out of the gospel, prayer and action outside of program is at the core of that change.

      2. For the record… I don’t think I’ve ever seen a youth group that has given up on presenting the Gospel, asking for a response, etc. They might do it differently or in a way you don’t agree with… but I just visit many youth groups that aren’t all Jesus-y like that.

        I could talk your ear off on this topic. But besides ditching the programs as a measuring point, how about getting adults to SHUT UP already and let the students have a voice. No wonder they don’t know what they believe, all they ever do is listen.

  2. Ahh, now we’re talking! So many youth pastors/adult leaders would feel so useless if the ministry wasn’t about them standing up and speaking at the youth! With that said, I fully believe that adult mentors/disciplers are a needed/welcomed. However, this being my original point, these adult mentors are qualified by the life they are leading/living outside of the youth ministry program.

    So many Youth Pastors (and unfortunately the boards, parents and other pastors) measure the YP’s “success” by the number of people at youth group. Ridiculous. To me, these pastors, parents and boards need to understand that it’s what happens outside of program that is truly the measurement. I’d like to see adults stand up and live it out more than just showing up and telling students to live the life… prove it pastors/leaders/elders!

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