I’ve been involved in youth ministry for over 20 years! I absolutely love it, so please don’t let the title of this post be an invitation to a Debbie Downer moment.
God is at work and there is much to rejoice about when it comes to student ministry. The following is simply a list of stuff that has gotten under my skin… the good news, every one of these is fixable! I’m praying that naming these may be the first step towards the solution rather than just naming the problem.
- Low standards bug me. Check out the dichotomy of messages we send students: We recruit teens to defend our country. We see those naturally gifted/talented in their sport and push them to the limits so that as a teen they can sign multi-million dollar contracts. We lead them to believe that if they work hard enough, take AP classes and keep their grades up they’ll receive massive scholarships for school. Yet in the church and youth ministry I don’t think we believe students are capable of so much more. We keep the standards low, we entertain them rather than include them in the development. Too often I hear, “they’re so busy with everything else we just want youth group to be a retreat for them.” When it comes to priorities, which one is winning, the areas that students are being pushed in or the refuge and retreat ministry?
- Celebrating “growth” bugs me. I love when youth groups (or churches) grow! But the growth that should be celebrated is when someone who was not connected (to Christ or to a body of believers) begins to attend and be discipled. When a person comes from a different church or a different youth group our first reaction should be to protect the bride (unity). If your group is growing with already committed believers transferring in understand that another church/group is shrinking. This isn’t to say there aren’t reasons for people to leave, but please take the time to speak to those issues, seek reconciliation in the relationships involved even if it means your “numbers” are growing as rapidly. Equip your teens to seek and to save that which is lost! Sheep stealing is not growth.
- Expecting teens to do something you aren’t even doing yourself REALLY bugs me. We (youth leaders, parents, pastors) become discouraged when students don’t do what we’ve asked them to do. “Read your Bible.” “Pray about that.” “Invite your unchurched friends.” “Get discipled.” “Be committed.” These are all things that we seem to expect of our teens, but are these things that you’re doing? I interact with a lot of pastors and youth pastors, many volunteer leaders and scores of parents of teens and I can tell you, the apple does not fall too far from the tree. The very expectations we have for teens are the very things that are NOT prioritized in the lives of adults. Are you pouring over Scriptures? Is prayer a priority? When is the last time you prioritized sharing Christ with your own peers?
On one hand I’m terrified about the future of student ministries, the very things I named can become an uncontrollable snowball that leads to entertainment only, numerically judged, low standard youth ministries. Or, through prayer, a recommitment to relationally driven, biblically based and Spirit-driven responses we could see a generation of teens lead the cause of Christ!