Visions from the Vincents

March 11, 2008

Youth Ministry: Where do we begin?

Filed under: Youth — Joshua @ 6:44 pm
Tags: , , ,

Jordan asked some helpful questions concerning youth ministry. As stated before, I think the role of parents is crucial. Here are some other thoughts that I believe will be helpful in thinking through how to minister to youth.

Where Scripture is Silent
Conservative evangelical circles these days discuss in great detail what a church should look like in light of the first century church. Some long to be a New Testament (NT) church. I think they mean more like the church of Philippi than the church of Corinth, but the point is clear. Many believe, as do I, that Scripture speaks to how God’s people should live together and order themselves. Everything the church does should be in response to the Word of God. Therefore, I would suggest that churches organize their youth ministries according to the principles set down by the Apostles in the New Testament. Wait a minute! Does the New Testament speak to Youth Ministry (YM hereafter)? Unfortunately, it does not. What then should we do? Should we sell the youth ministry for spare parts?

Where the Statistics Look Bleak
You may ask, “Why change a good thing?” Recent studies by the Barna Group, Lifeway, Fuller Seminary, and others have shown that the prodigiously increasing rate of attrition concerning students who entered their freshman year at college as Christians, yet abandoned the church by their sophomore year is startling. In 1945, 65% of students entering their freshman year as Christians remained in the church thereafter. By 2005 this percentage has fallen to 3%-5%. Something must be done.

What a Youth Ministry Should Guard Against
Before you do something rash, stop for just a minute and let’s think through this issue. Although, a Youth Pastor (YP) can hinder the gospel purposes for the church as presented in the NT, a YM that fences itself with certain principles, and focuses on the right ends can be faithful and fruitful. To accomplish this, YM should begin with what it is and what it is not. Though it is unintentional, many YPs do more harm than good for Christ’s Bride the church. A majority of YPs begin the conversation of YM with the YM, rather than beginning it with the church. The YM is not the church. If your approach grounds itself in trying to create a YM in a theological vacuum, then you have just become a magician, causing something to appear out of nothing, leaving all those who watch scratching their heads and asking, “Where did that come from?” While creativity is valuable, the church isn’t called to be creative as much as it is called to be obedient to revealed truth. Christians should begin with the church, and then constructively consider what a YM should and should not do. Perhaps, some of these will prove more obvious than others. But, the main point is that a YM should be integrated into the church. The more a YM distances itself from actively using its gifts in the church collectively, the more the YM distances itself from faithful obedience to the Word of God. Let’s begin with eight things a YM and YP should ordinarily steer clear of. I say ordinarily, because we live in a world that is fallen. In a perfect world, your youth ministry wouldn’t need a list, and you would have freedom to lead people in all of the directions we deemed best. As we all know, this world isn’t that place. Again, eight things a YM and YP should ordinarily avoid.

1. The YM is not a para-church organization working alongside or with the local church.
2. The YM is not separate from the congregation like a second church that shares a building. Although as many youth as will come are welcome, a youth cannot be a members of the YM without being a member of the church.
3. The YM should not practice ordinances apart from the rest of the Church.
4. The YM should not ordinarily grow in a manner disproportionate to the church congregation. This is not to say that you want to stunt spiritual or numerical growth, but it is to say that this shouldn’t be the goal of youth ministry.
5. The YM should not be an environment all together different from the church collectively. The YM shouldn’t see itself as a place where they can do all the things the older, boring adults will not allow them to do such as play the music they prefer. Though they may play different music and sing different songs, it shouldn’t be viewed as though relevance is equivalent to value before God.
6. The YM should not meet separately from the church during regularly scheduled meetings (i.e. Sunday morning, Sunday night, etc.)
7. The YP is not a substitute for the Pastor(s) of the church; he is a fully acknowledged pastor (this is an ideal or goal but perhaps not always possible).
8. The YP is not ordinarily a substitute for the spiritual role of the parents of the youth. Some spiritual orphans do need this though.

The Main Point: Teach the Value of the Local Church
This initial list serves to begin the conversation on the boundaries one should set up to begin a ministry of the church. It is easy for a YM to fold into itself and away from the church. Thus, it is possible for youth to prefer only to attend youth functions and only sit with youth in church, and only visit other youth. Let us not ignore the exhortation of James to image God by not showing partiality—even concerning age. Hopefully, this list clearly displays the potential pitfalls of YM. Churches should be encouraged to seek to set up these boundaries to emphasize the value of the local church as a whole to Youth. Part of communicating this vision is avoiding using language that confuses youth into thinking that their youth group is a substitute for the real thing.

Use Youth Ministry for all it’s Worth
We began this essay with the question, “Should churches sell the YM for spare parts?” You may be surprised by my answer in light of the conversation to this point. I actually think YMs can actually be an asset to the body of Christ! To this point, I have eight areas in which I think YM can be helpful.

1. The evangelism of youth.
2. The encouragement of family worship in families with youth.
3. The exhortation of obedience to parents.
4. The care of literal and spiritual orphans.
5. The integration of youth into the church.
6. The development of relationships with other Christian youth.
7. The preparation of youth for making the transition into adulthood.
8. Teaching Doctrine.

One may ask—and they have—which of these could not be achieved by simply folding the YM into the church and getting rid of the YM. I would be fine with a church not having an YM. Scripture doesn’t necessitate the provision of a YM or YP, but both can be a huge asset in thinking through these areas, especially in a larger church. On the other hand, Scripture nowhere prohibits a YM or YP. Paul says, “I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some (1 Cor 9:22).” More individuals come to Christ between their teenage years and early twenties than any other age. Therefore, it would behoove the church to place a concentrated effort on the development and evangelization of youth. Much more could be said, but this was meant to be far shorter than it has already become. I invite any helpful criticism concerning these matters and would also appreciate any further positives or negatives you would propose.



  1. Mr. Vincent,
    Excellent thoughts. I put a link to your post on my new blog. I am thankful for the position that God has put you in to not only think about the local church, but also put into practice what you have learned.

    Comment by Riley — March 11, 2008 @ 8:04 pm

  2. Josh,
    I found your thoughts provoking and stirring. My father was a YP for a good many years and I remember seeing some of the false ideas that we hold in our heads about YM. Your thoughts have been a great encouragement to me and I pray that you continue to write.

    Comment by Ben Bacon — March 12, 2008 @ 8:58 pm

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