I suppose it should be appropriate if my first entry addressed what I hope to be the area of discussion on this blog. I am a follower of Jesus and a pastor to youth (teens) and their families. One primary passion of mine is to care for the youth and their families in my church and community. I very much love the youth I work with and enjoy the blessing of sharing my life with them and the blessing of them sharing their life with me. I pray earnestly that they come to know the one true and living God and his Son Jesus Christ, who almost two thousand years ago lived on our planet, died for our sins, and was resurrected in bodily form as the first fruits of those who will also rise with him, trusting in his sacrifice for our salvation. I pray also that they would live their lives serving God, allowing the Holy Spirit to guide their lives on this Earth.
The primary aim of this blog is to foster discussion and theological pondering on the area of Christian ministry called youth ministry. In American society, teenagers have come to be very distanced from other generations. Patricia Hersch in A Tribe Apart (Ballantine Books, 1998) documents one community’s experience of this very well. In general, teenagers in the 21st century are more disconnected from their parents (and other family members) than teenagers in the 20th century. This is due to a variety of reasons not the least of which are higher divorce rates and an increasing number of parents devoting too much time to their careers (and less to their families) in order to provide for themselves and their families a needlessly high standard of living.
Do churches and youth ministries add to this separation by creating ministries where youth worship God and learn about the Christian faith very much separated from the rest of the church? I would say so. To say that all churches and youth ministries do this would over-generalize matters. However, I believe that youth ministries tend to separate youth from the rest of the body of Christ. My church and the ministry I lead is no exception; I often wonder if I am doing the youth and their families a disservice by offering so many events and programs exclusively for the youth. We must be careful to note that many of these events have advantages. Youth group meetings allow students to socialize with their peers in a setting where following Christ is encouraged and where they worship and learn about their God. In addition, adolescents have distinct needs, and ministries can better meet these needs by specifically focusing on youth. My argument is that if we focus only on the youth, we will further contribute to the separation of American youth culture from the rest of our culture.
Should we then bag the whole idea of youth ministry? No. However, youth ministry as a vocation needs focus on raising up strong, mature Christians rather than encouraging youth to form their own Christian youth culture that is separate from the rest of the body of Christ. I suggest that we can do this by ministering to a student as well as his or her family. The family ought to be a child’s first church, and parents typically have far more influence on their child than a youth minister ever will, for better or for worse. A youth ministry ought to nurture the faith of the whole family, which will nurture the faith of the student. This is not always possible, but it should be the goal when it is possible. In addition, youth should be considered full members of the body of Christ. Youth ministers are all too often considered to be a sort of bridge from the adult portion of the church to the youth. Youth should have a place in the church where they are allowed to act their age and their youth is celebrated. However, their gifts and contributions to the Church should be recognized in their church communities beyond the youth ministry at those churches. This requires vision not only on the part of the youth pastor, but on the part of the entire church leadership as well.
As we minister to youth and their families, let us not forget that the youth we serve will one day, Lord willing, grow into mature adults. We will serve them better if we strive to develop ministries which minister to youth in the context in which they live rather than creating mini-churches comprised entirely of youth and cut off from the rest of the body of Christ.