Who Needs Youth Group?

July 16th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | 1 Comment
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Last week I satirically alluded to the importance of young adults attending church and youth group, lest they should fall into an early, chronic church consumerism. Some might respond, however, that though church is an indispensable means of grace, youth group is unnecessary. After all, neither youth pastors nor youth groups appear in God’s Word; and, indeed, the onus for transmitting the faith to the younger generation falls unmistakably on parents (cf. Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:1-4). Why, then, have youth groups at all? And, should we decide to have youth groups still as a support ministry, why the histrionics about youth who don’t attend regularly?


Fair questions, these.


I would submit some cautious replies. I confess at the outset that I will employ experiential arguments in defense of my thesis. I am not generally a fan of experiential arguments, for they lack the weight of reasoned biblical argumentation. (The trouble with arguments from experience, after all, is that someone else may have a different experience—and who is to judge between them?) Nevertheless, as I noted above, I haven’t got much in the way of biblical support for youth ministry—only a vast and distressing lacuna—so I’ll make do with what I have. I acknowledge at the outset, though, that my conclusions will have to be tenuous because my premises are necessarily so.


I want to be especially wary of teaching human traditions as the commands of God (Mark 7:8). The Bible regularly enjoins participation in the local congregation and submission to the authority structures of the church (e.g., Hebrews 10:24-25; 13:17; 1 Corinthians 12:12-31; Ephesians 4:11-16); however, nowhere does God command youth to attend a mid-week gathering aimed at them especially. Thus, attendance at youth group is not a question of obedience to God’s commands, but rather a question of discernment and wisdom for widely divergent families. Should all families send their children to youth group? If not, who should? And why?


Who Needs Youth Group?

Based on my experience in different contexts, cultures, and churches, I would say two very different groups of students would benefit immensely from regular[1] attendance at youth group.


First, youth who attend public schools should probably make youth group a priority in their lives. At least in the United States, public education is now intentionally anti-Christian, indoctrinating children with a worldview fundamentally at odds with Christian belief. This is not just a question of specific issues, such as naturalistic evolution, but a comprehensive approach to truth. The sad fact is that this indoctrination process is remarkably effective. Fewer and fewer Christian teenagers have a robust biblical understanding of the world, and fewer still can meaningfully engage with culture where they do disagree. Biblical knowledge is at an agonizing ebb. And while I grant that parents could supplement and correct the false teaching their children receive at school, the cold, hard truth is that few do—or do enough anyway. For these reasons, I believe youth who attend public schools should attend youth group regularly, to receive the instruction and equipping necessary for their circumstances—especially with university looming on the horizon, where these challenges will intensify!


Second, youth who are homeschooled should probably make youth group a priority in their lives—but for very different reasons. Indeed, one of the main motives for homeschooling is to pass a biblical worldview on to one’s children. However, what is often lacking in children of homeschooling families is an ability to engage winsomely and boldly with the culture around them (occasionally even including the other kids in their youth groups!). Homeschooling runs the risk of being unbiblically insular: children receive an abundance of Christian worldview, but have little skill at communicating its message to those in desperate need of it. For this reason, I believe youth who are homeschooled should attend youth group regularly, to have opportunity to engage with the lost and struggling meaningfully—and to learn how to do so more and more effectively.


Who Might Not Need Youth Group?

While I believe youth group should benefit every teen who attends, nevertheless I can see two groups who—given the constraints of time and energy—need not make it a priority in their lives.


First, youth who attend Christian schools might not need to attend youth group regularly, though it would depend upon the school. Two questions must be asked of the school: (1) Does the school provide truly Christian education, or is it merely a private school that Christians attend? That is, does the school not only teach the content of the faith (e.g., Bible classes taught by professionals trained in the subject), but also the practice of the faith? Does the school have a compelling discipleship structure, and is making disciples the top priority of the school? (2) Does the school provide opportunities to engage with the lost and struggling, so that students learn to communicate the gospel winsomely and boldly? This might happen through regular outreach events or through welcoming a percentage of the student population that is not Christian. If these two criteria are met, then it is very likely that those youth could forego youth group if they had good reasons for doing so—provided they belong to the second group too, however.


Second, those youth who participate fully in the “adult” ministries of the church would not need to attend youth group regularly. By full participation, I do not mean spectating during the service and volunteering to hold small children in the nursery. That is not fellowship as Scripture defines it. Rather, full participation requires using one’s gifts to serve the church, leading to mutual edification and outreach, and partaking in genuinely Christian relationships. These would involve mutual confession, encouragement, admonition, prayer, and accountability. If a young man or woman enjoyed that sort of fellowship with other members of the congregation—in a small group, for example—while using their gifts to build up the church, they could forego youth group.


A Final Caveat

Of course, my whole argument demands that the youth group reflect a functioning biblical community, having the same priorities and ministries that Scripture enjoins. A spineless, shallow, merely entertaining, or even merely relational group isn’t worth attending regardless of one’s educational situation. If the heart of the youth group is seeing who can drink a soda through a dirty sock the fastest, then I would strongly encourage all the youth in the church either to participate in the “adult” ministries fully or to seek reform prayerfully and lovingly. If, however, the heart of the youth group is equipping young men and women become to become fully-devoted followers of Christ—making disciples, that is—then I can only encourage participation.

[1] By “regular,” I mean often enough to be a functioning member of the community: i.e., using one’s gifts to serve others in the group, and developing relationships of sufficient depth for accountability and admonition.

How to Train Your Teen to Be a Lifelong Church Consumer

July 11th, 2013 | Posted in Blog | 2 Comments
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  1. Don’t make them attend church/youth group. After all, church is only for those who feel like going. If they are too tired or just don’t like it that much, assure them those are valid reasons to opt out of fellowship with other believers.
  2. Make sure they are entertained, not equipped. Priorities, after all: if all your youth group is doing is teaching them to follow Jesus, without sufficient fun saturating the event, it is time for a change.
  3. Speaking of priorities and attendance, let them skip church/youth group any time you have a schedule conflict. No one would argue that homework and extracurricular activities are more important than gathering with the saints. This will also prepare them for the future, when careers and hobbies will climb above church on the priority list.
  4. Don’t correct them if they complain about church/youth group. Complaining is only a minor sin, remember. (I can only think of one generation that God wiped out entirely because of it.) They don’t need loving rebuke; they need laughter and participation in their immaturity, else their self-esteem might suffer.
  5. In fact, when they complain, bring it to the youth pastor. That way they’ll learn the real problem is the leaders, and—more importantly—they’ll learn that they know more than their pastors about ministry anyway. (That bit about making it a joy for your leaders to lead doesn’t apply to youth pastors.)
  6. Ground them from youth group when they misbehave or get low grades. Church is like a cell phone—a distraction to be removed when behaviors get careless—not an indispensable means of grace. And if they struggle with obedience to the commands of God, the last thing they need is a community of believers facing the same issues and striving to grow in grace together!
  7. When all else fails, change churches regularly. Remember, it’s not about unfailing commitment to a local congregation because of your membership in the body of Christ; it’s about making sure your needs are met. The only way to make sure that happens is to leave every time you’re unhappy. I would recommend at least one switch, and preferably two, during their teen years. 

Teaching Itching Ears

November 10th, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Youth ministry can be a frustrating activity. Not the youths themselves, mind you; they bring curiosity, energy, vitality to the disciple-making enterprise. No, the trouble is the warnings shouted at those of us who have the privilege of ministering to youth.


You mustn’t talk of theology, we are told, for they will grow bored quickly. Our children need games, activities, to keep them interested and involved. No wonder many youth leaders seem better equipped to lead games than rightly divide the Word of truth—useful though it is for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. (And if youth ministry isn’t about those things, then what is it?)


In a bit of perverse irony, some in the church have now turned Paul’s teaching on its head: Don’t preach the Word; instead, to suit the “desires” of your audience, say what their itching ears want to hear (2 Timothy 4:2-3).


Give them biblical meat and they will choke on it, we are told. They are just children. Keep giving them milk. But considering that a majority of teens who attend youth group abandon the church after they graduate, perhaps it is time for a different tack. Cut the spiritual umbilical cord. Teach them to chew and swallow the most rigorous truths of Scripture.


In trying to make our youth groups “relevant” and “applicable,” have we lost our way?


As Bonhoeffer reminds us, “Do not try to make the Bible relevant. Its relevance is axiomatic. . . . Trust to the Word. It is a ship loaded to the very limits of its capacity!”


The Scriptures are difficult but powerful, God’s word does not return to him void, Christ alone has the words of life. Let us live and minister like we believe this. Even when it comes to our youth.