I was already planning a post about why we need to question how youth ministry is done when I saw Matthew Paul Turner’s link to a documentary called Divided, which wonders if youth ministry is actually hurting the church and why so many kids are ditching the faith. (Note, the documentary isn’t that great but the question it asks is worth exploring). I hope you’re willing to read my thoughts on this, despite my lack of experience in youth ministry other than being apart of one when I was a teenager (and trying to weasel my way out of it every chance I got).
Most adults, not just Christians, are freaked out by teenagers. They make impulsive decisions informed by defiance and reckless peer input. They’re at a formable time in their lives that often sets the precedent for their future, and if they leave the faith now they may never come back. I can name several of my peers who are prodigal sons/daughters who have no eye looking back home.
And so we preventively we throw these kids into youth groups where mountain dew is more readily available than communion juice (there’s a metaphor there somewhere), and where sword drills are replaced by water balloon launching drills. Much of youth ministry is comprised of simply entertaining the kids and doing enough ridiculous activities to keep them coming back and maybe even thinking church is cool (and teenagers, more than anyone, are concerned about what’s cool). My own youth group definitely had this element.
It’s very telling to listen to the songs that youth groups latch onto from Christian rock bands. From what I’ve observed youth groups are so worried about losing the kids that they tend to heavily emphasize a Christianity where God is lifts you up and gives you many blessings and the like (almost prosperity-gospel-eque). Much of the mystery and complexity and even servanthood is left out, likely out of fear it’ll take away from the attractiveness of the message.
So are youth ministries any good? This provocative article about how “youth groups destroy children’s lives,” says no, and the critiques are pretty spot-on.
A larger question I’ve been asking is why we separate youth from the rest of church. Of course I know some reasons as I slept through many sermons as a kid, and I can understand why we tuck kids away with their respective age groups as soon as they no longer clingy to mommy and daddy’s leg every second of the day. However I think we undeniably lose an opportunity for children and adolescents to see our faith in action, through it’s ups and downs, through fire season and drought. It likely takes away from discipling them. You could even argue that the segregation only further separates the divide between parents and teenagers.
To me it’s a complicated issue. I’ve already wondered aloud about how to raise a child in a faith that is based upon a dramatic and transformative encounter with God. It only gets more complicated when teenagers actually need to rebel a little bit and flex their independent muscles. I could blab on about other issues with youth groups – such as how in their attempt to keep teens from drinking and pre-marital sex they can easily force them into a form of legalism, but I’d rather not complain. Instead, I’d rather hear from you – what you think about youth groups? Do you see some issues too? What good ones have you seen? In your opinion, how on earth do we minister to teenagers?