Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Youth ministry has become an industry to rival all industries. Yet, at the first opportunity more teenagers abandon the church than ever before. Teenagers know less about the gospel and orthodox doctrine than ever before. This makes little sense unless we understand God’s means of raising children/youth in the community of faith. Please allow some latitude for the following broad (but true, I think) generalities.
Biblical instruction begins first and foremost in the home. It’s clear in the old covenant community (national Israel) and the new covenant community (Christ’s Church) that the primary responsibility for biblical training lies with fathers (or parents, more generally). Yet Christian parents have long abdicated that responsibility and privilege. They’ve outsourced this duty. They provide mainly room and board, but entrust their children’s souls to the local (youth) pastor.
The well-intentioned youth pastor is thereby charged with making church exciting for the teenagers because the parents are too bored with church to do so. Because “big church” (i.e. the ordinary means of Christ’s grace) is obviously inadequate, he/she must orchestrate a lively atmosphere rather than lively faith. The idea of “worship” becomes more important than its reality. In so doing they cultivate the worship of “worship” rather than the worship of Christ.
Graduation from high school is full of anticipation and eagerness for the next stage of life. Graduation from the “youth group” is the end of all excitement and looms with future boredom. How can this be among those who guard and pass down the world’s greatest news?
With that said, I humbly offer these naive comments:
1. The church’s corporate gathering should be the youth’s “main event.” Eph 6.1 clearly assumes children are in the same setting in which husbands, wives, parents, employees, employers, etc. are addressed (cf. Col 1.20). Paul was not talking to adults about children, but talking to children among adults (hence, the vocative address “Children”). If that was true of children then how much more teenagers who were considered young adults (see previous post).
Assuming there must always be a youth alternative to the adult gathering undermines one of the very reasons we gather (to pass down the faith passed down to us). For example, many parents neglect corporate prayer because there is nothing for their teenagers during that time. There is no better place for them to be! They benefit much more from seeing/hearing how Christian men/women pray with/for each other. What about the church’s members’s meetings? Bring your teenagers to the church’s members’ meetings! Teach them how Christians resolve conflicts, address thorny issues and treat one another over against the world’s approach.
2. The church’s “youth pastor” is primarily a teenager’s dad (or mom, as the case may be). This is not to anathematize the position of youth pastor, but to encourage it as a complement (not supplement) to a father’s work. Youth “events” are to be extracurricular activities rather than the sum and substance of church life.
We’ve assumed something beyond biblical church life is necessary to keep kids interested in church. Times have changed and teenagers need some whiz-bang novelty to make them want to come. Does that really reflect NT Christianity?
Whose job is it to make sure church is “exciting”? The parents! If teeangers see that dad gets more excited about Saturday afternoon football than the church’s gathering then they’ll assume rooting on the Big 12 is more important than worshiping Christ. If dad lauds the size of Saturday’s bass, but mopes through Sunday’s truth about Christ then what conclusion must they draw? If mom constantly complains about church folk but praises her aerobics classmates then what seed is sown in young minds about church folk? If children do not see Christ (husband) and church (wife) at work in their home, they will not see their home at work in Christ “at” church.
Teenagers should see in their parents a distinct change when it comes to the church’s worship. They should see that water parks and campfires are indeed fun and enjoyable, but nothing affects mom and dad like the church’s worship. Dad may rejoice at his new raise, but nothing compares to his elation at new birth. Mom may glory in a new dress, but nothing lights up her face like hearing of being clothed in Christ’s righteousness. Mom and Dad love family vacations, but nothing thrills them more than returning to the family of faith.
3. So, we do have a youth ministry (or rather “ministry to youth”). It’s called the church. We do have “something for the youth.” It’s called the gathering of the church where we sing, preach, pray, read the Scriptures and observe the ordinances. If that’s not enough, then it’s not enough for anyone despite their age.
The best ministry we provide teenagers is the equipping of their parents, who in turn invest the passionate pursuit of Christ’s glory in their children. I’m afraid this is much more intimidating for the parents than teenagers. It’s time we confess that we’ve played fast-and-loose with our children’s souls, and begin the long march back to biblical faithfulness. It’s time parents seriously recover the grandeur of Christ in their own hearts for the sake of their children. God help us be strong and courageous.