We live in an age where youth ministry is under fire. There are those pundits who wax eloquent about the demise of youth ministry and pound the pulpit over the need for something different. Some call youth ministry a ploy of the Devil to take teenagers out of big church and give them pablum instead. Others say that we just need to integrate teenagers into the overall life of the church and all will be well. And some call for a purely intergenerational approach that allows the older to disciple the younger. Still others say it's all about children's ministry.
While I agree with many strands of these views (other than the ploy-of-the-Devil guys) I am absolutely convinced that youth ministry is needed now more than ever! Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Teens are tribal (& youth ministry provides a like-hearted tribe!)
We see this especially with the disciples, most of whom were most likely teenagers (check out my Biblical argument for this here.) From the time they began to follow Jesus until his ascension, they had a special unity on mission together for the Gospel. This same kind of tribal unity can pervade our youth ministries as we unleash teens on mission together.
It's no secret that teens love hanging with other teens. Youth group gives them an opportunity to hang out, not just with other people their age, but teenagers of a like-hearted tribe. When teenagers worship with, learn with, play with and pray with other Christian teenagers it steels and seals their faith in amazing ways. Of course this brand of koinonia (fellowship) needs to happen between teenagers and believers of all ages and stages within the church, but it also needs to happen between those with whom teens relate with the most...other teenagers!
2. Teens are questioning everything (& youth ministry provides guidance!)
Teenagers need a place to ask the tough questions and get empathy, affirmation and rock-solid answers from Scripture. That's why we challenge youth leaders at Dare 2 Share to use an ALTernative teaching style. What does ALT stand for? Ask, Listen and Teach. The most effective youth leaders and, especially small group leaders, know how to:
Ask tough questions that will give teenagers the liberty and honesty to bring up their own hard questions about life, God, anything and everything. This is when the youth leader can...
Listen deeply to their answers and their questions. Teenagers long to be understood. The best youth and small group leaders know how to listen well and, in so doing, demonstrate James 1:19 in a visceral way, "Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry," This brand of listening breeds even more teen honesty and openness about secret struggles and deep doubts. Then the youth leader is ready to...
Teach what God's Word has to say on the subject and then let the cycle of ALTernative teaching unfold once more.
3. Teens are under attack (& youth ministry provides a safe place!)
"Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings." 1 Peter 5:8,9
Teenagers are under attack from the Evil One in a very targeted way. From technological temptations to cyber bullying to peer-pressure teenagers are under spiritual attack now more than ever.
Having a gathering place where teenagers can share struggles, pray for each other and get instruction from God's Word is vital. Youth group provides the perfect opportunity for this to happen well. Although it's also important for teens to be a part of the life of the church on a broader level too, youth group gives them a teen-focused place for them to apply God's timeless Word to their unique set of struggles and spiritual attacks.
4. Teens are longing to worship in spirit & truth (& youth ministry provides both!)
One of the things I love about postmodern teenagers is that they are dualistic when it comes to their worship experience. They want to learn truth about God (aka "theology") and they want to feel these truths burning in their hearts well after the songs are over. Youth groups worth their salt provide both.
In John 4:23,24 Jesus explained this brand of worship to the woman at the well, "Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
Of course this can and should happen in big church as well. But there's something powerful about teens immersed in worship together, praising God in ways only unleashed, uninhibited teenagers can do. It helps them realize they are not alone at their schools and in their online worlds. They are surrounded by a body of believers their age, who love Jesus too.
5. Teenagers are causal (& youth ministry provides a cause...or should anyway!)
I've been both a preaching pastor and a youth leader and can tell you from firsthand experience that teenagers set ablaze with the Cause of Christ usually leave Christian adults in the dust when it comes to evangelism. They are have tons of friends to reach (an average of 425 face-to-face and online friends.) And when they become directed as well as connected, they become an unstoppable force of transformation.
God is growing a Gospel Advancing movement of disciple-making teenagers who are unashamed of the Gospel. I am convinced they will become the farm club for transformation church-wide. If you'd like to join this growing movement click here!
Youth group is needed now more than ever. We need to elevate it in our churches and help the entire congregation to embrace this potential world-changer-unleashing factory called "youth ministry."
Why do you think youth ministry is needed now more than ever (or not)?