Many churches have adopted our culture’s method of fragmenting generations. We’ve accepted the idea that youth want to be left alone and that the older generation can’t reach them.
Youth Ministry or Entertainment?
The youth ministry structures we use today were designed to nurture youth in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. Now they function more to serve adults than teens. Some churches want to have a great youth ministry to keep parents happy, but they don’t want to train adults to really care about youth. They just want to hire somebody. But youth pastors across the country are increasingly frustrated with taking youth off to another room to entertain them, and teens intuitively sense that the church has abandoned them. In response, they pull away to create their own world. They act like they want to be separate, but in reality they need adult influence to become adults.
Youth need to be respectfully assimilated into the adult community. We need to change the definition of youth ministry from just helping kids to grow in their faith to helping them become fully developed believers in Christ in the community of the Church.
Theologically, the body of Christ is a unified group of people with different callings and gifts brought together by the Holy Spirit. Adolescence, as a social grouping and unique stage of development, has only been around for about 100 years. But in the Bible, older men and women are charged with taking care of the younger ones (1 Peter 5:1-3; Titus 2:1-6). Adults are called to take care of the young and to pass their faith down from one generation to the next (Psalm 78:1-8; Deuteronomy 4:9-10; 11:19).
The church needs to be committed to both youth and children and see them as part of the whole. It takes leadership–pastors, elders, teachers and para-church organizations–to re-train people to remember that the Gospel says, “We are a community.”
I Can’t Do That!
A lot of adults just don’t understand teens. They may be a little afraid of them and the way they look and act. Most adults think, “I can’t do that,” when they’re asked to get involved in the messy life of an adolescent. So how can we get started and include youth in the church community?
- Give the youth of your church opportunities to be involved up-front in your church. Involve them in the worship service and the life of the church.
- In preaching, use illustrations that apply to youth culture, high school and college, as well as to adults, parents and grandparents.
- Adults should become involved with the youth ministry at some level. Be aware of what the youth are doing. Meet some students. Meet some youth leaders.
Yes, teens need their peers, and churches still need youth ministry. But we cannot be fooled into believing that teens want to be left alone. They need us to be involved in their lives and to show them how to become a part of the church.