What does the Bible really say about youth ministry?
For 30 years, Christian families have been told in no uncertain terms that they are not qualified to disciple their children because the youth ministry is available to take that burden. They are the trained professionals. It should be no surprise, then, that youth eventually will leave the church and become the companion of fools. The better question is why won’t parents disciple their own children?
Do we ever stop to wonder why this is so? Better yet, do we ask why parents relinquish their God-given calling to disciple their own children?
Sadly, parents have been conditioned by the cookie-cutter church to believe that it isn’t their responsibility to train their own children because there are youth leaders hired and assigned to guide the youth spiritually.
The unspoken problems in the youth ministry could be prevented when and if a Berean approach (searching the scriptures) were put into practice. Below are some explanations that address the problem with youth ministry and what the Bible has to say about it.
- Youth ministry is not found in scripture. The concept of age-segregated ministry is nowhere in the Bible. If we mean what we say when we say that we believe in the inerrancy and the sufficiency of scripture, then why do we embellish it or innovate specific targeted groups as subcultures within the church body? God teaches us how to organize and structure our churches and we need to fear God enough to not try so hard to ‘help God out’ by creating these ministries that only further divides and fractures the body of Christ.
- Youth ministry operates against the biblical model of family discipleship. It actually creates an environment that encourages youth to move away from family discipleship by turning the hearts of young people away from their parents and towards the youth worker. If you are not convinced, just ask a family who is committed to family discipleship. Are they given any support, or are they marginalized for keeping their children in alignment with biblical principle? It is more likely the latter. You may ask this family who doesn’t participate in the youth ministry of any kind, they tell you that they feel guilty for not participating. Why do they feel guilty, I wonder? This is the mechanism that youth leaders have set in motion. It screams to the families in the congregation that it is the job of the youth leader to disciple other people’s children. This idea is not found in scriptures and if we look around, we will see that there is good reason for that. It simply does not edify the family.
Youth ministry does not work. As honorable as the intention may be, we know that the Bible isn’t fuzzy on the matter. Since the 1970’s, youth workers have increased. We can ask a youth leader in our realm if he knows who is going to remain in the faith. Chances are, he will say one of two types of youth: the one who doesn’t need him, and the one who does need him so much to the point that he’s taken him as his own (figuratively).
Remember Uzzah from the Old Testament? King David had long desired to bring the Ark of God, the very symbol of God’s presence into his capital city. With many witnesses, the Ark was placed on a cart and led from it’s current site to Jerusalem, but something happened on the way to the capital that the oxen stumbled, upsetting the cart, and the ark began to tilt. Uzzah, seeing God’s Ark about to fall, reached out to steady it. That is when God killed him. Now we can ask ourselves why did Uzzah have to die since his intentions were good. According to Numbers 4, verses 5 through 15, the Ark was to be moved only by the Levites who were to carry it using the carrying poles. They were never to touch the Ark itself since to touch it was a capital offense under Jewish law. God’s action was directed against David and Uzzah. David placed the Ark on a cart, following the Philistines example, rather than God’s commands on how to handle the matter.
Likewise, perhaps, we see the unsuccessful fruit of the Youth Ministry as a judgment from God. His word instructs parents to disciple and teach their children and not abdicate them for others to train up in the Lord
My husband was once a youth director at the small church where he grew up. He stepped down from that ministry to relocate, but now in hindsight, and after learning more of the Bible and searching it, he’s come to realize that the youth ministry didn’t quite edify the name of God in the way that he had perceived it. The parental involvement was missing and the attitude from the parents was, for the most part, ‘Here are my kids, please influence them and biblically direct them for me.’
After my husband and I married, we lead a small group of middle school-aged youth. We saw the same pattern from parents: little to no involvement, an aloof approach to parenting, and definitely no conviction to disciple their children for God’s kingdom. As much as the doctrine of separation was emphasized, it didn’t really matter because the problem was that we were unrightfully trying to do the work the parents should be doing themselves: discipling their children.
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. Proverbs 13:20
At the end of the day, at the end of long planned-out events, we would ask ourselves, what was all that for? What did we really accomplish investing all our time, energy and focus on leading a group of youth who for the most part only wanted to get away from their parents during church time?
Now, we can look back at the youth my husband ministered to and those who we ministered to together and observe the fruit. It is spoiled indeed. Some are successful by the world’s standards (careers, jobs, drug-free lifestyle); yet they are not sanctified, transformed, or renewed in their mind. They emulate pop culture, they have no conviction of sin, they work for institutions that exalt secular humanism, or infanticide. It is a mad situation and it should serve as a warning to parents interested in building up their children for the Lord.
A child who is not discipled by their parents will have her heart turned towards those whose company they keep, for better or worse. Look what happened to Amnon, one of king David’s sons: he was a companion of fools who got nowhere in life.
We need to ask ourselves: of the youth who were present in the group, say 10 years ago, how many have walked away from the Lord and how many remain in the faith? The numbers don’t lie.
If you want to learn more about this topic, I would strongly recommend Divided: The Movie. It is a well-documented examination of youth ministry in all its ugly forms. It will open your eyes to see God’s intention and purpose for the church, his bride, and for parents who will carry the burden in obedience to Him alone and not a system of man-made sub-cultures.
Post originally published on March 6, 2013