Is This Nirvana?

Or, Why Being a Youth Pastor is No Paradise.

Phil Johnson recently wrote a pungent post that smells like teen spirit on the dangers of dumbing down teaching to young people. He pointed out at least two problems with this minimalist approach to youth ministry.

First, most strategies intended to attract young people to the church are counterproductive. This is because you can’t win someone to spiritual, eternal realities when you focus on earthly, temporal activities. Why would they want to stick around for God when the pizza is gone?

Second, Phil stated,

Youth ministries…deliberately shield their young people from the hard truths and strong demands of Jesus. They tailor their worship so worldly youth can feel as comfortable in the church environment as possible. They squander the best opportunities of those formative student years by minimizing spiritual instruction while emphasizing fun and games. They let their teens live with the false notions that believing in Christ is easy, sanctification is optional, and religion is supposed to be fun and always suited to our liking.

In other words, dumbed down discipleship is not really discipleship to Christ at all. Not only do we fail to win their interest in church we lose their souls. Minimalist youth ministry actually keeps young people from Christ rather than attracting them to Him.

That’s not good.

Of course, that is the typical approach of most youth groups and that’s certainly how we youth pastors are perceived. Because of that it is not a good day to be a youth pastor. When I meet people at Starbucks (or on a plane or at Burger King or wherever) I often wince when they ask me what I do. How do you humbly say, “I’m a youth pastor, but probably not exactly like the ones you know”?

On the other hand, it is a great day to be a youth pastor. As Phil said, we have “the best opportunities of those most formative student years.” Young people make devoted disciples and fanatical worshipers. Biblical churches and pastors will charge their youth to “set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Young people will reap great spiritual rewards as they take responsibility in the Body and “when each part is working properly, [it] makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” That is as close to heaven on earth as we get.


Comments (copied)

Drew said November 15, 2007 at 10:57 am:

Hey Sean, I know exactly what you mean about telling people you’re a youth pastor. I’ve actually had people ask me when I’m going to become a real pastor. It seems that the evangelical church’s opinion of youth ministry is at an all time low. In the context of my church, this has proven to be a real blessing b/c the contrast between a Purpose Driven Youth Ministry model and a biblical model of discipleship and sanctification could not be more stark. When parents see what it looks like to minister according to Colossians 1:28-29 they crave that kind of ministry, not just for their kids but for themselves as well.

Sarah said November 15, 2007 at 9:54 pm:

I am so thankful for the great, true, and solid “food” we get in One28.

In chapel this past week the speaker said just as one footnote about how youth pastors today are expected to be all fun and be jumping around crazy without being sensible. Thank you for the reminder, that helps me remember to be thankful.

Mijah said November 15, 2007 at 11:14 pm:

I totally agree that the church must see that souls are at stake in youth ministry.

P.S. – Second to last paragraph, last sentence: I think you wanted a “not” in that.

SKH said November 16, 2007 at 10:31 am:

Drew, it is one of the greatest joys of ministry when God vindicates His name and His ministry model. While part of His plan apparently includes not letting everyone “get it,” there’s nothing better as an under-shepherd than when He enables sheep to get it.

Sarah, thank you for the encouragement!

Mijah, it’s like we’re playing for keeps or something. And thanks for the typographical post script; changes have been made.

Dave Cleland said November 16, 2007 at 10:46 am:

“Why would they want to stick around for God when the pizza is gone?”

I had hoped Cat Tuesday would be the hook that kept ‘em coming after the last slice was gone. Alas, I was wrong.

Seriously though, even with all the statistics floating around out there about kids leaving church after high school most churches continue to look for answers in the wrong places. It just goes to show that all statistics can do is shock. Unless churches are providing a biblical alternative to popular youth ministry parents are still feeling around in the dark for a solution.