The Establishment of a Juvenile Justice System

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

The fourth ingredient to the growth of adolescence is the creation of the juvenile justice system. This was developed to segregate younger lawbreakers from older ones and produced a different system of record keeping, a different standard for the punishment and probation for “juveniles.” Just as teenagers were no longer expected to be responsible to support themselves, they were no longer held responsible for their criminal acts, despite the fact that for thousands of years prior the legal system treated teenagers as adults.

The juvenile court movement began in idealism and outrage. It all started when Benjamin Lindsey, a young lawyer recently arrived in Denver, was assigned to defend a couple of burglars. He was lead down a long corridor to what he called a cage, where he found two boys playing poker with a safe-cracker and a horse thief. He didn’t say whether the boys were teens or younger. But they had been locked up with these “hard-core” criminal companions for more than sixty days. The youths had learned to gamble from the two older men, “upon whom,” Lindsey said, “they had come to look as great heroes.” He protested to the warden who agreed it was a problem, but said there was nothing he could do about it.

“Here were two boys,” Lindsey wrote, “neither of them serious enemies of society, who were about to be convicted of burglary, and have felony records standing against them for the rest of their lives. And pending the decision of their cases…the state was sending them to a school for crime–deliberately teaching them to be horse thieves and safe-crackers. It was outrageous and absurd.”

The juvenile court he founded and presided over in Denver in 1900 was not the first, but it did receive much attention and the movement gained momentum. Lindsey did not propose merely to punish people differently, or separately, for the crimes they committed. While the traditional goal of the legal system was to be detached and impartial, Lindsey’s vision was for officers of the court to become a part of the young peoples’ lives. He argued that determining guilt or innocence shouldn’t be the goal of the court, but rather to encourage or induce (or even coerce) young offenders into changing their conduct so that they would not grow into adult criminals.

In our day there are not only separate procedures and punishments but also “a large roster of offenses that are considered crimes only if young people commit them,” such as youth curfews in various cities (Hine, p. 20).

The widespread failure to hold teenagers legally responsible for their actions is well documented on an almost daily basis in newspapers across the country. Consider just this one account:

It was 6:20AM, July 29, 1995. Starting home from an overnight camping trip with seven friends, the young man lost control of his father’s 1987 Chevy Suburban and sent it tumbling across a barren stretch of the Mojave Desert in Southern California. As the 5,000 pound truck rolled across the desert floor, the lives of four of his friends were snuffed out. “It’s my fault,” he told the survivors, sobbing, “I killed my friends!”

California Highway Patrol officers quickly agreed. The young man’s breath reeked of beer, and a blood test showed that he was legally drunk. Had he been considered an adult, James Virgil Patterson probably would have been sent to prison, perhaps for years. But because he was two months shy of his eighteenth birthday, the law regarded him as an errant youth. Despite the fact that he admitted to killing his four friends and seriously injuring three others, the law exempted him from adult punishment. Instead, the San Bernardino County Juvenile Court sentenced him to 120 days of alcohol rehabilitation. (As a gesture to the parents, the court also barred him from taking part in graduation ceremonies at his high school). (David Alan Black, The Myth of Adolescence).

Even though he admitted his offense, the officers on the scene confirmed his responsibility, and the court acknowledged his guilt, the assigned penalty was not proportionate to the crime committed but to his age.

While I am in favor of taking a person’s maturity and intentions (as much as they can be determined) into consideration, the current system has certain built-in flaws that tend to let younger offenders off the hook. And it is just possible that this “kinder, gentler” approach has not only failed to stunt the growth of adolescent crime while but has also reinforced the myth that young people can’t really help breaking the law anyway. Because everyone knows, teenagers are, by nature, irresponsible for their rebellion.

The Expression of Parental Wishfulness

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

The third ingredient in the rise of adolescence is the expression of parental wishfulness. Teenagers are not the only ones who pursue an extension of their immaturity, since they could not pursue it without permission. Many parents themselves are heavily to blame for the current state of adolescent immaturity in our culture whether they intended to promote it or not. Consider the following.

Most parents hope that their kids will have it easier than they did. This is perhaps a natural desire. It is not hard to imagine an immigrant family fifty years ago whose kids had to work long hours just to help the family make ends meet. Almost no one wants their children to “have” to work. But remember that relatively few families in the nineteenth century (and before) were financially able to let their teenagers become a leisured class engaged exclusively in preparation for adulthood that was many years off. Still there was an increasing belief among parents that this goal was ideal, and this belief became an important ingredient in the rise of the idea of the teenager. After all, shouldn’t we just let kids play?

Not only that, but most parents hope that their kids will make a better living than they did. This is really just an extension of the first idea, since “better living” is almost always defined in financial terms. And if the ideal way to spend one’s youthfulness is at play then of course the ideal way to spend one’s adulthood must also be to play…just with more expensive toys.

But even though my description of this pursuit of “play” may be a little extreme, this parental wishfulness will at least express itself in wishing for higher pay with less hours for their young person. And how will their student get this ideal job? The answer, we’re told, is obvious: by attending better high schools, getting superior grades, in order to receive acceptance to a prestigious university, resulting in a higher paying job.

Though this scenario may not be entirely unreasonable, we should at least consider the possibility that deferring responsibility now in hopes of having a higher paying responsibility later is not a guaranteed progression. In many ways just the opposite is true. More schooling does not invariably breed more maturity. As we’ve already seen, our public education system tends toward the dumbing down of youth not the enhancing of their youthful capabilities. The more time a student spends isolated from the “real world,” the more likely their adjustment to real work may be slow if not spurned. And an employer is not likely to hand over a lot of green to those who are still green themselves.

Isn’t that why employers typically prefer job experience over institutional education? Though one’s training in school may be an asset, the diploma itself is rarely the watershed between economic success or financial failure. Please understand that I wholeheartedly agree that everyone needs an education, but how they get that education may be different.

By the way, the above discussion assumes that “better living” is equivalent to making more money. That, of course, is a myth beyond the scope of this blog, and one that John Piper attempts to shred in his book, Don’t Waste Your Life. I heartily recommend that for your reading whether you are a student or a parent.

One additional element of this parental wishfulness seems to be that most parents hope that their kids will be more accepted or popular among their peers than they were. Moms and dads remember their own humiliation of wearing the wrong thing and their own rejection by other kids. And so parents support adolescence with their money. “The largest source of funding for youth culture is parents. Even though they may be appalled by specific manifestations of youth culture, they often accept its validity, or at least its inevitability” (Hine, 226). So youth culture is often funded by parents all for the sake of avoiding their student’s loss of self-esteem.

This wishfulness has drastically changed our environment. The expectations many parents have for their young people have shifted, and instead of anticipating the quick arrival of maturity they assume its indefinite absence. Instead of enabling their young people to develop into grown-ups they have endowed them with permission to put off the pressure of development until some undefined future time. In attempting to protect their young person from the difficulties of life they inadvertently prolong their child’s inability to deal with those difficulties.

The Endorsement of Compulsory Education

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

Following on the heels of the new child labor laws is this second ingredient, the endorsement of compulsory education. While state sponsored schools cannot take credit for originating education, they did develop a system to organize it for the masses. After all, now that most teens didn’t have a job they needed something constructive to do. Why not educate them?

While in many ways this was and is an admirable goal, there are a few problems built into the design. First of all, the laws enacted removed the decision about the subjects, duration, and in some cases even the manner of how a child should be educated away from parents. Enrollment was mandated by the government, and parents could now be punished for keeping their children out of the public school.

Of course, for thousands of years prior to this, parents educated their own children. Parents taught their children whatever they believed was necessary for independent survival in society. In biblical times, Hebrew parents were responsible for the education of their children. Roman parents did the same.

Even the early schools of the late-eighteenth century appeared not to confuse teachers with custodians. They did not try to replace the families, the church, or any other institution. Unlike the mandatory high schools a century later, schools did not organize their students’ social lives, monitor their health, or prepare them to be good citizens.

Keep in mind that the widespread acceptance of the idea of high school was very, very slow in coming. The first public high school opened in Boston in 1821, but New York City didn’t open one until more than seventy years later. Only during the 1930’s was a majority of what we now term high-school age youth enrolled, mostly because the Depression had made jobs unavailable. Previously, most teenagers had jobs and their education took place at work while the rest happened at home. Still another reason for this slow acceptance was that parents were unwilling to give up their primary place in the life of their young people. Now children are separated from their parents for forty or more hours a week, and many parents appear happy to herd them off to the public guardians.

The second design flaw is the adolescence greenhouse effect. A greenhouse is a contained environment for the cultivation and exhibition of plant life. Likewise, high schools are contained environments for the cultivation and exhibition of adolescent life. Though originally time spent with others your same age was only one aspect of a varied life and daily contact with different sorts and ages of people was regular, now the majority of a young person’s life was spent with their peers. Young people are crowded into classrooms, removed from the oversight of their parents. This is fertile soil for the growth of a youth culture. Teenagers now had control over their own social lives. Sports and other extracurricular activities provided the stage for young people to express themselves and explore their talents. In short, “[w]ithout high school, there are no teenagers” (Hine, 139).

This hasn’t even scratched the surface of issues like the purpose of schools – is it to prepare someone for life? for a better job? for college admission? For something else? And how can standardized schools be expected to teach and test students of widely different abilities and interests? And how do schools know when they are successful?

While there may be nothing inherently wrong with being in school for 180 days a year for seven hours a day for thirteen years, it is a significant problem that compulsory education laws say that young people must spend a certain amount of time in school, not necessarily that they must learn anything. It is all too tempting for youth simply to put in their time rather than to learn. And many parents have handed over their responsibility for education, academic, moral and otherwise, to the school. For most people going to school is the key teenage experience, whatever “education” they may take away.

As with child labor laws I am not suggesting that we simply do something opposite. Obviously teenagers who don’t go to school are not guaranteed greater maturity than those who do. I am not proposing that home-schooling is the sure solution, since many current home-schooling trends are just secular education philosophy repackaged. Those students may avoid the adolescent hothouse, but they are not necessarily better educated. Christian schools are not necessarily the answer either as they have largely the same problems as the for public school problems mentioned above. I guess we can be happy that at least most Christian schools teach creation rather than evolution.

The point is, while my goal is not an overall overhaul of institutional education, I do believe it is essential for us to evaluate how our system of education perhaps has done more to train students in adolescent behavior than adult behavior.

I pray that we as Christians will have a better perspective on education than: “[t]he principal reason high schools now enroll nearly all teenagers is that we can’t imagine what else they might do” (Hine, 157).

The Enactment of Child Labor Laws

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

The first ingredient to mention in the growth of adolescence was the enacting (or passing) of child labor laws. Obviously, these were laws that made it illegal to employ persons below certain ages. Additional laws limited the hours or pay for young people. Though there were advantages of this legislation, it ultimately served to lengthen the period of childhood since early teenagers, for example, could no longer work full time. Because they were not allowed to work, or at least had a significant reduction in possible work hours, they were economically dependent on their parents.

One of the obvious reasons for child labor laws was abuse, or at least what was presumed to be abuse. For many immigrant families, frontier families, and other households with limited income, parents often depended on their children just for sheer survival. “Whether it was in the mills and mines, farms and ranches, everybody–young and old–had to work” (Hine, 121). Employers knew that families were dependent on whatever jobs they provided so they could afford to pay minimal attention to workplace conditions while having little sympathy for the long work days required.

Perhaps the poster child for this problem was the “breaker boy,” a young person probably between the ages of ten and fourteen who worked for coal mining companies. These breaker boys would stand over a series of channels and conveyor belts and look for pieces of rock among the crushed coal as it was transported out of the mine. They would have to stay close to the belts since slate and coal are so difficult to distinguish. After breathing coal dust all day and getting covered from head to toe in black soot, these young people were typical illustrations for advocates of child labor legislation.

But hard work for long hours with little pay was not the only reason for the creation of laws that limited work for young people.

As technology improved many jobs performed by young people became automated or at least unnecessary. For example, before the introduction of the recording cash register big department stores had “cash boys” or “cash girls.”

[Since] it was risky to allow clerks throughout the sprawling store to handle money…when the clerks finished writing up an order, they would yell, ‘Cash!’ and one of the uniformed teenagers would run and pick up a basket containing the buyer’s money, a sales slip, and often the item as well. The item was brought to the wrapping desk, the money to a cashier, who would place change in the basket, and all would be returned to the customer. … During the 1870’s … department stores were the single largest employers of big-city twelve to sixteen year olds. … But in 1902 Macy’s installed eighteen miles of brass pneumatic tubes and rendered the cash boys and girls obsolete. (Hine, 127-128)

It is not difficult to imagine many other ways that technology changed the workforce structure. This too created need for child labor laws, not to protect the sons – but the fathers! “In some industries, new machines made it possible for factories to lay off skilled workers and replace them with young men in their teens whose wages were considerably less. As a teenager, you might endanger your father’s job. It would be worse, though, if your father lost his job to someone else’s son” (Hine, 125). Laws that limited wages and hours for young people protected employment for the head of the household.

In addition, some educators lobbied to keep pay for teenagers low so that they wouldn’t be tempted to enter the job force and become independent prematurely.

These factors and others made severe cuts into the employment opportunities for young people. And so it was at the turn of the century, when technology began to eliminate youths’ jobs, that intense concern about the welfare, education and labor of people in their teens began to emerge. Since school was not yet required for everyone (a foreshadowing of ingredient number two), and since jobs were unavailable, there were not too many better options than to hang out with your buddies and find some trouble.

Keep in mind, however, that for thousands of years it was not this way. Young people commonly worked with their parents or beside a master as an apprentice until they could become independent, which was the clear-cut goal. For most of human history, let alone American history, child labor was not a social horror but simply a fact of life. The labor of young people – especially teenagers – has typically not been an abomination but a necessity (see Hine, 58).

I am not arguing that we should seek to find full-time employment for every eight year old, nor for each twelve year old or fifteen year old and so on. I am not suggesting that if every teenager had a full-time job all the problems of immaturity and irresponsibility among youth would be fixed. But the aversion of most “adolescents” to work, and the typical teenager taken-for-granted expectation of someone else providing for them should at least cause us to consider if the ways our culture has chosen to “protect” its youth from work has also , perhaps unintentionally, “protected” them from maturity.

The Growth of Adolescence

Series | Lies Every Teen Believes

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the Reformation and the Reformers in preparation for the 05SR. Of course, one of the Reformation’s biggest characters (in every sense of the word) was Martin Luther. Here is a quote of his that I think is appropriate as we continue our series on adolescence. Luther said:

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Wherever the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that one point.

Obviously the myth of adolescence was not in Luther’s thinking when he made that statement, but I do think his assertion is extremely applicable for us. There is a battle today, even though it is largely invisible and of which most people are unaware, over who teenagers are and what they are capable of. There is an attack on the biblical idea of young adulthood, and we must be prepared to fight for the glory of Christ even in His work in the lives of students.

Everyone has some belief about teenagers that they take for granted. Especially those of us in the church need to diagnose why we think what we think about adolescence and measure that thinking against the truth in God’s Word.

It is my job to help this process. It is my happy duty to feed and guide and protect the flock from false ideas, whatever disguises they may wear. Paul’s description of the responsibility of an elder in Titus 1:7-9 reminds us that:

an overseer, as God’s steward, … must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

In previous blogs I have described the birth and naming of adolescence. Remember, by the name “adolescence” we are not simply referring to the biological changes that take place in a person (i.e., puberty). The word has come to represent much more than just a catalog of the days, months, and years of being a teen. When we are talking about adolescence we are talking about a mindset; the attitudes and behaviors of teenagers, especially seen toward their parents and others in authority.

It is assumed by many and argued by professionals that this mindset in teenagers is biologically, chemically, or hormonally determined. And you know the end of the argument: if this teenage mindset is biologically determined then they can’t reasonably be held responsible for it. If a teenager can’t control their hormones then they certainly don’t deserve to be rebuked or reproved it. You shouldn’t punish someone who is incapable. It is unfair to do so.

Since we’re talking about terms, you may find it interesting that in history the terms “adolescent” and “adult” are closely related. The Latin term “adolescent” originally referred to a “growing one” and generally related to the sudden growth spurt at the age of puberty (around twelve or thirteen years of age). The word “adult” meant “grown one” and referred to a person who had passed his or her growth spurt. In essence, then, an adult was a person who was able to have children. So throughout history puberty was the beginning of adulthood itself, not the beginning of a stage between childhood and adulthood.

This is the key. Rather than viewing the transition as a relatively short one, adolescence indefinitely extends the period of time between being a child and being an adult. There is a great article by David Bakan entitled, “Adolescence in America: From Idea to Social Fact.” In that article he says:

The idea of adolescence as an intermediary period of life starting at puberty…is the product of modern times….[I]t developed in the latter half of the nineteenth century and the early twentieth century…to prolong the years of childhood.

So exactly how did adolescence become a “social fact”? How has it made such a deep and thorough impression on us, most of which we don’t even suspect to be dangerous? Having already looked at the beginning or ‘birth’ of adolescence, we’re now going to consider the growth and development of adolescence; the ingredients that have helped the myth of adolescence to become so widely believed.

As you can imagine it is difficult to summarize even just a century’s worth of history, and I don’t want to oversimplify the development of adolescence. But there are some distinct and recognizable elements that can be identified.

Over the next week or so I want to consider Eight Ingredients in the Growth of Adolescence, in order that we might better recognize and fight false ideas. Hopefully I will be able to expand on each ingredient a little more than time allowed during my message on Sunday morning.

A Community of Diversity

Series | Church

It has been a while since my last blog on the distinctive traits of New Testament churches, and to get us back into that discussion I’d like to point out something that up till now has only been hinted at in previous entries. What I want us to dwell on today is that NT churches presumed and promoted reciprocal diversity.

Now don’t get intimidated by the words here. The idea of “reciprocal diversity” is simply a way to say that churches consisted of all kinds of different people, from different races, different backgrounds, different ages, different genders, etc., who served one another for the benefit of everyone. “Reciprocal” describes things “that complement one another;” or things “given or done in return” for something else. And “diversity” is just another word for “a variety.” So again, the church is made up of different people with a variety of gifts and abilities who all give themselves for the good of the whole group.

This is exactly the picture we see when Paul mentions the “body of Christ” in Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:1-30. Paul presumes (that is, takes for granted) that there are “many” people (however, ‘many’ that might be) who are different in spiritual giftedness.

Consider Paul’s instruction to the Romans: “For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Romans 12:4-5).

And to the Corinthians he says: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 4:6-7).

Not only do we need diversity so that the body can be complete, the context of diversity is also the perfect platform for displaying the “one anothers” in the NT, in particular, love for one another (Romans 12:9-16; 13:8-10). Church (membership) is a recognizable commitment to love one another regardless of our differences rather than avoid one another.

That means churches were not (properly) formed in order to escape those who are different or who disagree. And though smaller group meetings of similar people can be beneficial, they are not meant to replace entirely gathering with the entire church.

Those who isolate themselves (cf. Proverbs 18:1), or their particular sub-group are not to be commended but corrected. They are potentially guilty of pride, bitterness, jealousy, self-centeredness, etc., and should be exhorted to avoid “forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:25).

Always the Bridesmaid, Never the Bride

My props go again to Mijah (Micah James) for today’s blog.

Wednesday night he shared with me the new solo project by Derek Webb, “She Must and Shall Go Free,” an entire cd dedicated to the Bride of Christ, the Church/church. On this album Webb does some hard-hitting, right-between-the-eyes talking to the church. Some of the songs made me downright uncomfortable, and I think that’s the point. You can check out the whole thing for yourself.

But I thought I’d share the lyrics from the final track on the album today. (Who would have ever guessed that with less than 20 total weblogs to date, I’d have TWO whole entries devoted to music?! Maybe I’m not a music hater after all!)

This is a song that opposes Christian individualism (if that is really even possible). It confronts the immaturity of some who ignorantly presume their own importance and who inconsiderately pursue their own interests rather than humbly identifying with the whole Body and sacrificially loving the Bride, the church, just like Christ Himself.

May God give us grace to never live like individualists (Romans 14:7), to never be unfaithful to our Fiance (Revelation 19:7), and to never love a bridesmaid more than the Bride.

The Church

i have come with one purpose
to capture for myself a bride
by my life she is lovely
by my death she’s justified

i have always been her husband
though many lovers she has known
so with water i will wash her
and by my word alone

so when you hear the sound of the water
you will know you’re not alone

(chorus)
‘cause i haven’t come for only you
but for my people to pursue
you cannot care for me with no regard for her
if you love me you will love the church

i have long pursued her
as a harlot and a whore
but she will feast upon me
she will drink and thirst no more

so when you taste my flesh and my blood
you will know you’re not alone

(chorus)
there is none that can replace her
though there are many who will try
and though some may be her bridesmaids
they can never be my bride

Church – The Teen Edition?

Series | Church

Thanks to Micah Lugg for today’s weblog title. As we were on our way to Starbucks this morning he was describing some of his reaction to my earlier blogs on segregation, specifically the self-defeating segregation of students, and he commented in jest that “it’s like, church: the teen edition.”

By the way, for all three of you blog readers out there, you might also want to check out M.Lugg’s blog, J.Martin’s new blog, and D.Zimmer’s new blog. Blogging seems to be the recipe for good times. And oh yea, you can also still read mine…if you want to.

So it seems like I’ve really been on a tirade of late against the separation of church and students (however that happens, whether to another part of the church or to some place beside the church). And before I lose any further integrity or credibility, let me explain at least one of the reasons why I can still be a youth pastor and not be searing my conscience with a hot branding iron every stinking day.

This is the thing, I am not saying that there should never, under any circumstance, be a ministry purposefully aimed at students. I do think it is possible to have a biblically based, God honoring, whole Body integrated student ministry.

I believe the most significant argument for this kind of concentrated effort is that it is an appropriate and efficient way to “focus on the few to reach the many.” Our model Paul was “warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom” in order to “present everyone mature in Christ” (Colossians 1:28). This vision of impacting “everyone” is huge. It is consuming. It requires individual attention and personal contact with each and every member.

So in our church, the board of elders has assigned me a particular part of the flock on which to concentrate. As Pastor Z and I have often discussed, I am to be a specialist (working with students) with a generalist mentality (fitting in to the entire local body). As the overall goal of the elders is to shepherd “everyone” in the church, my assigned emphasis is to teach and warn and seek to present “every man” in student ministries complete in Christ.

But again, even though it is reasonable and necessary to pursue particular persons for discipleship we must remember that the context of that discipleship must be in the corporate congregation. We must make sure to teach students (or whatever sub-group) about their role in the bigger picture. That is why I teach that the first mark of a healthy student ministry is that it recognizes itself as a part of the local body.

This is why I do what I do. I am a co-laborer among the whole body with the primary responsibility of laboring among students. May God give us more grace to use our giftedness as member of one another (Romans 12:5-6).

An Example of Self-Defeating Segregation

Series | Church

If you haven’t read the weblog from 05/07 you should do that before reading today’s entry. The bottom line of that entry was to question the prevailing pattern of dividing up (or away) certain groups in (or from) the church. Let me consider just one example that is close to my heart–student ministries.

There are a few (I believe illegitimate) reasons some people–both the students and the older generation–in the church have argued for separating the youth into their own group.

First, young people are so different, they really need their own thing. Young people really are much more cool and sic than the old people. Their taste in music and clothes generally could not be more opposite, their speech and communication are to say the least different, and sometimes it seems the only thing the two groups have in common is disagreement. Segregating the two seems to make great sense, then, so that each can have what they want.

Second, young people are often so immature, they need somewhere (else) to grow up. Kids will be kids, right? But who wants to be around them? So put them in a room, send them down to the basement, and don’t let them come out until they’ve grown up! What adult really wants the crazy kids around, being loud, running around, and generally causing trouble. Until they reach a certain age–where they become human–it is best to keep them separated. Besides, they are not ready for ‘adult’ topics and they’ll just be bored if forced to sit through sermons for old people

But there are a few biblical problems with age segregation.

How, for example, would we expect Titus 2 to take place if the young people are separated away from the older people? How are the older women to teach the younger women and the older men to teach the younger men if they are never around each other?

And second, how will the various parts of the Body work together if they aren’t actually ever together? Numerous NT passages talk about the Body of Christ. The most significant for our discussion is 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. There Paul speaks about the fact that though we are individual members, we make up part of the whole body. If you are a Christian, no matter what age, you are a member in His body. And though it seems sort of silly to say it, no individual member can survive on its own apart from the rest. To amputate the young people away from the rest of the body is spiritual suicide.

Third, doesn’t this segregation leave us with the equivalent of the “blind leading the blind.” It is like driving behind a person whose bumper sticker says, “Follow me, I’m lost.” Gathering a bunch of immature people in a room and letting them counsel one another on how to be mature is not a clever idea. It is the epitome of pooling ignorance.

So ironically, by segregating the youth for the purpose of facilitating their maturity, we can actually hinder the maturing process. In reality we will kill student ministries if we are only concerned about student ministries.

Of course, the problem still remains that I am a YOUTH pastor and I still haven’t given any validation for my job! Perhaps I’m even going the opposite way. So are there any legitimate reasons for student ministries? And is it possible to do student ministries (or any other ministry for that matter) in a way that promotes the entire body? We’ll have to see tomorrow.

If some of this sounds familiar, good! That means you have been paying attention, because today’s weblog was adapted from my sermon “How to Kill Student Ministries” preached in June, 2003.

Leaders of the Flock – What (else)?

Series | Church

It is always beneficial for us when our vision is in line with God’s vision. By using the word vision I am not referring to some supernatural dream from God, but rather to the target and scope of our work. And God’s revealed target for His shepherds is an open letter challenge to any and every specialized ministry.

The vision of a New Testament leader should include the entirety of, and diversity in, the Body. Various gifted men have been given to lead and teach and “equip the saints for the work of ministry until we ALL attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:12). Note that leaders/shepherds are to be concerned for “the WHOLE body” and “EACH part” (v.16). They are to “be on guard for…ALL the flock” (Acts 20:28).

These descriptions are devalued if only applying to a family or ‘specialized’ ministry. In fact, focused leadership energies toward particular cultural sub-groups, age groups, or gender groups is short-sighted at best and self-defeating at worst. This is ESPECIALLY so when these organizations or ministries operate outside the watchful oversight of the elders in a local church.

Please understand me. I am NOT saying that every small group or Bible study should be as diverse as humanly possible, or that there can be no ‘little-er’ groups at all. I am not against some reasonable grouping of similar people for the purpose of concentrated shepherding and discipleship. Since discipleship cannot take place except on the level of the individual and since much discipleship occurs in the context of regular relationships, it is natural that some separation will occur anyway.

But I am most intensely against leaders intentionally isolating themselves and their sub-group of choice away from the church or even from the rest of the body within a church. It doesn’t matter what you call it. Call in a fellowship; call it a crusade; call it an agency; call it a parachurch group; call it your family; you can even call it a ministry. Call it whatever you want. The reality is there are many members in one body–and amputating some parts away from the others for extended periods of time will result in losing the limbs entirely. We will not survive divided.

Of course, your obvious question at this point should be, “If that is what you believe, how can you be a YOUTH pastor? Isn’t that completely inconsistent with what you just said?” There is an answer. I’ll see if I can find it by tomorrow so I can keep my job – or at least so I can do it with a clear conscience!