Issues in Youth Ministry: Ben Kraker

Issues in Youth Ministry: Ben KrakerWhat do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is struggling with today?

1. Youth ministry in the majority of north American churches is an island. We have “youth group” and “youth Sunday school” and “youth events.” All of these happenings are worthwhile and beneficial to our young people, but if that is all that we offer them we are failing to plug them in to the community of faith found within the local church and greater body of Christ. Even the layout of most north American churches communicates that the youth ministry is a separate entity — how close to the sanctuary or auditorium is your church’s youth room? At my church, the youth wing is on the complete opposite side of the church, away from the adult Sunday school classes, the auditorium, prayer room, and main office.

2. I believe that youth ministry needs to be holistic in nature. Another struggle facing youth ministry today is how we present the Christian life. Is “believing in Jesus and asking Him into your hearts” enough? Of course it is, but how do we communicate the impact of such a decision to teenagers? How do we help them understand that the Christian walk encompasses every area of their lives? We need to find a way to effectively communicate to teenagers that Christianity isn’t so much about doing as it is about becoming. God desires to transform young people into clear reflections of Himself. This requires more than “praying a prayer.”

What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is responding to effectively?

1. In the youth ministries that I have been a part of in the last 6 years, every youth director did an excellent job of personally investing in the lives of students. I love seeing the faces of young people light up when a youth worker invites them out to grab coffee, lunch, a Coke, etc. Just the act of taking a student out communicates that we are interested in the lives of our young people and that we think they are valuable. Six years ago, I was a student in the youth group at my parents’ church. The two youth pastors who served during my time as a student both took me out on a regular basis, and both continued to do so even after I graduated. Now, I get to do the same thing with the young people in my church and community. Youth ministers are doing a phenomenal thing when they take students out on a regular basis.

2. Youth group, island or not, is a safe place for teenagers to essentially live life together. I love seeing my young people laugh, joke, cry, play, talk, and love on each other. They look forward to Wednesday nights because they know it is a safe place where they can feel support from their peers and youth leaders. While there definitely needs to be a teaching element in weekly youth programs, we must also recognize the fact that our young people crave the positive environment we create at youth group. We need to give them time and space to be in community with each other. Whether we strive to create space for community or not, these bonds are bound to form, sometimes in spite of our best efforts. This is definitely a plus.

In what ways does youth ministry need to change?

(Recap of question 1)

1. Plug students into the greater body of Christ. Have the young people in the church teach an adult Sunday School class. Hold a game night for young people and senior citizens in the church. Throw a party to celebrate what God is doing in the youth ministry — have the youth group over for dinner and invite adults in the church who want to see young people mature and grow in their faith.

2. Below is an acronym for the word “holistic” that I found in a missions magazine (I can’t remember the name). I’ve adapted it to fit youth ministry more specifically. I think it sums up well what we need to change in order to be more holistic in our ministry to young people.

Holistic ministry to youth:

Helps youth develop physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
Overcomes barriers to progress by empowering youth to think outside their current circumstances.
Listens to the young people to understand their struggles, hurts, needs, and solutions.
Invests in the lives of youth, regardless of whether they are social maestros or social misfits.
Shows students, through word and action, that the Christian faith is a living reality.
Transforms students and enables them to bring that transformation to their homes, schools, and community.
Initiates life-change through spiritual nurture, behavioral change, and education.
Christ in youth, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Ben Kraker is the youth pastor at “Elmira Church of Christ” in Elmira, OR and blogs at That Ben Guy.

[Read previous authors and posts in this series, “Issues in youth ministry.”]

Posted on December 7, 2006

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