What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is struggling with today?
I think a big issue that youth ministry struggles with is getting effective adult volunteers to assist the youth pastor in the ministry. The youth pastor is left to run things on his own and in many cases one man cannot (effectively) run an entire youth group without assistance, especially larger ones. Then even if you do get a handful of people to assist you they are not necessarily a help because they have big hearts and have a lot of ideas but they are not making decisions based off of an understanding of youth culture. There needs to be more opportunities out there for lay people in the church to learn about youth and their culture.
What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is responding to effectively?
I feel that youth ministry today is doing a lot better at being family focused. Many youth groups i knew growing up ignored the need to have parents around and to encourage family with the teens. In my youth group growing up it was shunned to have parents around for trips or youth night. It was our escape. Now I have seen many churches involving parents all the time and it serves such a great purpose. The parents are the ones that should be teaching their kids about the bible and being the primary example of godliness to them. Youth ministry is a supplement to what is not happening in many homes. It is important to make sure we include the family into our ministries because it allows parents who are doing what they should at home to also have an impact on other kids.
In what ways does youth ministry need to change?
The biggest change needed is in how we teach the bible. Not every youth pastor is guilty of this but many are. On an average Wednesday night a teen enters into the teaching time of youth group and receives a topical message or a message that goes something like, “Five ways to be a better Christian.” The pastor gives a few random verses to go with the topic and in 20 minutes the teens walk away with nothing more then its bad to smoke or its bad to hate people or something like that. Please don’t misunderstand me, there is a definite place for topical messages because we need to hit on the issues they face, but I feel as if that’s all that occurs from 6th grade to graduation. In my youth group growing up I received topical messages for all that time and when I got to bible college my first year I couldn’t answer a single question in [the Biblical Introduction class]. I didn’t even know all the books of the Bible. All I could say, sadly, is the content of a few famous Bible stories from Sunday school. We need to have a plan. Youth pastors need to have a goal when the kids arrive in 6th grade. They need to begin by teaching these kids the fundamentals of their faith and move to what they believe as Christians and why they believe it. They need to learn how to share their faith and argue for it. They need to know how to teach someone a bible lesson and disciple someone. We have [become] too broad in our topics. There needs to be progression. I think of Romans 6:1, we need to move our kids on toward maturity and stop repeating the elementary things over and over.
William Berger is a camp director in New Jersey.
Posted on December 4, 2006