This is on the front page of Amazon.com right now. Does anyone else feel this way about youth ministry?
I feel like I’ve been wrestling with “figuring out a better way” for a few years now. As much life-change and transformation we see taking place as a result of youth ministries around the country, is this really as good as it gets? Is it possible to serve the Lord, His bride, teenagers, and families in a way that might yield even more fruit? Or even if it’s not about the quantity of fruit, could “a better way” yield higher quality fruit?
We hear stats all the time about teenagers leaving the church after high school, giving up on their faith, and living totally different lives at youth group than they do at school. No matter how much we teach about pre-marital sex, alcohol, and integrity, how much of that really seems to take root on a level deeper than behavior modification?
Or, on a more selfish level for youth workers, not a week goes by where I don’t hear from a youth worker who’s struggling with church politics, difficult parents, or a senior pastor. Many of these youth workers are on the brink of either being fired or quitting. But they don’t quit because quitting feels so wrong, like leaving vocational ministry is akin to disowning our mother. So we stay and accept the financial, emotional, and sometimes spiritual drain as part of the job. To compound the guilty feeling for stepping down, we go to youth ministry conferences where we are encouraged from every angle, “Don’t throw in the towel! It’s worth it!” Is it? Could it be that the structure in which we serve is fundamentally flawed? Or what if we could step “down” to a volunteer role and instantly be ten times more effective in ministry to teens and their families? (Would you do it? Personally, I’m finding that’s there’s plenty of student ministry to be done everywhere. You don’t have to be employed by a church to be in youth ministry.)
To me, the solutions I see being proposed to all these issues and more usually feel like band-aid fixes. Sure, getting parents involved in the youth ministry is a good thing, and having more regular communication with your senior pastor is always beneficial, but are those solutions to the bigger issues? Are they addressing a root problem or the symptoms of something else?
Hear my heart in this: I’m very passionate for serving the Lord, His bride, teenagers, and their families. Just like you, I want to see a transformation take place in youth ministry that allows us all to honor the Lord more faithfully and introduce families to Christ in a way that’s conducive for faith to revolutionize hearts and communities long-term.
I don’t think I have all the answers, but after a few years of thinking, praying, and ongoing conversations with youth workers and other leaders, I feel like there are definitely answers out there for the root problems. As I learn to articulate it more clearly, hopefully we can work through this together and, like Amazon, pioneer youth ministry in a way that reaches beyond “normal” to “figure out a better way.”