What does an author do when he writes an academic youth ministry book that is critically acclaimed in youth ministry circles and sells beyond all expectations? Simple. He writes another book on the same topic only this time he joins with another expert in the field and moves from the academic into the practical. Dr. Chap Clark, Fuller Theological Seminary professor, made the compelling case in his book Hurt: Inside the Mind of Today’s Teenager that teenagers in today’s culture have been systemically abandoned by the adults and institutions that have traditionally cared for them. The resulting effect of this abandonment is a generation of hurting, disenfranchised young people who, somewhat ironically, are actually craving relationships with the very same adults who have abandoned them.
Studies continue to show there is a short window of opportunity for information to be acted on until it becomes irrelevant. This reality makes me wonder if student ministries that talk about dropping nets and following Christ, stepping out in faith, dying to self, living for Christ, being salt and light, and going into all the world to make disciples but do not give students opportunities to do these things, or that only allow students a chance to lead recreation at VBS once a year, might actually be guilty of perpetuating the myth of the irrelevance of God’s Word to “real” life.
There are certain lessons I have learned over the last decade and a half in youth ministry. I learned early on that taking students to play paintball really means open season on the youth pastor, and I learned that something always gets broken during a lock-in. I found out that playing youth group games in the sanctuary never ends well and that students seldom bring Bibles to church. I also realized that the most effective way to help students connect the dots between faith and life is having a youth group that worships together, prays for each other, and participates in missions experiences…
Given the overwhelmingly negative statistics concerning young adults and church involvement, I am willing to go out on a limb here and suggest that engaging teenagers in the life of your congregation is one of the more important things you can do in your student ministry. Stepping a little further out on the limb, let me also suggest that though the application of the Great Commission must be contextualized, the call to make disciples is equally as valid for the teenagers in your congregation as it is for the adults who inhabit your pews.
In my opinion, it is time to move away from pointing out the issues of the church and move toward finding biblical solutions to those problems. Much to my surprise, I found that the authors of UnChristian worked hard to strike the appropriate balance between critique of the church and solutions for the church.
From the origin of your calling to work with the next generation to the importance of assisting parents in raising their children, a covenantal understanding of scripture has multiple implications for youth ministry. Let me try to whet your appetite by highlighting just two of the many aspects of this special relationship between God and man that have direct bearing on how we do youth ministry.
The first question of youth ministry is one of theological foundation. I am convinced that the particular model of ministry that a church uses is secondary to the theological foundation on which the model is built.