Original Opinion Piece for Thursday, June 12 (’14) by Dale Stenberg
The article below is the first part of a five-part series on what is wrong with youth ministry in the United States. It may help to read this article from Charisma News. The article is shocking and reactions to it have gone from draconian (“Abolish youth ministry!” or “Abolish traditional church!”) to drab (“Eh…nothing new.”). The guys at Ten4Word were not surprised by the reactions or the statistics. We believe youth ministry is helpful, but only if done in a way that embraces and submits to God’s ordinary means of grace (an idea we’ll mention later). It is also worth noting that surveys and books, whether national or not, consistently show an abysmal conversion consistency among youth/teenagers. The questions remain: What’s wrong with youth ministry? Can anything good come from youth ministry? To that we move with part 1….
Battle for the Mind
We are losing the battle of the mind with our children in the church. This is nothing new, but it continues to be ignored by many to the detriment of our children. In 1960s’ England, Harry Blamires wrote in The Christian Mind in his chapter on surrendering to secularism, “There is no longer a Christian mind. There is, of course, still a Christian ethic, a Christian practice, and a Christian spirituality….but there is no longer a Christian mind.” He wrote further, there is a “loss of intellectual morale” and admitted the claim sounded sensational. But is it? Recently in the American Evangelical scene, Mark Noll wrote in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Could it be that the shallow minds in our churches do not provide the deep soil for real teenage growth and that, as a result of this mindlessness, youth are leaving our churches in droves?
Before I go any further let me just state, emphatically, that the only way unto salvation is the gospel. There is no secret formula that, when applied correctly, brings sinners to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. We must preach law and gospel to our kids and pray God would deliver them. This should go without saying, but unfortunately many youth ministers miss this approach in lieu of pizza parties and skinny jeans, hyped up laser shows and super rad music with no depth to understanding what the gospel is. How sad.
We should consider Paul and his methodology, “As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead.” “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Do we do this with teenagers? Do we reason with them? Engage their minds? Challenge them with, and to, critical thinking? Or do we try and adopt their language, whip up their emotions with “totally” cool music, and ask them to say a prayer to be saved? The latter seems to be the mantra far too often.
21st century kids are inundated with information. With advances in technology, everyone has a forum to promote ideas which become trenches where the battle for eternity is fought. Why, then, would the church resort to shallow tactics when the scope of ideas being touted are deep and nuanced? My answer: because it’s easy. Apathy and an unwillingness to engage the tough questions teenagers ask is dwindling their interest and leaving the pews empty in their college years. Theology is not important anymore; a focus on meat has disappeared and has left our youth seeking answers to life through postmodern self-exploration and self-help mediums. No wonder Joel Osteen is such a smashing success. If our children are not being taught that Christianity is the only viable explanation for the origins of the universe and the meaning to life then they will, inevitably, seek these answers from the non-Christian realm. Where else would they go? We shy away from subjects like philosophy and epistemology, yet these are vital areas of study that reveal fuel for faith in God. Why is it that we believe in God? Why is it that I know something rather than nothing and that there is existence rather than non-existence? These issues need to be prompted and explained. These are the issues of today.
The biggest mark we miss when ministering to our youth is this: God is sovereign. How do we tell a young person that our God—the God of the bible—controls every molecule that moves? Can this be explained in a new method by a thirty-something hipster sipping a mocha from Starbucks and talking about the latest sitcom on TV? Of course it can, but it’s not.
The doctrine of God takes a back seat to more fashionable and aesthetic means that deliver us a Jesus-as-homeboy rather then the Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos. Our focus needs to be brought back to God who controls and has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. When we engage the minds with these doctrines, it begs questions that need answering. Why do bad things happen? What about natural disasters? Why is there evil? Such questions trigger a domino effect of deep and critical thinking when we present God properly to our children (or anyone for that matter). Conversations shift from the mundane to the extraordinary. This is where we bring our youth. We bring them to the point of realizing the majesty of God and understanding they are wretched sinners in need of a savior. This is what will keep our children faithfully committed: the Gospel in its glory.
In the final analysis we will be judged on how we cared for the young people that God has brought into our lives. We will be held accountable on whether or not we presented the gospel accurately and without shame. My answer to the the youth issue in this country is not flannel shirts and summer getaways centered around feel good self-esteem enhancement. It is the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is through engaging the minds of tomorrow in deep and constructive dialogue about the truths of our world and our lives. Challenge them. Show them that without God there is no truth. Encourage them to, oh I don’t know…read! Help them explore science, sociology, archaeology, medicine in light of God’s story of redemption. We are not at war with science—we own it. Ready their minds for battle in an ever-increasing intellectual society. Give them the confidence to stand against the tides of western culture and the so-called progressives. Show them the the only truth in the world is the truth of the cross. We stand on the confidence of the cross. We stand for ultimate truth. Now get out there and act like it
“Heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name, we ask you to guard and protect your church by the powerful presence of your Holy Spirit. You alone possess truth in all its glory. May our humility drive us to grace, and may grace drive us to a deeper love of the infinite depths of your being as you restore our holiness, righteousness, and knowledge. Amen.”
Next Thursday, part 2 in this series: 7 characteristics of faithful youth ministry.