Sunday, I am hosting a P.I.E. event with our teens and their parents. The goal will be for us to grow in the shared vision for teens at our church. Given that we are limited for time in any one meeting, here are some points that are basic to our understanding of youth ministry at The Red Brick Church.
- The Vision is being together in the presence of Christ in the Heavenly City. See 5th Tree, Right Side. But until then, we pray that we will live together in Christ-centered community, growing together as family, and reaching out into all the world. See Jonathan Edwards was as High on Heaven as He Was Hot on Hell.
- Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. All ministries to all people must be Word centered and this includes youth. Our children should hear the Gospel, in particular, at church, at home, and at youth group. The preaching of the Word must be particularly valued. If we are not Word-centered now, we lose our children forever.
- Likewise, our youth ministry must be explicitly gospel-centered. Studies in recent years have repeatedly demonstrated that a large number of young people, who consider themselves Christians, ascribe to what Christian Smith called “moralistic-therapeutic-deism” rather than the Good News of Jesus Christ. It is not enough to be up-standing citizens. We must be all about the Gospel of Christ. See also Emphases for Graduating Seniors. What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? (Matthew 16:26). See also How can a person be sure of his or her salvation?
- God’s primary and foundational means of the discipleship (following Christ) of children and youth is through families. The church’s central way of building into children is by the discipleship of parents. Pastors and local churches must encourage and equip parents to impart the faith to their children when they sit at home and when they walk along the rode, when they lie down and when they get up (Deut 6:4-9).
- Having said that, our central allegiance in life is to Christ and his bride, not the family (Luke 14:26). Some forms of the home church movement have been misguided and exhibited a poor ecclesiology. Of course, it is fine for a church to meet in a home! But it must be a local church. Our central program strategy for youth will be in our local church. As our staff situation allows, we are open to cooperating with other local churches periodically for events like See You at the Pole. However, our programming will not focus around cooperative events which can, in the extreme, distance young people from their own church. Such efforts are also confined to a “lowest common denominator” of theological truth. Our primary energies will be in integrating youth into the life of the church. See Where the church and the family are concerned, to which error are you prone? and On Excusing Ourselves from Church in the Name of Family
- We will never accept that it is okay or acceptable for children to walk away from the faith. Jesus warned that many think they have eternal life when they do not (Matt 7:21 ff). This is sobering. Our goal is that all of our young people will continue in active fellowship with a Christ-centered church without interruption. Eternity is at stake. We love our children and will persevere in identifying ways to better minister to them. The reality is that our church has lost our young people at an alarming rate. This cannot continue. See What Scares Me Most as a Pastor.
- Quite the opposite of leaving the faith, our church prays that all will follow Christ and that some will be called into Christian leadership, either vocationally or in their local churches as elders, deacons, CE Committee members etc. Unto whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:47-48). We have a tremendous opportunity to disciple our young people to go into all the world to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). See I’m Asking My Wife and Children to Watch This Video
- Children and youth should not be solely compartmentalized by age group or distanced from the family of believers. The church as a whole should be seen as extended family and love should be evident. Relationships with adults in the church are as important as relationships with peers. Indeed, the relationships between youth and adults are more strategically important than peer-to-peer relationships given the biblical emphasis on older people teaching younger (Titus 2:1-15). See the best parts of being a pastor. See also, A Key Principle for Youth Ministry
- Consequently, children and youth must learn to be in the worship service at church. Indeed, the first Sunday morning priority should be for teens to be in the worship service.On some level, corporate worship is an acquired taste. We must learn the joy of singing together, praying together, and hearing the Word preached. The goal should be for young people to be here for both hours on Sunday. If only one hour works, then young people should be in the worship service. We should not be surprised when young people check out of church if they have never learned to worship.
- In a fallen world, most young people in our culture do not live in homes that are Christ-centered. Even as younger people are more open to the Gospel than those who are older. Churches must make strategic decisions about whether or not they will simply leave those teens to be on their own, or, if they will seek to reach out to young people who are searching for answers. While some disagree, most evangelical churches in our culture believe that one means of reaching out to young people is through a youth ministry. Our church will strive to engage our community and to actively proclaim the gospel to those who are lost. See for example this video on Team Sunday.
- Further, even teens from Christian homes rightly desire to grow in Christian fellowship with their peers. This does not mean that families can be marginalized (see #2), but rather the point is that it is legitimate for teens to have friends their own age and social events where they enjoy one another’s company. Our church believes that we should offer events with a vision of Spirit-filled teens speaking to one another with Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:18-20). Teens who do not experience Christ-centered fellowship with peers often satisfying their thirst for those relationships in unhealthy ways. See Chapter 6 of Bound Together, “Bound Together for Joy”
- Leading Youth Ministries Requires A Different Sort of Training and Expertise than children’s ministries. To use a simple analogy, in our particular context, putting together Children’s Ministries is more like connect the dots or paint by numbers; Youth Ministries are more free form. AWANA and Children’s Ministries have defined structures and methods. For AWANA, we know what we are going to do, the curriculum we are going to use, when they will meet, and the personnel required. Youth ministry on the other hand requires greater flexibility and more diverse expertise. It demands more intellectually (the questions get tougher). It requires more diversity in leadership.
- Our programming philosophy will involve events at several levels of time and effort. We will encourage small, simple, spontaneous get togethers, planned meetings with leaders, fun events, and also major events such as camp or a missions trip. Programming will be simple, and the organization of games will be largely up to the teens themselves. See Is it Wrong to Have Fun at Church?
- There must be recognition that progress in spiritual growth requires intense effort. We have to dig for wisdom as though we are looking for treasure. See Do We Grow by Our Effort or God’s Grace?, See Dig for Wisdom Like It’s 1849
- Our methodology will intentionally leverage social media. Youth ministries cannot operate most effectively in the 21st century without interacting with young people through web sites and social media. This requires expertise, time, and money. But it is essential. See For Those in Favor of the Telephone, 700 Billion Minutes, and Build Digital Relationships or Die.
- JH and SH Teens are in markedly different places of development. Hence, not all events for JH and SH can be combined.
- As a church, we are not going to be tossed about by every wind of change in philosophies of youth ministry. There is a tendency in our age to lurch from one youth group theory to the next – – – In the last 40 years, there have been various trends which include: big event youth ministry, small group based youth ministry, Christian schools, homeschools, no youth groups, separate church for youth, etc etc . We have learned from many of these trends and emphases. But we are looking for a steady, long term philosophy of youth ministry that stresses the centrality of the local church, the need for the Word to be proclaimed, the importance of the family, etc.
- Youth Ministries should target using a large team of volunteers who are plugged into their areas of giftedness.
- Those navigating youth ministry in the 21st Century find themselves navigating between extremes in a number of areas:
|Teens isolated by age group / de-emphasis of family
|No youth ministry / family and church seen synonymously|
|Games only||Non-engaging and irrelevant teaching|
|A decisionist approach with little or know structured curriculum or teaching||(see Keller, “The Need for Gospel Renewal”)||“Programmed conversion” / formalized spirituality through confirmation etc / no recognition of revival|
|Complete para-church approach||A refusal to ever cooperate with other churches|
This all comes together to envision our church where parents are biblically challenged in an ongoing way, where people relate to one another as extended family. For youth ministry, in particular, we envision a team of adult leaders, each serving in their areas of giftedness, who build vital relationships with young people.
 Christian Smith et al., Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011); Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005).