The Mis-Measure of Youth Ministry

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A few weeks ago we held a youth event called Revolution. It was a great weekend which you can read about on the website if you would like. What I really wanted to let you all know about is our speaker for the weekend Jeremy Shipp. If any of you are looking for someone to speak at a retreat, youth rally, or camp I highly recommend him. His message captivated the teens and adults at Revolution and his use of media and illustrations were fantastic. If you are interested in getting his contact information please send me an e-mail and I will pass it on to you. You will not be disappointed, and it's my understanding that his speaking schedule is fairly clear right now, so if you need someone you stand a good chance of snagging him.

Discipleship Youth Program Vs. An Ecclesiastical Youth Program

These two articles "Post Relational Youth Ministry" and "Hurried" have really set my mind thinking about the tension between taking a discipleship approach to ministry or an ecclesiastical approach.

To be sure both things are absolutely important for us as youth ministers to concern ourselves with. This discussion isn't about throwing the baby out with bath water so to speak. But, I do want to have the discussion in hopes of thinking through some of the real dilemmas about how we focus our efforts in structuring our youth programs and how we measure the programs effectiveness.

The last post on the blog asked the question about how "deep" our youth groups are. Having a discussion focused on the spiritual health of a group as opposed to just the numbers as a way to measure effectiveness is right on the money. Putting a "Yaconellian" statement out there, I am not convinced that our call as professional ministers is to make teens into disciples of Jesus Christ. And where YM get into trouble is by being measured by that kind of criteria.

The truth is we all know that we have little to moderate influence on the actions and beliefs that teens have when they enter our groups. Parents and friends have a much greater impact in shaping the overall trajectory of a teens spiritual belief systems. Where we do have a powerful influence is in shaping the experiences of our teenagers within the context of the church.

That is a powerful position to be in especially if you really think about how huge the impact the Church can be over the life of a person. That's a scary influence to have, and one that deserves a greater focus from us than what we traditionally have given it. When I talk about a teens experience with the Church I am not referring to a sound system, PowerPoint, or any other kind of "edgy" presentations that dominate "successful" teen programs. I am referring to really integrating a teen into the broad life of the church both in serving and being served. If anything the kind of "Whiz Bang" catchy YM programs that we cynically talk against (but secretly envy...or atleast I do) are driven by a discipleship model rather than an ecclesiatical model of ministry.

In responding to my comment on the McFranchising post "Anonymous" said that we are directly commissioned in the Bible to go and make disciples. We would all recognize that this came from Jesus during his ascension into heaven. I absolutely agree that part of our expectation as Christians is to help bring people into relationship with Christ that is transformative. How to do that is a whole different discussion. Jesus addressed that to his Disciples (not just the Apostles). These were more than likely numerous men, women, and children not just the twelve. Fast forward to Acts and we see that the power of the God's Spirit happened well beyond an individual experience and encompassed something much bigger...the Church. The rest of Acts chronicles the early church leaders efforts in building up the community of the church with believers and integrating them into the life of the church. As "professional ministers" the Apostles were given the responsibility to incorporate people into the Church as a way for people to become transformed. You could make the argument that Paul's main focus was helping people coexist within Church and that personal discipleship was secondary (but also very important). That makes me think that our profession brings with it a greater responsibility towards building people up in the church Possibly even superseding the standard discipleship responsibilty that every Christian has.

So I throw all this out there in hopes of having a tangential discussion related to the original "McFranchising of Youth Ministry" posted by GMAN. Some of the things I said I am not too sure about....I am still thinking my way through this.


9 Responses to “The Mis-Measure of Youth Ministry”

  1. Anonymous Anonymous 

    i understand the concept, but the bottom line has never and will never change. we need to make disciples in order to keep christianity going. nothing else has or will matter - at least in my view. it is true though that making disciples means different things to different ppl. i'm just tired of seeing kids grow up and fall by the wayside after all of our 'cool' programs didn't work. know what i mean?

    i love youth and hate to see YM failing, for the most part.

    to me, it just seems like hardcore, old-school discipleship is where the future is at. we're seeing students leave our YM's biblically illiterate in droves. no wonder they can't stand up when the heat is on!

    this is a very interesting discussion - let's keep it going.

  2. Blogger CL 

    I think the important thing that Jason is bringing out is - yes, making disciples is what we are called to do - but just how much we can do and how we go about doing what we do, is a larger issue. Sometimes we make it seem like "Oh, let's just go out and make disciples." Great! How? I mean, I have been trained on "how to be a minister" but learning how to make disciples is an up and down journey that will take years for me to really grasp, as much as I continue to try and try. I think J's point about influence is a huge one. Therefore it is so vital that we as a body become involved in this process, and not leave it to the youth guy all by his lonesome - which is what happens. So, the greater question still is, how do we bring the entire body into an alignment where everyone, is in on the disciplemaking process? But this brings up other questions about our church body and it's depth and ability also. This is a huge challenge. I'm like you J, I am obviously stumbling through this, and have more questions than answers.
    Anon - you have a good point about our our students leaving our youth minnistries "biblically illiterate in droves." I wonder if this has more to do with our teaching styles than our abilities even sometimes to disciple, Not gonna open a whole new can here, but I am just thinking, we feed our kids lots of answers and they learn them pat, but ultimately when the "heat is on" they can stand because they don't have a true context to apply said answers. Another post for another day, but good stuff none the less.
    I hope what I have said makes even a little bit a sense, but who knows...

  3. Anonymous Anonymous 

    j-wild ---

    those are very, very interesting articles. honestly, the last one really made me think ( scary! ;-0 )

    here's a snip from the last article by yaconelli:

    "...They haven’t lived long enough. But in a culture where youth is worshipped and idolized by adults, where young people are called young adults, where young people are portrayed in the media as wise, untainted gurus of insight, it’s no wonder we convince young people that they’re the hope of the world.

    Funny…I thought Jesus was the hope of the world."

    i think the last line is so true. we put all this pressure on youth and tell them that theyre the world's only hope. thats BS. like the article said, Jesus is the only real hope.

    i think i agree with this guy's philosophy in large part. i think he's saying what i've been trying to say. discipling is VERY important, but its not just some cut-n-paste thing. it takes time and a lifetime.

    i am trying to disciple in a way thats real to youth. i try to show them my wisdom, but also my faults. my scars and pains, but also my victories. also, i totally try to avoid being a "I have all the answers" youth leader. its like i tell them all time, i might day tomorrow, so dont let me be the only source of truth and inspiration in their lives.

    also, the perspective that they ARE just kids and still dealing with kid emotions and feelings is very true...and something that lots of adults lose site of.

  4. Blogger Jovan 

    good comments! I think that making disciples is our goal and our mission. We are only going to reach a few. Which I believe is an important biblical principle. Those we can really influence will see Jesus in us and want to model our walk. Remember the first disciples of Jesus where followers of John. Paul told the Corinth church to "imitate him as he imitated Christ." And i know it is more about participation (Christ in us) than imitation meaning there is a transformation of old to new, dead to alive. We help in this process of making followers of Jesus. We help build the foundation. I am comforted to know that God is the one who gives increase (1 Cor 3). We are called to make disciples. And I am scrambling to fill these orders.

    "Biblically illiterate" in some way I was wondering if it were just my teens. They're are many signs of encouragement and success and then there are times when we think "are we making a difference?" I am to be flooded in prayer and ministering the word (Acts 6) and to teach, rebuke, correct, and train in righteousness as a minister... hehe and then all those countless other things that youth ministers do. We this has been very theraputic for me. Thanks!

    Grace and Peace!

  5. Anonymous Anonymous 

    somebody should start a topic on why our youth are so biblically illiterate. i'd be very interested in hearing from others on that very subject. its one that frustrates me greatly. kids seem to want to be christians, but don't want to work at it or invest any real time learning about Christ.

    (if i wasn't such a compter dummy, i'd start the topic myself!)

    btw, you can call me sam.

  6. Blogger bye 

    There is so much more than a "cut and past disciples program." Our youth do not care to have have depth in the Bible until they have expereinced the Words that we preach. Yea it is fun to go out and do "fun" things but our youth will not be disciples until we helo them out of their comfort zone and take them regularly to feed the homeless and other acts of service. We are real good about having mission trips, but what about the rest of the year? We have to create more opportunities to experience what we talk about in class or it does fall into "everything is meaningless" catergory espcially class. They don't want knowledge until they have a reason to have knowledge. We have to inlcude ourselves in this picture and get out of the office and go to the slums etc and forget about ourselves and serve others. (Some including myslef need to give up on being the next BIG Youth Minister and allow God to use us right where we are.

  7. Blogger J-Wild 


    When you say teens don't KNOW their Bible, what are you referring to? Is it that they don't know they shouldn't be having oral sex with each other? Or are you saying they don't know what John 4:12 says?

    This is a great discussion, and I appreciate everyone's input. Perhaps I should make clear that I am drawing a distinction between our own personal responsibilities as Christians and our chosen professions as ministers. I realize that line can be very blurry at times, but there is a distinction right? Are we justified in recieving a paycheck for doing something that we are inherintly supposed to do as Christians? I am not sure about that. I find it easier to justify getting paid to have a skilled profeciency in building up the community of the church, and specifically the role that teenagers play within that body.

    Of course I am not saying that any of us do this for the paycheck, but we are held accountable as professionals since we do recieve one. Is discipleship really how I should be measured? That puts an awful lot of pressure on getting teens baptized, transformed, and recommitted. That's where I think manipulation can start to rear it's ugly head.

    Again I am FOR discipleship, but not as a unit by which the effectiveness of how I do my job should be measured.

  8. Blogger chris b 

    Great post!!! I have a couple of thoughts. I have not read the other comments so excuse me if I repeat. My first thought is dealing with your comment about Paul's first motive and second motive as far as helping the church as we read from Acts and his epistles -" Paul's main focus was helping people coexist within Church and that personal discipleship was secondary (but also very important)." I would like to take this a bit further. Our view of church today and how Paul viewed it are not the same. Church was not a building or a number or a program. It was the incarnation of Christ in the world. Community therefore, is something that was so very important to Paul. I am still processing the articles too and at the same time, I feel that there is more to the discussion than just what style of youth ministry we should be 'doing' or not 'doing'. I have watched over the past 5 years as dozens and dozens of high school graduates have left our 'group' and gone to college--some never to darken a church door again (as far as I know). Yet some return here during breaks and the summer only to find that they
    "don't belong" or that the "church is different". Are we suppose to minister to teens only until they graduate then kick them out and expect them to survive?

    Also, I have been forming a thought. I believe that I am my own worst enemy when it comes to youth ministry. I have become a lone ranger in so many ways when it comes to teens and families. I have often heard and felt that I am just a baby sitter. I have always ignored that because I 'know the truth'. But the truth is we in youth ministry often get in our own way when one of the most powerful community building forces in life are families themselves. Now, obviously if you are in a ministry that is made up of mostly teens from disfunctional families this may not be the case. I am in Suburban DC where our church is made up of mostly families (6-70 % of our church). But if you think of it, community is about family. How many references do we read in the NT about the church being a family or how all parts function to help out each other. I know I am rambling...

    I guess what I am saying is, we are asking questions about making disciples and how we should do that in youth ministry. The question I have is shouldn't we be looking at kids like people that will grow and change and become something other than what they are now? Has youth ministry's version of discipleship become dependant on youth ministers? If so, I think we are in trouble. There are too many factors that go into the spiritual, emotional, and physicial and psychological development of teens that make it very hard for us to 'disciple' teens by the time they graduate high school.

    Great post!!

  9. Blogger J-Wild 

    Chris B:

    I couldn't agree more with everything you said. Great comment.

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