This month we are going to be looking at some bigger questions for youth ministry. Some of these questions you might have thought through before, or maybe you just take for granted their answers like I some times do. I hope these blogs help you further explore youth ministry as they always do for me. Lets dive in with…..
“Why does Youth Ministry exist?”
Josh Beeler is the Associate Pastor for Youth and College at Central Baptist Church of Fountain City in Knoxville, TN. He is a graduate of Old Dominion University and of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Josh is married to his wonderful wife, Sherry, who he enjoys sharing conversation, adventures, and life with. He is ridiculously playful and works daily to maintain his mischievousness. Josh enjoys playing, singing, reading, questioning and laughing with friends.
After years worth of busted windows, broken bones, stained church carpets, and endlessly frustrated grounds keepers, I’m sure that there are plenty of pastors asking this question. So why does youth ministry exist? At the very foundational level of development, modern society has created a phase of life that no generation prior to 50 years ago really had much dealings with. For instance, let’s think biblically: Mary, the mother of Jesus, went (very abruptly) from the stage of childhood to the stage of adulthood when she became pregnant. The culture very much expected that young men would begin work at an early age and that women would begin having children at an early age. Any idea of time for physiological and educational development as a period of time between those two stages of life was entirely foreign.
In a very real way, adolescence is a modern issue. Which means that now, unlike any other time in history, and especially as the time of preparation for adulthood continues to grow (high school, college, graduate work, professional training, etc.), there is a unique phase of life with unique challenges and opportunities, into which the Church has the opportunity to speak life. We are gifted with the opportunity to care for this group, to share life with them, to pass down practices of our faith that will help them to deal with the stresses and anxieties of their world, and do whatever we can to help disciple them as followers of Jesus. This is the work of youth ministry—and despite all the ruined bits of property in its wake, it’s good work!
In a similar line of thought, youth ministry exists for the parents of this group of students as well. Knowing how to deal with a person who is going through this stage of life—and a person that you have to love and discipline as your child—is a unique and challenging task. And what makes it even more difficult is that we are continuing to see the length of adolescence change. Students are within the “reach” of youth ministry much longer now than their parents were. Add to that the fact that the social world in which these students interact is changing much more quickly than their parents’ world did, and much more quickly than they can keep up with now, and parents have quite the task! This means that parents are facing challenges that they most likely never entirely walked through themselves, so it is incredibly helpful to have a team of trained professionals and volunteers who work with them to find ways to minister to their students in this changing world.
Finally, youth ministry exists for the sake of the church. It allows members within the church who have a passion to help students an avenue within which to put their ministerial gifts to work. It allows these brave and valuable volunteers the opportunity to shepherd teens into adulthood. And, if it is done right, it pulls in students who want to follow Jesus and puts them in contact with the adults of the church as often as possible. Youth ministry creates a unique niche for students to feel at home in the life of the church, but it also points them towards the large life of the gathered body. It creates ways for students to meet adults and learn from their experience. It introduces students to compassionate and caring adults who want to care for them and listen to their concerns and challenges. It challenges them to invest themselves in the service of the church—whether to the adults, children or community of that body of faith. Ultimately, when churches embrace the students who find themselves in this unique time in life, it allows them the chance to leave a living legacy in the Body of Christ.
Why does youth ministry exist? Because our culture has created a unique stage of development that brings its own possibilities and needs, and the church has always been about meeting needs and embracing the possibilities of the days to come with endless hope and kingdom intent.
Carol Harston has served as Minister to Youth at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, since 2007. Born and raised at Highland, Carol has found the joy of caring for youth in the same community that shaped her as a young person. Outside of youth ministry, Carol has her hands full as a mom to James (4 years old) and Collier (21 months old) and wife to Drew (orthopedic surgery resident and faithful youth volunteer).
Youth ministry exists as a child born out of adult anxiety. Decades ago in American history when school became the requirement for young people, adults grew anxious of the rebellious and wayward ways of teens. With time on their hands, young people developed free time and spent more time away from adults and instead surrounded by their peers. Parents lost more and more control. The answer? Church! Youth Ministry!
Perhaps it is a snarky and pessimistic answer, but this perspective exists still today. We see it when adults in the congregation come to the youth minister desiring programming that will teach young people merely to avoid the immoral pitfalls of our culture. We see it when people judge our youth groups based on their involvement or lack of it in sex, drugs, and rock and roll. At the base of it, our jobs came out of the well-intentioned adults who put their financial resources towards where their fears reside the most.
This reason does not have to be the reason why we believe that youth ministry exists. However, we must be aware of this lingering cultural expectation of youth ministry as we go about our work. We must work to shift youth ministry away from our fear of our teens’ humanity and instead on our love of our teens’ humanity. We must be evangelists who celebrate the news that Christ meets us in our moments of desperation and connects us with a wider congregation of vulnerable and authentic adults.
I believe youth ministry exists so that the congregation may come alongside youth when they reach the difficult moments of their lives where they have to ask the big existential questions – what is this life? What is the purpose in living it? How do I cope with the fact that it is temporary?
I believe youth ministry exists so that young people may find belonging that is based in who they are at the core of their personhood rather than what extracurricular they participate in or who they hang out with.
I believe youth ministry exists because God loves all people and therefore we are called to love young people in all their loveable moments and all their not-so-loveable ones.
Congregations may have begun the tradition of youth ministry because of they were afraid of all that lies within our humanity that emerges during the teen years. However, we follow a God whose preferred method of transformation is meeting us in our vulnerable and rough places to offer us identity, calling, and grace. May that be the reason we go into work to plan Wednesday nights, camps, and mission trips.