I was reading over a section of Michael Horton’s The Gospel Driven Life and I came across a few paragraphs that I had highlighted quite extensively. In fact, I even blogged on this some time ago. The section is one where Horton is critical of much youth ministry that happens in churches today.
Now, before I put up these quotes, I do want to clearly state that I, along with many others out there, have been helped along in the Christian faith by some type of youth ministry. Furthermore, I am not opposed to all forms of youth ministry. At the same time, we should always be open to criticism to see how we can improve in our ministry to youth. I think it is a fair criticism that sometimes youth groups actually end up hurting rather than helping the body of Christ. Sometimes youth groups are a form of Christian babysitting with a snack, “lite” moral lesson, and entertainment (the teenage version of Veggie Tales). You can probably add to these criticisms – as well as add a few of your own positive aspects.
Here are some thought-provoking comments by Horton.
“…We carve up Christ’s body into socioeconomic and generational segments. The youth group is of relatively recent vintage: an invention of the 1960s and ’70s. And now it has taken on a life of its own. Often young people grow up in the church without ever really being in the church and worshiping together with the saints who have walked with the Lord for many years. Then we wonder why they are not integrated into the church when they leave for college and prefer to join a college ministry but not the local church. A younger believer recently asked me what faithfulness looks like in older years. Not having believing parents, and ready to start a family, he was looking for the kind of mature fellowship that characterized the community in Acts and he could not find it in his church” (p. 194).
“The last thing we need is a church that keeps us sealed up in our own compartment with others of similar experiences in life. We need to be integrated into the body of Christ. Younger believers don’t need another speaker to come in and tell them about dating, self-esteem, and relationships. They need to have relationships with saints who have put on a few miles in the Christian life and have faced challenges to their faith and practice that younger believers have not. And the lessons learned from these relationships need to be passed on to the rest of us in unplanned, unchoreographed, and unplugged conversations” (p. 197).
I suppose this leads us into a discussion of the communion or fellowship of the saints. Youth ministry should not take our youth out of the church or away from the church. Nor should youth groups be a church within the church. Youth ministry should get the kids more and more involved in the church by teaching them what it means to live a Christian life in/with a body of other believers (young and old!).
Are youth groups essential to a local church? Certainly not; churches can get along without them just fine. Are they sometimes detrimental? Absolutely; they don’t always make the church stronger in the biblical sense of the term. Can they be utilized for the good of the church and maturing in the Christian life? Yes! If a church has a youth group, that should be its goal.