This is not a new question. But a new movie, Divided, has created a buzz in the Christian subculture surrounding this very question. (You can read more about the controversy in this Baptist Press report.) In the documentary, Philip Leclarc sets out to determine why there are so many young people leaving the church once they leave high school. His answer: modern youth ministry is one of the foundational problems. Why? He, along with many associated with family integrated churches, say that modern youth ministry takes discipleship out of the hands of the family, where it belongs. Therefore, college students are leaving the church when they move out of the student ministry.
So, do they have a point? Since I’m a youth pastor, am I contributing to the downfall of teenagers by ignoring the methods prescribed for us in the Bible? What are we to make of all of this?
Let me begin by affirming a whole lot of what the filmmakers are saying. Many churches are facing a serious problem by what seems to be a disconnect between the student ministry and the rest of the church.
Also, in far too many cases, parents do hand their kids off to the youth ministry for spiritual growth while ignoring the fact that the family is vital in the discipleship of children (Eph. 6:4). This must change.
To the person who would say that there is too much age-segregation in the church, I would heartily reply, “Amen!” As a whole, churches have neglected to bring their teenagers fully into the life of the congregation, and I believe that we (youth ministers) are to blame. We must seek to apply the principles of Titus 2 and let the teenagers build relationships with the older saints in order that they might grow in their faith.
I also believe that “youth minister” is a poor title because every minister must put priority on ministering to and training the parents so that they can effectively disciple their own children. In many churches, being a good parent simply means bringing your kid to church and teaching them good manners. This is a tragedy, one that must be corrected quickly.
Well, what about youth ministry? If the Bible speaks clearly that parents are the ones responsible for the discipleship of children, isn’t there a verse somewhere about youth ministry? My answer: no. I don’t believe there is an explicit text about youth ministry. But I also don’t think the Bible meant to spell out all of the details about what church should look like. To be sure, it is clear about the centrality of the gospel and other key principles about the mission and leadership of the church, but other topics simply aren’t fully addressed. For example, does the Bible tell us exactly how we should spend the church’s money? No, it does give us, though, general principles about using money to care for the needs around us and carrying out the Great Commission. Also, how long should our worship services be? The Bible doesn’t say, but it does give us some things we should include in corporate worship (singing, praying, preaching, etc.).
I think it is no different when it comes to discipleship. We are given some important principles that should be included, but the exact details are not listed. As long as we are teaching all that Jesus commanded and seeking to enable parents to disciple their children, I believe we are being faithful to the heart of what Christ has commanded us to do.
There are many serious problems facing youth ministry today. Problems that we need to think long and hard about. Problems that we need to pray long and hard about. May God grant us the grace and wisdom to make changes to our churches where our discipleship is lacking.