Well, it’s no surprise that I have not been blogging all that much as of late. With a relatively short-distance move and a baby coming, as well as 2 jobs, I’ve been kinda busy as of late. I’ll likely be blogging once a week, at best, for the next 8 weeks or so.
Be that as it may, I read this open letter to James MacDonald today by Tom Chantry. Feel free to read it; it seems that I’m concurrently having a series of thoughts about contemporary youth ministry along with several others. In reading that letter, I recognized that I had experienced a lot of what Tom Chantry wrote about when I was involved in many youth ministry programs over the years.
I’ve endured food Olympics, car rallies, video scavenger hunts, mini-golf, conference trips, mission trips, work projects, annoying amounts of “game nights” that always ended up in either floor hockey or volleyball, fund-raisers, assorted nonsense games that either hurt or simply were impossible to figure out, and even the occasional “talk” about spiritual matters.
What I don’t really remember was serious bible study, or hearing the gospel plainly proclaimed and explained to me. All my teenage serious bible study came either out of my own curiosity or looking up the passages referenced in Christian rock lyrics and trying to figure out what they were talking about. I ended up first hearing the gospel when I went to Bible College, and that was after I realized that my entire theology was a series of spiritual clichés that I could not explain, most of which I learned from my various youth pastors (between grade 6 and 12, I was under 5 different youth pastors).
Chantry says that many of the kids in MacDonald’s youth ministry had a religious education that ” consisted of food fights and infantile pranks sprinkled with the occasional virtuous platitude”.
That’s true, but I I’d suggest that if “there are lost souls in your youth groups who equate Christianity with pie fights and pious advice”, one has to wonder what the youth pastor (who teaches that) equates Christianity with?
I’m not saying that the youth pastors are malicious, or willfully ruining a young person’s spiritual life, but rather that they’ve been wrongfully taught about ministry. If the problem is spiritual immaturity and a lack of basic doctrinal understanding when kids graduate from a youth ministry, then the sheep are only emulating their shepherd, and their shepherds are only putting out what they’ve taken in.
I’d like to suggest that youth ministry is likely the biggest problem with the church for 2 serious reasons:
1. Any pastor who is not biblically qualified for a position of eldership is not a pastor at all, regardless of title (and some of the youth pastors I know don’t think that they even want to be “an elder”). If someone is leading a youth ministry who doesn’t understand basic doctrine (i.e. he misunderstands the gospel), has been a Christian for a few years and cannot handle the scripture, has a mind, house and life that is generally out of order, or is a woman, they’re not really a youth pastor. There’s more than a few youth workers out there, and more power to them, but the term pastor is specifically an office of the church that carries some biblically clear and serious meaning that cannot be ignored without colossal damage being done to the church.
2. Youth ministry is generally “entry level ministry” in most churhces (see problem 1). If someone who is biblically unqualified gets 5-10 years experience and then gets a promotion to senior pastor, they don’t become qualified with more experience and a more prestigious office. Many questionable pastors I know started out as questionable youth pastors. What’s worse is that I can think of at least 30 people I know who started out in youth ministry and, because their church didn’t take problem 1 seriously, didn’t “climb the ladder”. They are now either on the fringes or actually gone from the church because they were completely burned out and beat up, trying to do something that a board of elders required but the Bible forbid. Many of them mistook the recognition of need with the presence of call, and many of them attempted to meet that need with relationship instead of discipleship.
I’m not suggesting abandoning youth ministry as a program or idea, but I’m definitely suggesting hiring an actual pastor to shepherd the youth. If a guy cannot cultivate spiritual maturity in the lives of the adults in the church, why do we somehow think they will cultivate spiritual maturity in the lives of the young people in the church?
For some reason, we demand highly trained professionals for physical heart surgery but embrace barely trained amateurs for spiritual heart surgery.
Let the misunderstandings and insinuations commence.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “The Armchair Pastor of Youth and Adults” Unger