Is ‘Youth Ministry’ Wholly Biblical?

This week, I posted the comment on this image on social media:

youth church

The words of the post has lingered on my heart after seeing it receive significant reaction on social media forums like Facebook and Twitter.

My Personal Tension

As a youth leadership coach and mentor, I’ve often questioned the biblical authenticity of youth ministry as we know it today. I suspect that may come as a surprise to many, seeing I’m deeply passionate about youth ministry and raising the next generation of leaders in local churches (and that’s my calling!)

But I experience an inner tension every now and then:

Is youth ministry entirely biblical or is it a result of a generational deviation from God’s purpose for the family?

In the last decade, I’ve served young people in Lagos, London, Liverpool and most recently Essen. I’ve also been privileged to speak across multiple cities. But whether it’s in Africa or Europe, I have been met with the same concealed notion that the success or failure of young people is directly linked to their respective youth ministries.

To put it rather plainly – some parents seem to embrace the notion that it’s the responsibility of their church youth ministry to nurture and raise their children spiritually. I have a problem with this view, for obvious reasons:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” – Ephesians 6:4

“For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.” – Genesis 18:19

Even Samuel, who grew up in the church, had a father-son relationship with Eli.
 

My Thoughts

My reservations about the misplaced notion of youth ministry persists because I don’t see biblical evidence that affirms it, yet. Scripture is replete with directive to parents on raising their children, not the youth church.

I believe that the youth ministry (as we know it today) evolved partly as a result of a desire to give children an identity that God intended to emerge from the home, not the corporate church.

Our society is in rapid decline and so is parenting in general. But if we must take hold of our future and raise wholesome children and youths, we need to return to the God-intended way; God-centered families where biblical teachings are central.

While I believe in the sincerity of this awesome branch of the church, I believe its goal should be to support and affirm the messages of a God-focused family, not primarily lead the delivery of that message as the norm.

Your Thoughts?

I understand my views may stir some debate; I gladly welcome that. I would love to read from you. I want to know your thoughts and belief on this issue:

Where do you see the true place of youth ministry in the Christian family and church? Leave a comment.

About Joseph Iregbu

I'm a writer, purpose guy, speaker and business consultant. My passion is to help people live with purpose and not waste their lives. I live in the UK with my wife, Temi and our gorgeous Isabel Juda. Let's connect on Twitter and Facebook.

  • DS

    I think you’ve articulated an interesting point. I firmly believe that it is our job as parents to establish a demonstration of how we live. A youth ministry should compliment that. It’s also true that some youth have poor or no parental influence in their life – which a youth ministry may help provide. Ultimately it falls on mature adult Christians to live in a way that demonstrates a right relationship, and that is actively involved with the lives of their children, as well as the lives of other children – regardless of the existence of a youth ministry or not. I see it as a complimentary service.

    • Thanks David. I’m passionate about youth ministry and believe in what we try to achieve. Yes, it’s should be complimentary and that’s where my tension stems from: we have become comfortable with it being the norm, rather than complimentary. Ever experienced the subtle attitude from parents who blame youth ministry when things go wrong with their youths?

      • DS

        I’ve not personally experienced it, but I’ve heard similar talk before. Any minister can be put into that place when a member of a congregation makes poor choices. All that can be done is to do your best to be the right example, teach, shape, and mold – but the true responsibility is within the home, and an individual. However, no home is perfect. No parent is perfect. No minister is perfect. Eventually a child has the opportunity to act upon free-will. Which is why it’s so important that all of our influencers are fighting the same battle and trying to serve/live with humility so that when the time comes our children are well prepared.

        • I’m with you, David. It’s collaborative – without one neglecting his core responsibilities for another. May God’s grace abound to all.

    • Awesome response, Jide! But you know, your view is what we’ve always supported and live by. As church leaders, we know the church has a significant role to play in the development of ANY christian, not just young people. I live by that. But my tension is more about a subtle perception that has crept into the church and into the hearts of parents. I take your point that not every parent is born again. But I feel like this tension in my heart cannot be ignored. It’s important that we become brutally honest with ourselves. Have we (the church) dedicated as much time as we do with young people, educating parents and teaching them, to ensure we all enforce the same message? And this can happen irrespective of a parent’s spiritual situation. I feel a sense that if youth leaders can appreciate the root of their ministry, they will be better equipped to serve in it.

      • Prince Tayorski

        You know I shared a documentary with you 2 years ago with the same question about the biblical validity of youth ministry. Not sure if you remember. Its called “Divided, the movie”, might still be on youtube.

        Having done my own research into the history of the ministry, I soon found out that the original intent of the ministry being set up is far from what it is today. Its intent was subtly evangelistic in nature but with its main goal of educating and empowering young unbelievers out there which gradually turned its focus to teaching young believers in the church and as such it would be almost forgivable for some parents to leave the godly upbringing of their kids to the youth pastors and workers. (~I mean, once upon a time, you would teach your kids the trade, now you take them to school and expect the school to give them the training and skills required)

        This tensions as you described I believe would only arise when the question of the effectiveness of these expectations are off the mark. I applaud the zeal and passion of youth ministers in transforming and impacting young lives but the truth must be said and faced and it is the fact that this ministries are not meant to raise up children for their parents.

        In Jide’s response, you raised up the issue of unbelieving or unserious parents, but I don’t think that is an enough cogent reason to put such a high almost impossible task of raising youths on these ministries. My question is do you think the early church did not have these issues? Btw go back about 150 years, or say before the world wars and the today’s youth ministries are virtually non-existent. The question should be how did they tackle this issue then.

        My resolve is this, in as much as I think mega/instutionalised (/one man pastor) churches are not a model found in the scriptures and should be scrapped, I’ve come to accept the fact that they’ll always be here. And if so, we might aswell make use of them. lol. Same thing with the youth ministries. And so the best thing youth ministers can do is to accept the simple fact that God’s model is for the family to raise a child, educate parents on this, try their best to affirm the message of the bible to their youths and be an example. If need be, the church should find a sort of substitute family to raise such with unbelieving parents. Anything short of that, you will soon start to see your ministry as a failure when the young people who spend 2-4 hrs with you per week don’t conform to your expectation of what a child raised in a godly home should be. (Train up a child not a youth. All you can do is give a youth the message, pray and advise him with Prov.4:20,21)

        Otherwise go back to the blue print and return youth ministries to entirely an evangelistic outreach targeted at the unchurched youths who would otherwise be wasting their lives wrecking other’s. At least, with that faithfulness to the commission is what is required and Christ already prepared us for the various outcomes.

        • @738167d79ea7951fff54c6ac5e8ee409:disqus Thanks for sharing. Lots of sense in what you’ve said. Going back to the blueprint requires a radical resolve in the church and at home. It will no doubt by costly and disruptive to our ‘norm’ (which is what we need btw). Again, I don’t advocate against youth ministry but the opposite actually. I just think for us to be effective, we need to get the core part of the jigsaw in place i.e. parenting. And like @disqus_PczE90NBqk:disqus said, those 4 factors he mentioned are crucial so that we are balanced in our thinking and approach.

    • And to add another token, you wrote in your response: “How can a parent bring up a ‘child in the way of the Lord’ when the parent (s) themselves don’t know the way of the Lord. This is why I believe that the Church has a significant role to play.”

      This, I believe, is where my point about the church focusing also on parents come to light. You and I ‘live and breathe’ young people ministry, but the corporate church need to do more to empower and teach parents to lead in home parenting and we will affirm their message in youth groups. That’s the core of my tension.

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  • Joseph I think you really hit on a weak spot in many churches. In my experience there are a number of factors that play into this.

    1. Christian parents who are lazy
    2. Non Christian parents who could care less
    3. The expectations of the youth
    4. The expectations of the church leadership

    I’ve been in a few churches that have youth groups filled primarily with kids from unchurched families. In those situations it’s obvious that the church has no choice but to take responsibility.

    On the other hand if it’s just lazy christian parents then there needs to be a solution that will encourage the parents to teach their children. Honestly I think the church is wise to develop a youth program that includes the parents on a regular basis rather they are christian or not. There needs to be balance in youth ministry that allows for time when youth are taught separate from adults and a time when there is healthy interaction with adults.

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