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Evangelist, Baptist, Husband, Father, Mid-30's.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Youth Ministry - Response to Divided

Introduction

In insurance, there is a statistic that 100% of men will have an automobile accident by the time they turn 21. Of course, there are young men who beat this statistic, but they are so rare and far between that they don't drag the statistic down even 1%.

That is why I can say with confidence that 100% of youth ministries are useless and unbiblical. I can point to a very select few youth groups that are very useful and biblical, but they are so rare that they don't even dent the fact that 100% of youth ministries are useless. Most youth ministries do far more damage than good, and must be revamped or scrapped. I know that is an exceptionally harsh and direct statement, but I will back it up with the Bible, personal experience, and scholarly research.

Scholarly Research

This article was born when a new documentary was released, called Divided (http://www.dividedthemovie.com/), which has caused huge amounts of discussion on Facebook and elsewhere on whether youth ministry is biblical or useful. I have a history in youth ministry, not as a youth pastor, but gravitating towards youth in my pastorate (evangelism) since they were the ones who were eager to learn and put to practice what they learned. Divided is amazingly well researched and presented, and while I agree with many of their issues, I don't agree at all with their conclusions as to the next step.

The issues they have found are amazing, without a doubt are backed up in truth, and the biggest thing is that as Ken Ham has found and published in his book, Already Gone, that youth ministry is actually detrimental to the spiritual health of young people, making them more hostile to God and less likely to believe important biblical truths. Very few, if any, are ever born-again.

Another issue is that the Bible is taught as stories for children instead of absolute truth, turning the application into cute moral ideas instead of pointing hearers at the cross of Christ. Youth ministries are supposed to be teaching the Bible, but they do that poorly, and they teach nothing else, leaving it to the public-indoctrination schools to take care of things that are not the Bible. Divided makes the point of showing that students in youth ministries are very unlikely to hold to the truth of a six-thousand year-old earth created in six-literal days. I will focus a bit more on this in my personal experience.

Other issues are a huge lack of parental involvement and a lack of youth pastor maturity. The youth pastor position in and of itself tells parents that someone else is more qualified to raise their children in the faith than themselves. This is directly against biblical exhortation, obviously.

Personal Experience

I have not kept track of which church's students I've witnessed to, that was never my intention. But in hindsight I've realized that I have witnessed to students from most churches in my area that have youth ministry, and even one that has rejected youth ministry. Of these groups I have met literally less than 1% who had any clue as to the biblical teaching on salvation or why Jesus Christ died, and even of those who somewhat understood it, almost none had actually been born again. These students were harder than any other to witness to, because they are inoculated to true Christianity by the squishianity which they've been fed in youth group.

John MacArthur says to this effect, "In the history of the church and in my experience, no one has been harder to reach for Christ than a false Christian." I agree wholeheartedly and see most youth ministries doing a fantastic job for Satan in searing consciences and murdering souls.

I've watched students who were once moving strongly in the right direction hindered hugely by emotionalism, American hinduism, and of course, sin. It is not my intention in this article to really make a huge confession of my mistakes and sins, though I have made many, but I must say that one of my worst was that I assumed that if the youth pastor and a few select teachers were teaching the truth, that the students would be fine. My old church had far fewer bad teachers in it than most, but they were and are present, and have done inconceivable damage to students by failing to teach the Bible faithfully, or even at all.

The teaching of the Bible cannot be just done from the pulpit, it must be done in small groups, in homes, by pastors, by fathers. There is a faithful saying that "only two types of student will continue in the faith; those whose family is so strong that they don't need a youth pastor, and those whose family life is so wrecked that the youth pastor practically adopts them." The preferable standpoint is a church has such strong families that it is able to adopt, spiritually or literally, those (and their family) who do not have a strong family to raise them in the fear and admonition of the Lord.

One of my greatest blessings was in teaching the Word verse by verse. We covered topics that most youth ministries would never even consider. The primary subject of any church related event should of course be Jesus Christ, and probably the biggest mistake of youth ministry is the assumption that Jesus Christ is only found in the first-century and only in the Bible. Jesus Christ was, and he is, and he is to come, he is the Creator of physics, chemistry, and music; history belongs to him, biology and astronomy declare his glory and show his handiwork. In my time as a pastor and teacher, I taught biblical biology, history from 6,000BC to AD2011, Christ in Christopher Columbus' journal, and of course I taught the Bible verse by verse with an application towards students and the world today. John Calvin said, "People come not to the preaching merely to learn what they do not know, but to be incited to do their duty."

Youth ministry fails most spectacularly when they pretend that Jesus Christ is not the Creator, Sustainer, and Saviour of history and the present. A youth ministry that only teaches how someone is saved but ignores the vast corpus of scripture on every other topic is a failure. They would do better, as Ken Ham's research attests, to not even meet as a church, and definitely not to speak for God. The Bible speaks on many topics and Jesus said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!" (Luke 11:28, cf. James 1:25)

Biblical Youth Ministry

My dear friend and a great pastor, Dave Snyder, coined the phrase, "Biblical, not Cliquical." Meaning that a good youth ministry will be one which loves the whole church instead of just the ones who are closest to their personal preferences. An unbiblical church will have youth cliques and singles cliques and young married cliques and senior cliques, and cliques within cliques, and this of course is not biblical. Biblically the entire church is seen meeting and taking communion together frequently, remembering and celebrating the great love of God demonstrated in the sacrifice of Christ.

My massive disagreement and distaste with the Divided movie is that there is practically a complete lack of Jesus Christ; an inappropriate overemphasis on just the bride while ignoring the Bridegroom. I'm not saying that no-one in that movie loves Jesus, in fact I know that many of them do, but the emphasis of that movie, if followed as it is presented (and many will) will result in youth that are just as wrecked as those coming out of unbiblical youth ministries, because all I see in that movie is moralism and preference.

Biblically we know that God has given different gifts to different people within the church. Some of these are evangelistic gifts, some are pastoral gifts, some are teaching gifts, and if every father was gifted with each of these, the Divided movie would work fine, but they aren't, which is why we have churches that encompass all gifts; some fathers, through sin or career or gifting or a blend of these, do not have the time or ability to disciple their children in the way in which a whole church can.

Biblically there is a call for older men and women to be discipling younger men and women, not just in their own families, but in their own churches. A few months ago I actually bribed two such older people to have lunch with a group of students in order to share their wisdom and insight. Elders (in the Titus 2 sense) should not be fleeing from the youth, but rather should be training them up using their gifts to best edify these young people, so that when these youth are old, they can turn right around and do the same, and point whole generations to the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Biblically who did Timothy and Mark learn from? Their fathers, or their pastor/apostle? In Timothy's case explicitly his father was a pagan, yet Timothy was raised to be a capable pastor and evangelist by his spiritual father Paul. Let me make another confession, I should have been much more pressing in asking fathers to come evangelizing with me and their children, but while I am certain I sinned in that area, it was not to such extent to cause an unbiblical outcome. Our youth spent hundreds and hundreds of hours evangelizing the lost and have grown in ways that most churches could never dream of. I am gifted in evangelism, and so on the church model, I should be the one teaching evangelism. In this regard the youth ministry can be as biblical as anything else the church does.

The church should be a place where believers, both young and old, are stirred up for good works. The biblical call for teachers is that they have a firm grasp of the faith; that they are able to teach. So many teachers in churches today don't have a clue what the Bible says, and they are neither able to teach, nor do they teach, the Bible. The church that fails to teach the scripture becomes as godless as the public-indoctrination schools, and Martin Luther said this, "I am afraid that the schools will prove the very gates of hell, unless they diligently labor in explaining the Holy Scriptures and engraving them in the heart of the youth."

Many Christians and churches don't think a youth ministry can be biblical, but let me be so brash as to quote myself, "A youth group will grow in one of two ways, either a whole lot of fun, or a whole lot of truth; preferably both." Youth ministries don't have to be gross-out sessions and bouncy castles to be successful in drawing others, for a solid biblical curriculum will produce students who are biblically stronger than most adults, and send them out into their schools (that's right, students in public schools yet still strong in their faith) and communities to draw others, and proclaim the excellencies of their Saviour who called them into the light from the darkness.

Conclusion

Youth ministry is by and large a tool of Satan, but so are most churches. There are wonderful youth ministries, and there are wonderful churches, but they are becoming fewer and farther between every day. Research shows that most churches produce worse people who are farther from the kingdom than those who never stepped inside of a church, and I readily back that up through personal experience.

The church as a whole has stepped away from the Bible, and a broken youth ministry is only a symptom of a much deeper problem, which is the rejection first of Christ, and second of his Word. The call is not to get rid of youth ministry, though I will never purposefully have a youth ministry in a church, but the call is to preach the gospel and the whole counsel of scripture, so that we may present every member mature in Christ.

Let me turn this towards you; Divided makes some great points, and I pray it wakes you up to the danger that the church and youth face, literally God is in the process of striking many of your children dead (Revelation 2:23), and you must repent of all sin, and hold firmly to the whole Bible, and not just the feel good portions that you like. If Jesus Christ is not at the center of everything you do, and you are not being exhorted to obey him by loving his Word and ministering in your world, then everything you do will fail; don't blame youth ministry, blame the rejection of truth and the embracing of sin.

Are modern youth ministries the gates of Hell, as Luther said? Yes, they are, but only because they exist in churches where Christ is rejected and the Word is forsaken, which is the true gate of Hell. I always weep when I remember that John Bunyan observed that there is a way to Hell even from the gates of Heaven. Church members should be the most godly and sure members of Christ's universal church, but most are no nearer than those who have never heard of Christ. Many are far off, without hope, and without God in the world.

Your exhortation, dear reader, is to repent towards Heaven and trust wholly in Jesus Christ. Know that he promises blessings (not in any way which the world would consider blessing) for those who hear and do his Word. So train up your children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, carry one another's burdens, use your gifts to edify the saints and equip them for every good work. Love the brotherhood, love the Word, and hold fast to Christ. If you do these things, then even if you have a dedicated youth ministry, it will flourish, because a healthy church makes healthy believers, and healthy believers make a healthy church, from the top to the bottom.

Don't chase band-aids like doing away with your youth ministry and/or youth pastors, when the problem is a gushing wound of lack of biblical belief in Jesus Christ, and an epidemic that follows of unconverted and worldly members. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, and the only way to the Father is through him; it's not through family integrated worship, it's not through awesome youth groups, it's not through house-churches, it's not through mega-churches with great pastors, it is through Jesus Christ.

So seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and everything else will be taken care of; even your youth.

1 comment:

Bill Chandler said...

Excellent article. I have seen/was involved in youth ministry for a time and looking back I can say you are right on. The fact the church that had the youth ministry was stronly Arminian and anti-Calvinist might have had a lot to do with things.