Our kids are leaving the church!
We’ve all heard the statistics. The number one time
people walk away from active involvement in church and their own personal walk
with God is following their years in high school.
A wealth of research is out there (and I cite a
great deal of it in this book) that provides the proof for this alarming trend,
and there are almost as many voices blaming youth ministry for this epidemic. Some
blame youth ministry for being entertainment driven, others fault churches for
segregating generations, and others criticize youth pastors and youth workers
for trying to take the place of Christian parents.
I advocate a balanced view of connecting the
generations. In fact, I believe that this philosophy is essential for the
church! I believe in youth ministry and have spent the majority of life as a
youth ministry “insider.” My children are all actively involved in reaching and
ministering to emerging generations; and through my ministries in Christian
colleges and Christian organizations I have invested my life in the training of
youth workers and future youth pastors. Obviously, church youth ministry is very,
very important to me. I don’t believe it is time to eliminate youth ministry in
favor of doing something else. There are far too many Biblical and practical
reasons not to do that.
I absolutely and wholeheartedly believe in youth
ministry - and pastors and other church leaders must make reaching and
ministering to the next generation a top priority for the church. Not because
the future of the church is in trouble (read Matthew 16:18, “…I will build
my church, and the gates of Hades will overcome it”); it’s not! As Christ
tarries, the church will survive, and it will, in fact, thrive. That’s not the point.
It’s the future of individual kids that is at stake. Youth ministry has long
been a priority, but is a sound, Biblically-based, and inter-generational
youth ministry a top priority for the church? I think not.
It’s time that we make our young people’s life-long
walk with God our emphasis in the church and in Christian homes. It’s not time
to abolish youth ministry. However, it is time to give up on traditional youth
ministry in favor of a new paradigm and a new model. Tradition is defined as, “a
long established way of thinking or acting; a continuing pattern of behavior; a
customary or characteristic method or manner; the handing down of customs from
generation to generation.” So, traditional youth ministry (as in this “continuing
pattern of behavior”) has been characterized by isolating teenagers from the
overall life of the church.
Certainly, there is some value to this approach. It
allows for youth ministry specialists to concentrate on reaching one particular
segment of the population and it provides an opportunity for the church to
develop culturally relevant methodologies for ministering to future
generations. But, perhaps this strategy has inadvertently led to a generation
of church drop outs once the kids become young adults.
It’s time to call for a balance in the church. We
must balance the advantages of peer ministry with the importance of connecting
the generations. Young people and older people alike need each other. We would
fight not to segregate our churches over racial or social issues, but we have
practiced generational segregation. We must change that tradition in the
church. And the way to do that is to develop a balance – build effective youth
ministries within a greater context of growing inter-generational relationships
and ministry in the church.
I appreciate this comment from Missional Youth
Ministry: Moving from Gathering Teenagers to Scattering Disciples, by Brian
Kirk and Jacob Thome, “Most teenagers’ primary church experience is a series
of segregated activities, most of which bear little resemblance to the
practices of the rest of the church. Consequently when teenagers
graduate from high school and youth group, they feel like their most
meaningful church experiences have ended. In short, the program-driven model of
youth ministry has failed to help young people find their place in the
Let’s be intentional about helping the next
generation find their place in the church.
Wednesday, May 8, 2013
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Life, especially life in ministry, has a way of handing us our own personal set of benchmarks – ways of measuring our progress in the journey God has set before us. Every time we change the page in our calendars can be one of those times. That happens to me each January. It’s as if the simple process of facing a new year provides me the opportunity to evaluate the past year and to set goals (some call them “resolutions”) for the next year. I’m not much for making New Year’s Resolutions per se, but I often look at January 1st as an occasion to review the past (especially as I think about gathering my tax records and receipts!); and to specifically list items I hope to accomplish in the future.
There are certainly other occasions in life where our Heavenly Father provides benchmarks or opportunities for us to measure our progress or growth. This past year has delivered a series of those for my wife and me. During 2012, I switched ministries (I’m now serving on the administrative team at Baptist Bible College & Seminary), my Mom died after a struggle with a brain tumor, my first grandson was born (the Walker legacy continues!), and my son and daughter-in-law suffered a miscarriage. Other life-altering situations happened this year, but these four things absolutely made me remember the fact that with God “circumstances are never circumstantial”. God has a purpose for everything. (Romans 8:28 & 29)
Using the analogy of identifying benchmarks, I want to take this opportunity to list 5 quick pieces of advice for young ministry leaders. Perhaps it would be wise for each of us to establish some specific points of reference (or benchmarks) to see how we are doing in the following aspects of our lives and ministries:
1. Guard your own walk with God.
This is where it starts. How are we doing in our own walk with our Heavenly Father? We can never truly be effective in helping others grow spiritually unless we are consistently growing closer in our own personal relationship with Him. We must be sure to protect our own daily time in God’s Word and in prayer; especially as we try to motivate our students to do that. We will never truly be spiritual leaders unless our own walk with God is sound and growing.
2. Protect your marriage.
It’s also imperative for each of us to be intentional about making our relationship with our spouse a top priority. It’s too easy to neglect our most important human relationship while we spend day-after-day, evening-after-evening, and weekend-after-weekend actively involved in our ministries. A good marriage requires effort and determination to make it the best possible. Be sure to build time and finances into your life for date nights and other marriage priorities with your spouse and make sure to work hard at being the best spouse possible for your mate.
3. Disciple your own children first.
Those of us in youth ministry often struggle with this one. We put so much effort into trying to disciple teenagers that we have very little time left over for our own children. Many youth workers attempt to solve this problem by bringing their young children along with them on youth ministry functions. This was an important balance for my wife and me when our children were younger. Sometimes it worked for us to bring our own children to youth events, but at other times we worked hard to find other people (like adopted grandparents) who could help us as babysitters. We must remember to raise our own kids in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord” while we strive to help teenagers grow in Christ as well.
4. Make much of relationships.
We must also remember that relationships are the very life-blood of effective ministry - plus it’s important from a human psyche perspective to have healthy, growing relationships with other people. That’s why I always encourage young ministry leaders to work hard at building positive relationships with significant people. This might include other members of the pastoral staff, or members of the youth ministry team, or it might be peers in ministry from other churches. I believe it is imperative for young leaders to have some significant people in their lives with whom they can share the immense struggles and burdens of ministry.
5. Grow in your areas of ministry.
I also highly advise young leaders to keep growing in their own areas of ministry. It’s too easy to quit receiving hands-on training once college or seminary is over. But, please don’t quit learning! Avail yourself of the many conferences, seminars, workshops, further educational opportunities, and other resources that are available today. Take the time to identify the specific aspects of your ministry that could use some attention and then locate some resources, mentors, or organizations that could help you grow in those areas. I know many young leaders who feel as if they don’t have the financial assistance to make this a top priority, but this is important enough to find ways to build further training into your life.
These are reference points only. Taking the time to pinpoint benchmarks that relate to these areas of life is worth the effort. Don’t wait for a crisis or next New Years to make these things priorities in your life and in your ministry. May the Lord bless you as you seek to impact the next generation for eternity!
Friday, May 18, 2012
According to a statistical overview of recent news reports: (1) the divorce rate in America hovers around 50%; (2) the typical age for people getting married has risen from around age 22 to almost age 29 in a short period of time; and (3) fewer and fewer people are choosing to get married at all. Added to that is the recent political conversations about the rise of same-sex marriages in the United States. There is also ample anecdotal evidence out there to substantiate a claim for a propensity for unhealthy and dysfunctional family units. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that the institution of marriage in popular culture is in deep trouble.
Churches ministering in today’s culture will need to address the new normalcy facing the traditional nuclear family. However, this trend must not release the church from its Biblical imperative to “equip” (Ephesians 4:12) for “the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. (NKJV)”
I am a long-time advocate of the church developing an intentional strategy for building up solid, healthy, and God-honoring families. This will require training, education, and a purposeful plan to develop inter-generational mentoring relationships between older “successful” parents helping and encouraging new, younger parents. Parenting is too important to leave this process to chance – especially when a simple approach of connecting the generations could proactively solve the problem of younger parents not knowing what to do.
I also believe that churches can and should develop and institute a strategy where healthy, strong parents could “adopt” children and teens from weak, dysfunctional families. Again, this point illustrates the importance of the church providing intentional, inter-generational mentors for kids from these weak and unhealthy family situations.
The answer to this question clarifies the practical importance of an effective and Biblically-based local church youth ministry – not because youth workers supplant the Biblical authority and responsibility of parents, but because there will be many, many non-traditional families within today’s culture. I think this is idea is exemplified in passages such as James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” and Acts 6:1-7, Romans 15:26, Galatians 3:28, and Colossians 3:11. The Biblical ideal for the church is that it should reach, include, welcome, and minister to everyone.