12 November 2007

Smells Like Teen Spirit

Here we are now. Entertain us.
by Phil Johnson

t last June's Founder's Conference, Roy Hargrave delivered a powerful message that got me thinking about why so many churches lose their young people. (That wasn't the theme of Dr. Hargrave's message, but he brought up the subject in one of the points he made.)

Here's a really brief summary of some of my thoughts on the matter:

The very strategies many churches adopt to try to keep their young people involved in the church are the main reasons they lose so many of them. The dominant philosophies of youth ministry today are spiritually lame or worse—and almost completely counterproductive.

Specifically, it's time we faced the fact that systematically dumbing down the teaching ministry and ramping up the party atmosphere while isolating our young people from the rest of the body is not a very good strategy for increasing the rate of retention among our youth.

Think about it: Youth ministries (not all of them, of course, but the vast majority of squidgy evangelical ones) deliberately shield their young people from the hard truths and strong demands of Jesus. They tailor their worship so worldly youth can feel as comfortable in the church environment as possible. They squander the best opportunities of those formative student years by minimizing spiritual instruction while emphasizing fun and games. They let their teens live with the false notions that believing in Christ is easy, sanctification is optional, and religion is supposed to be fun and always suited to our liking. They fail to equip their high school students for the rigorous defense of the faith they will need in college. They neglect to integrate them as young adults into the adult community of the church.

And then they wonder why so many young people abandon the church about the same time they leave home.

How hard can it really be to understand why the "Youth Specialties" approach to student ministry has been such an enormous failure?

Phil's signature


Stephen Newell said...

As one who was involved in a Deaf teen ministry where this very thing was practiced, you have hit the nail squarely on the head. Game, set, match.

The "dumbing down" remark resounds greatly with me -- I was actually criticized by the leadership of this ministry for daring to challenge our teens once with a Gospel message, and subsequently was subjected to "micromanaging" of any future messages I gave.

When you can't suggest that there are consequences to ignoring the Gospel, something is dreadfully wrong.

Craig Schwarze said...

They neglect to integrate them as young adults into the adult community of the church.

What do you think this should look like in practice, Phil?

Aaron L. said...

One of the best sermons on the state of youth ministry and is it biblical is from Voddie Baucham. The MP 3 is here. "We're losing between 75-80 percent of our youth by their freshman college year."


Aaron L
Bring a pair of steel toe shoes.

Kent Brandenburg said...

You are bullseye on this Phil. Very good. What you are saying, however, is not what I saw in the promotion for the Resolved Conference. I hope you can take that in the best possible way.

Chris H said...

I have been involved in leading the youth group at my church for about 10 years. In all that time, I have been blessed to have had in my ministry team a group of people committed to the presentation of the Gospel, the helpful exposition of the Word, loving the kids without condition, and the blessing from God to do exactly these things.

The kids haven't always liked what they've heard. That doesn't bother us, though. We love them unconditionally, which keeps them coming back. We present the meat of Scripture, which feeds their undernourished spirits, and God does the rest.

Shaun Marksbury said...

I agree 100%. I just started teaching youth a couple of months ago, and we are digging into the Word. I do what I can to challenge them with the Gospel.

My question is on the positive side of things: Which ministries are getting it right? Does anyone have some links to groups who are focused more on growth in the Word than in entertainment? (Looking for guidance! :) )

the postmortem said...

I'd like to think youth pastors mean well, but their efforts to retain and bolster youth attendance often results in discouraging authentic, believing youth.

And as much as one hears about how youth pastors and programs that mean to foster a "deeper" relationship with God, they often do the opposite. I think it comes from the "big tent" mentality of many youth programs. Like seeker-sensitive churches, they want to encourage lots of people to come and feel accepted, regardless of their faith or lack thereof.

I remember studying Calvinism a lot in my 9th and 10th grade years, and let me tell you, it was not because I got any credit for it at my church or my youth group. I think those truths did more to alienate me from other people in my youth group than anything else; it sure didn't make me cooler.

But thank the Lord I was brought to those convictions at that early point! If only youth ministries turned their students' eyes to the word more passionately...these people would be prepared for a lifetime of such deep intimacy with God that no lack of popularity could break their will to love Him.

David Portela said...

A few months ago my wife and I took over the youth groups at our church here in Bangladesh. The previous Youth Pastor, though he was a great guy, had unfortunately taken the groups down the road of "fun and games." So for a year, these kids were conditioned to show up, play games for an hour, have a snack for fifteen minutes, and then read a verse or two, after which the Youth Pastor would read "his own" thoughts, usually taken off one of the youth resource sites on the Internet.

Over the past few months we have shaken things up a bit and tried to address these shortcomings. It's actually very encouraging to read this post and see that we're making progress in all of the areas you mention. Our team prepares weekly Bible stories for the smaller kids, while the older group has been going through the gospel of Mark, discussing many relevant issues along the way (e.g. temptation, the cost of following Christ, the seriousness of this decision, etc.). We have had many opportunities to present the gospel in just these past few weeks, which has been tremendous. And our attendance levels are the highest they have ever been, without any need for compromising on Bible teaching or reverent worship.

This doesn't mean the kids have had less fun, either. We continue to make games and activities an integral part of our time together, but we make an attempt at choosing games and activities that relate to the main theme being talked about on that day. That way the games not only serve to develop fellowship among the youth, but also provide an illustration of the lesson to come.

@craigs: I know your question was directed at Phil, but one way we have found to begin integrating the older kids into the adult community of the church is to have them help with playing instruments and singing during the service. Not in the sense of "now we're going to have some special songs", but in the sense of using the musical talents of those in the group to help the "regular" musicians to play the "regular" songs/hymns the congregation sings. The kids learn to fit into the community, and the community learns to accept them as a valuable part of it. Other ideas are to have some of the older kids help with the younger kids' youth group, or offer them responsibility to help set up/take down before/after the service, and so on. Our unique situation in Bangladesh has placed some limits in what can be done in this regard, but for North American churches (and churches in many other countries), getting the youth involved in service, whether in the service or in one of the church's other ministries, is a great starting point for integrating them into the community.

Bobby Grow said...

Unfortunately, this "dumbing down" isn't limited to the youth; although you're right, Phil, the youth and esp. the college age are being fleeced, in general, by their youth "pastors."

Of course the youth pastors are being "conditioned" by someone too!

Joanna said...

Unfortunately i think you are right. As a young person this frustrates me so much. I've seen way to many young people get "saved" and get heavily involved in a youth group and into christian youth culture. For a while everything seems to be going great. And then things fall apart. Sometimes its something going drastically wrong sometimes its just that they can't keep up with the emotional high often labeled God's presence. When that happens they have nothing solid left to stand on and drift away. I'd love to say that the struggles drew them to a meaningful faith but i don't usually see it happen. It often hardens them to the gospel, some even become vocally anti-christian because they feel lied to. The wonderful life they were promised did not eventuate. Its very sad to watch. I love the music and games as much as the next person but in the scheme of things it doesn't matter how good those things are if we don't have the right foundations and centre. God ain't gonna ask us when we get to heaven how good our dodge ball teams were.

Not so much now but when i was younger it was a challenge to get well fed spiritually because many "adult" books and sermons were presented in a way that went straight over my head (lots of big words ect) but stuff that presented in a way i could understand easily was often very fluffy. There is such a need for people who can present truth solidly in a way that connects with young people. I think sovereign grace music do a great job here- the music sounds cool but the lyrics are also really solid. I'm still on the hunt for good authors to recommend to young friends.

David A. Carlson said...

It starts alot younger than teen ministry.

A question - how many of you can tell me what the scope and sequence is of the material your using in your childrens Sunday School?

Have you ever personally read the material?

Unknown said...

This is also part in parcel why the world at large finds the church as ignorant and "dumb-down." Dr. Bahnsen, in his debate with Gordon Stein, mentions this factor as well. The sad truth is that while the Christian has the basis for intelligibility, the atheist (most functional schools are predominately atheistic) has no grounds for rational thought (see Van Til). But, of course, the youth are not learning disciplines like philosophy and argumentation by the clergy and, or the ministers in most evangelical churches. Schaeffer was correct: without the basis for intelligible experience (the God who is there), a basis is without root, and the inevitable transpires: atheism and the inception of antithesis against God.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

I've been reading controversial books(Dumbing us Down, The Exhausted School, A Different Kind of Teacher, The Underground History of American Education) by John Taylor Gatto concerning the public school system. While that seems as if it has nothing to do with today's post, there is a bit of a parallel when understanding Gatto's perspective having been within.

Like in public school administration, the church is taking on the appearance of a school...being run like upper-management micromanagement of the underlings which discourages and stunts growth and gifts. Families desiring to worship together are fragmented and excessively age/sex-segregated, isolated, and networked(not much different in neighborhoods or than how it is Monday thru Friday where other people deemed better equipped replace the father and mother in the lives of the children leaving them a few hours a week together to eat and sleep and do chores and be on the run to and from). Genuine community and fellowship is being replaced by programs of entertainment and crowd control and number growth...and accolades in the community. Or so it feels to many believers that truly want the good and old way.

Is it that the monster that seems to be leading across the land has two heads pulling the body in different directions...or none? Programs and numbers too often are paramount though that isn't the mantra reflected on many the large sign viewed from the street drawing in folks(typically it is that the Word of God will change your life in a world upside down as families are welcomed to worship "together"). Old and young not up to going with the flow long term either fall away or find themselves labeled as congregation hoppers or those that aren't the faithful attending every time the building doors are open for business(many are simply truly desirious to rest in Christ yet be where the family is encouraged to encourage and be all God intends it to be collectively and individually).

I've been around blogs of professing believers and truly many people don't want to be viewed as having a hypercritical or hypocritical spirit...they simply find themselves at a loss as to knowing where they can serve and lead their families to serve and lead their future families...and serve their sisters and brothers in Christ and evangelize unbelievers because they are being shepherded to do just that by the examples of word and deed.

How do we get back to genuine simplicity in Christ before we implode? Follow Jesus and follow only those that are following Him.

David Portela said...

@dac - You're right, it starts much earlier. Our church school materials (we call it church school since we meet on Fridays - Bangladesh's Sunday) are mostly rubbish, but they're what we have (it's not an easy thing to get materials all the way to this part of the world). Our teachers adapt the materials heavily so that they can include good content while still maintaining the general thematic outlines (which are good). In the end I think you can give kids a good church school education independently of the resources you have, but you're right that it's a lot harder if you're working with poor materials and the teachers aren't willing to put the time into it.

Craig Schwarze said...

David, I think you are right about involvement. We video our services, and occasionally they have asked my eldest to help set up the lighting (he is 14). He loves that, makes him feel so mature.

Kim said...

I've seen it happen up close and personal, especially the part about not being properly trained in the Scriptures.

This year, our teaching time for the bible lesson was shortened to 20 minutes. The kids like it because they don't have to focus their attention for very long. Yet, for the kids who are almost 18 years old, shouldn't we expect them to focus for longer than that? Seems like planning for failure.

The Seeking Disciple said...

As a former youth pastor, I spent many days talking to youth pastors at the various hype events given by our denomination for youth. What shocked me was the utter disdain the youth pastors had toward doctrine. Some of them actually commented, "Doctrine is how you destroy a youth ministry" or "Doctrine divides" or the best was "Why bore youth with doctrine."

Another sad reality I saw in some of the youth pastors was the lack of passion for Jesus in their own lives. Many of them knew more secular songs and quotes from secular movies than from the Bible. At youth camp we had prayer before the night services and no-one came but myself and one other youth pastor (out of about 30). The spirituality was sick!

Of course this does not speak for all youth pastors but this is my experience.

Tyler said...


goasktheplatypus said...

A few thoughts out a hundred I could pick from my soapbox...

1) Teach the meat of the Word and allow students to ask questions.
As an intern for a youth minister, I got lectured for discussing the sovereignty of God in my afternoon talk at camp. The students(!) were the ones who asked me about predestination. I had no intention of bringing it up, but they kept saying, "But how does it work? Does God do everything or what?"

Let them ask, and let them learn! They want to know, and they'll need it for college philosophy class.

2) Push them to be involved in the life of the church instead of living in their own little "youth world!" In highschool, I spent three years working with the 3- to 5-year-olds in AWANA Cubbies. It was the most rewarding experience of my teen years. My friends who were involved in other areas loved it too. It makes you a role-model to younger kids.
Tell them to help serve dinner on Wednesday nights (if you're Baptist...) or play in the orchestra. Push them to help with set-up and take-down of events for the adults and kids.

3) Please stop bursting their ear drums with ridiculous rock concerts masquerading as worship services. They can go see Pillar or Skillet in concert if they want that. Play thoughtful, God-centered worship songs at a reasonable level, emphasizing participation and meditation. Use the song styles they love, but throw in updated hymns and older praise songs. You'd be surprised how receptive they are.

*steps off soapbox* Thanks for the ranting opportunity, Phil. I feel better.

wordsmith said...

Very true - when kids have been fed a steady diet of "fun, fun, fun," it's no wonder that they choose to stay away in droves when they find out that adult service doesn't cater to their whims (seeker/emergent services excepted).

I don't necessarily have any brilliant insights as to how to remedy this, but it seems to me that bringing back the concept of catechizing our youth might be a step in the right direction.

(Phil's word of the day: "squidgy" - or am I the only one who likes it?)

Ben N said...

Whose fault is it anyways?
Strategies? I doubt that ...
It is the church! The church is the one that choses and accepts these strategies. And why is that? Because let's admit it the church does not care about these youth.
The isolation you are talking about is not because the youth wants to be isolated, it is because the church wants it that way.
There are two main reasons why youth ministries fail: 1) the church has lost faith in the gospel and they are reduce now to trying to bribe the youth to like the church. 2) this general idea that the youth today is just dumb and we have to play it dumb for them.

- Trust the gospel; it still is powerful today. We don't have to add sugar to it.
- Expect more from the youth. This is the only way that they will grow.
- All those "evil strategies" need to be analyzed; don't be so quick to reject everything.
- We don't have to be cool. Stop trying to be cool.

777law said...

Great post Phil and long overdue.

Please forgive me if I sound shrill, but maybe this is as good a time as ever to do so.

You pointed out a huge problem here, "They fail to equip their high school students for the rigorous defense of the faith they will need in college."

We've got a battle on our hands. Churches are dealing mostly with high school students caught up in a godless counterculture. The teacher being trained to teach high school students are a part of this counterculture themselves and have been for a very long time. So we are suppose to overcome this huge disadvantage with youth groups and once these students graduate from high school send them back into a counterculture that is even worse?

Why even pay homage to the whole "youth group" expression? We need to get as far away from this "monster" as we can. For God's sake our children's souls are at stake. If the church wants to take a strong stand for something with real Christian value, it should stop being enamored with catering to the godless cultural demands of the modern youth and get back to family oriented biblical teachings and activities (I'm sure there are plenty of such resources out there).

I suggest an immediate retreat from this secular subversion. Its greatest effect is that it makes our youth more acceptable to the world. We should be sounding the alarm, not simply toning things down. We have got to get away from the Dr. Benjamin Spock method of churching our youth. And please, none of this "Well not all youth groups are bad." We have the statistics.

FX Turk said...


I'm sure Phil can answer for himself, but let me offer some anecdotal advice: the yoots ministry can't be any more theologically-centered and biblically-modeled than the adult ministry; it also can't be significantly less-centered than the adult ministry. This means that the adult ministry sets the bar.

The reason is that kids smell hypocrites the same way the smell pizza, only they run toward pizza and away from hypocrites.

Here's a bizarre example of this. I know a fella who recently accepted a teaching pastor position at an elder-leader church, and one of his first issues was with the Youth pastor. This church has a 150-year history of congregationalism and mostly-sound teaching, but somehow they got a youth pastor who was calling Billy Graham "an emotional terrorist", and who doubted that the Bible made systematic points but instead offered us only a moral example of how to lead our lives.

Here's why I bring it up: Part of the reason my friend found this guy out was that the youth attendance numbers were droppping. Kids were actually begging their parents to come to adult "sunday school" because there was a wolf leading the sheep.

Most of the shenanigans go on in local churches because the grown ups are asleep at the wheel. The grown-ups don't want to read the Old Testiment to find out what Christ meant when he said he came to "fulfill" the Law rather than merely "obey" the Law, let alone what it means to have a savior who saves rather than merely a buddy named Jesus who wants you to have a nice job and your best life now.

What this looks like in practice is that the adults are mature or maturing Christians, and they are leading their own kids in that direction. If you want a program, I once read that it might work out if the words that God commanded you shall be on your heart. You should teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You should bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

That's what I've read -- but it didn't come from Zondervan, so take it with a grain of salt.

donsands said...

Good thoughts on how bad it is out there. I've seen it, and I've seen good things as well.

"They let their teens live with the false notions that believing in Christ is easy, sanctification is optional, and religion is supposed to be fun and always suited to our liking."


Youth pastors need to have a heart that wants to work along with the parents in discipling the children in the church.
It's the parents duty to raise the children in Christ. The pastor is there to supplement and support the parents.

I think it's always good to have same age groups together, and to have a good shepherd to oversee them, and tend them and feed them is essential.

JustJan said...

One of the things that I marvel at is that parents are the catalyst for this sort of youth ministry.

What would happen if parents had to sign an agreement to read and reinforce the lesson that was taught to their student?
What if parents were EXPECTED to take their child to worship with them so that the youth class was the equivalent of Sunday school?
What if you held parents accountable to teach their children about God?

Of course, for those students who come to church without the benefit of believing parents you would have to make some accomodation.

Is it possible that parents secretly fear having the youth ministry "get serious." Equipped students may raise questions and challenges that parents are ready or able to deal with.

Ben N said...

centuri0n, thank you.

You said it better than me:
"Most of the shenanigans go on in local churches because the grown ups are asleep at the wheel."

That's the real problem. Let's stop blaming the youth minister or the strategies for everything. Let's take a little responsibility and do something about it

James Scott Bell said...

20 years ago our church had a fun loving youth minister and a huge turnout. He left for another church, and we got a more Bible centered, discipleship oriented youth pastor. The attendance went way down. But out of this minstry came many dedicated servants (including pastors) who continue to do the word of the Lord to this day. A good trade, I would say.

Connie said...

I agree totally with what centuri0n said, "...adult ministry sets the bar."

Over the years--even before we became parents--we actually paid close attention to the "youth ministries" of churches we attended (we've moved a bit over the years). You might be surprised at what a clear barometer of the church as a whole that is--sad, but true.

When we became parents recently (our children came to us at older ages) one huge and major issue was KNOWING that our children would hear our teaching at home echoed at church in the children's and youth ministries!

My children aren't being entertained to death and can easily recognize meaty teaching because they see it, and by God's grace one of them has embraced the savior through it!

May God give more churches and youth workers the desire and boldness to "raise the bar"!

DJP said...

Joanna, you rock.

That's the challenge, and there are the Scylla and Charybdis, no? On the one hand, not to lay out the truth in a way that is edifying only to the speaker because it is so out-of-reach to the hearers; and, on the other, not to so water and dumb it down that the nutritional content is gone.

When we remember (as Calvin often said) that ALL Scripture is accommodation, it challenges us to work harder at (A) communicating (B) the truth — and not neglect either aspect of that little phrase. That is, it had better communicate, and it had better be the truth.

Jonathan Moorhead said...

Amen. That is why it was so wonderful to be a part of GCC and to see true biblical youth ministry in action.

anonymous said...

Just my two cents...but why are parents allowing their children to attend these youth groups? The church we just left...sorry Cent...had a youth group that a) my sixteen year old did not want to attend because he saw how ridiculous it was and how ridiculous the youth were acting and b)a youth group that we would not allow our 12 year old to attend for the above reasons.

The youth group meets on Wed nights at the same time as the adult bible studies. At the last Wed night adult bible study we attended, we were in the sanctuary attending the Pastor's bible study. My husband and I could hear the youth down the hall actually yelling, screaming and running around to the point that we could barely concentrate on what the Pastor was saying. I almost got up and shut the sanctuary doors but didn't as I realized the Pastor could hear the commotion and did not feel the need to do anything about it. This was not an isolated incident. The youth group is off the hook and off the rails.

Now, my children have NEVER been allowed to walk into the Lord's house and act like that. Unless the youth are playing some sort of a game there is no excuse for that kind of behavior, and I'm sorry if there are other bible studies going on in the vacinity then they should be told to take it outside in order to be respectful of the adults in the church.

Just like society...the church has set the children up as their idols. How can a church have a bigger ministry budget for the youth than they do any other program?

Listen to the Voddie Baucham sermon. If it's the one I'm thinking...from what I remember he puts a lot (or most) of the blame on the parents. He's absolutely correct.

That's why my children are not in public school and why my children aren't in an off the rails youth group. We have worked too hard to teach them solid doctrine. They deserve better than what they are being offered by the church. And Cent...yes we did mention it to the church. I won't subject my children to that sort of nonsense. We don't have time to be silly. There are people perishing.

Tom Chantry said...


You’ve hit on a topic near and dear to my heart, and for two reasons:

First, this topic resonates with me because of my upbringing. I was a preacher’s kid, so of course it was easy to discount my father’s faith. I needed to be in youth ministries, right? Actually, I benefited tremendously from some youth leaders who faithfully, carefully led us in Bible study. There were a few clowns, and I didn’t respect them at all. Thankfully, in our church they didn’t retain their “ministry” long.

But something else had a greater impact: worshiping with the adults in my church. Watching them listen intently to preaching, listening to them sing boldly, and above all, listening to them pray in the prayer meetings. How many people argue that kids will be bored silly by a half hour of listening to grown men pray? I was bored when I was young and stupid, but all the while I was listening to grown men who weren’t my dad - in fact, they weren’t preachers or even church leaders at all - praying. I was greatly influenced by men who had mundane jobs - a carpenter, a guy who ran a pizza joint - because I listened to them pray and I knew their faith was real. It wasn’t just the professionals who spouted gospel; gospel oozed from these men.

I had great parents, and they taught me a lot, but our church was one of the greatest things they ever did for me. I learned the faith from the adults I worshiped with, and I heard it enlarged upon by serious, dedicated youth teachers.

Tom Chantry said...

Second reason: I spent four years teaching in a Christian school, and most of my students were from large, fairly orthodox, evangelical churches which follow the typical model of “youth ministry.” They were kids from Christian homes going to churches with at least reasonably biblical preaching…and most of them had never once heard the gospel. They certainly had never heard the reasonably good preaching in their home churches, because they had never been to church. I used to make fifth and sixth graders write a narrative page at the beginning of the year: “This Week in Church.” It was invariably a story about being dropped off at a youth center for games and songs while Mom and Dad went to church to be fed. It was no shock after a while that these kids didn’t know the basics of the gospel.

Meanwhile I was a chapel preacher once a week in the high school. The student leadership was constantly pushing to turn chapel into a form of “youth group” during the week, with plenty of songs and skits but less “boring speaking.” The teacher in charge of the chapels (now a pastor also) held the line and I supported him: we were determined to make sure the kids in our care had some teaching during the week. Meanwhile their churches tended to say, “That school is good academically, but they don’t know how to minister to the kids.” But we Mknew these kids because we worked with them every day, and the simple fact is that the majority of them didn’t know the gospel at all! Some had heard it from their parents; most from nobody at all.

This was saddest of all in the better of the churches in which, had these kids ever been in a church service, they would have heard gospel preaching at least some of the time. But no, they were banished to gameland while the adults worshiped. I’m back in the ministry now with an increased resolve to do several things: to make sure the kids in my church get to worship with the adults, to make sure that I, their pastor, speak the truth to them, and to ensure that whatever Sunday School / Youth Ministry we ever have is biblical and serious.

Amanda said...

As a teen and as a kid, I actually hated all of the fun and games in youth group and Sunday School. What I had really wanted (but never did) to hear was the Word of God expositorily taught and applied. I guess it's not much of surprise that during my undergrad years I became Reformed!

Shannon said...

Our church - a non-denominational 'Community Church', with both solid 'Reformed' leanings (most of our elders are former PCA Presbyterian and Reformed Baptists) and a bit of charismatic influence - attends Youth Specialties conferences every couple of years, but we always have small-group discussions after each session, sifting through the 'pomo', and figuring out what is beneficial there. We've found that some of what they teach is GREAT for getting a visitor to return, but not so effective for long-term discipleship, so we combine some of their ideas with very solid Bible Teaching, and small-group ministry. I've only been with the youth ministry there for 4 years, but the long-term fruit has been very positive, and most of our youth (like 98%+) that are now college students are still walking with the Lord.

steve said...

I find my most difficult people to reach in teaching the kids are their parents. When the teenagers are listening to the sermon, they are attentive, and some are taking notes. Some will even make comments about the sermon.

When I speak with the parents later, they refuse to believe their kids would have listened and made such comments to the pastor.

I would say parents are a great cause in their kids not wanting to learn God's Word and to be integrated into the Body: they won't insist on their child's attendance and they allow them to go to other youth groups that is full of games, entertainment, and watered down messages.

Aaron said...

Okay, so parents and youth ministers have been blamed. I want to extend the blame to pastors, who often ignore the youth in their sermons. Most of the churches I have attended have kept the kids in the service who were over, say, age 8, and rarely have I heard a pastor preach a sermon that would be easy for a teen or pre-teen to understand. Application is usually related to being a Christ-like spouse or employee, but when does a pastor apply the Gospel to the kids who are languishing in the Canaanite public schools?

Oh, by the way, I'm a former youth pastor and echo Phil's indictments against youth ministry. However, I do see value in getting the youth together for games and fun, as long as that's a minor part of the youth group. After all, is it better for them to play Grand Theft Auto with a bunch of heathens, or to get together with kids and adults in the Body of Christ to play touch football? I think the problem is the lack of solid teaching and the enshrinement of games, not the mere presence of fun gatherings.

Tom Chantry's comments, I think, are powerful testimony to what happens when youth are a part of the regular, everyday life of a congregation.

777law said...


You go girl!

Nothing like having a dedicated mom to step up to the plate.


Where in the Bible do you find the separation of children from their parents. On the contrary, I think you will probably find your best examples of youth segregation in the writings of John Dewey. I think Deut. 31: 12-13 is a good place to start.


Perhaps adults are asleep at the wheel because Pastors are not holding fathers accountable for being leaders of their families. Who was it that was responsible for the sins of Eli's sons?

CH said...

My wife, who has many years experience working in youth ministry, has commented numerous times about how youth ministry is nothing more than immature post-college guys having fun with a bunch of kids that look up to him.

The common knock is that youth pastors are just guys who don't want to have to get a real job. Unfortunately many reflect that kind of immaturity.

She also has commented about how youth ministry is almost always structured around what guys will think is fun.

Think about it...how much of the structured "program" fosters development in true biblical femininity? Aside from being told don't make out with boys and watch how you dress, girls are largely neglected.

Identity formation is huge during the teen years. If our youth ministries are not developing our young people to embrace true biblical masculinity and femininity then we are only adding to their confusion.

Hayden said...


Great points! I think GCC does a great job in balancing ministry to the youth of the church.

Here is my pet peeve. (I am youth pastor). We have a youth ministry in our church not a youth group. Why? A ministry implies a cross-centered focus a 'group' doesn't imply anything! You can get a group of people together to watch a football game, but a ministry is much more than 'getting people together'. I know this is semantics but I really think it is a good starting point. Of course, the challenge is making your ministry cross-centered.

Another aspect that I think your commenters brought out well is that the responsibility falls squarely at the feet of the parents and the church. Why is the youth pastor often the least biblically trained member of the 'pastoral team'? Why do we stick young men in a position that they are not ready to fulfill biblically? (think James 3:1) Often this is done because they are 'fun' and they 'connect' with the youth. When was the last time that you heard of a youth pastor being installed in his position because he was vetted and determined that he was 'biblically accurate'?

Remember, whatever is done in the Youth Ministry will affect the church in the long run. The youth grow up and eventually become the adults of the church. (That is if they don't leave the church )

Chris Ross said...

Amen, Phil. The thing is, if kids aren't interested, it's ultimately the youth pastor's fault. I think most young people actually appreciate it when you set the bar a little higher than they're used to (in terms of asking for their full attention, their commitment, etc.). They appreciate being treated like young ADULTS, which they are.

I was asked a couple times to preach something at the youth group of the church I attended while in seminary (I eventually left the church because it was Willow Creek ad nauseum). On both occasions I laid down the Gospel, a la Ray Comfort: 10 Commandments, judgment, Cross and salvation. These kids were used to getting entertained and treated like toddlers, and I could tell by the looks on their faces, both times I spoke, that they were taken aback (in a good way) when I talked to them with respect and gravity. Both times, kids came up to me and said they sincerely appreciated what I shared! Imagine that.

There's a myth that's perpetuated, that people between 10 and 20 are incurably impulsive and undisciplined. A lot of how they turn out is a result of teachers and youth leaders (and parents) buying into that myth, and projecting the same expectations onto youth that the world does.

There was a time when teenagers were expected to help their parents with farm work, then leave home and be responsible and get their own job, or take over the farm. And usually, that's exactly what kids did. They didn't sass their parents and roll their eyes and act like spoiled idiots.

It's only when you tell a kid, through 10,000,000 direct and indirect media messages, that he is expected to be irresponsible and clueless and immoral, that he consistently fulfils such a stereotype. The church of Christ needs to lead the way in treating young people with dignity and expecting more from them, by God's grace.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I'd rather have my teens languishing playing "Balloon Games" than being intentionally deceived into neo-Hinduism and Gnosticism, via this Youth Specialties program:


I'll admit, neither program is something that Elders should be tolerating. Most Elders' focus is exclusively on adult ministry, for some reason, so Tony Jones has crept in unawares...

donsands said...

"Where in the Bible do you find the separation of children from their parents. "

Isn't it normal for children to be with friends their own age as they grow in the church community.
I'm not saying children should be sperated from their parents on purpose.
It's a natural portion of growing up to be with friends your own age, I think.

I guess you could keep parents and children together all the time if that's what they want to do.

Jeff Berg said...

As a volunteer junior high youth leader and Sunday school teacher for the last six years I find the state of youth ministry close to my heart daily. Regularly I find myself prayerfully asking whether the students are being reached with the “right things” and a difference is being made, or whether it is just glorified “baby sitting”. After the Sunday school hour last week one of other volunteer leaders accused me of being very “black and white” in my teaching. However, after listening to a sermon a few minutes later by a guest preacher focusing on three important things that the church must be focused on today: the Word of God, the centrality of the cross, and our loyalty to the Lord as follows and not fans, all I can say is “guilty as charged” to her accusation. I am thankful that we have a youth pastor that shares the same “black and white” focus.

It is difficult to believe that Neil Postman’s classic Amusing Ourselves to Death was written 22 years ago. As churches “minister” to the Sesame Street generation in youth ministry through entertainment, it is no wonder that they can’t “do church without the puppets” as adults. How I wish that more of my students would leave their iPods and PSPs at home and bring their Bibles to church on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings instead. It has been a constant struggle of mine for several years. Yet, if the students do not witness their parents taking their Bibles to church on Sunday mornings, why should they think that it is really that important? Youth workers/pastors are with students for a couple hours a week; parents are with the students far more- we can not substitute a couple hours of youth ministry for what the students should be learning/witnessing in the home (Christian homes) throughout the week.

candy said...

Here is a great article by Noel Piper about children in church. Sorry I can't remember how to do the html thingie.


I am really encouraged by how many young people are attracted to the ministry of John Piper. My husband and I attended a regional conference with John Piper recently and we estimated that probably 90% of the attendees were young people.

An example of how young people are hungry for something more than what is offered to them in so many churches.

candy said...

I don't think my link worked. Google "Noel Piper, children in church article". It is a really good article. Sorry for my computer inadequacies.

threegirldad said...

Here is a link to the article that Candy mentioned (I think).

Silly Old Mom said...

David Portela,

Our (small, $$ poor) church recently switched away from a major SS curriculum publisher to "Generations of Grace," published by Grace Community Church. It's much meatier and cheaper, since the content is all online. (How's your access to printer ink in your part of Bangladesh? :-D ) The teacher helps alone are vastly superior to what we had. I highly recommend it.

Sharon said...

Did anyone notice this at the link Phil gave:

BALLOON GAMES: Twice the fun of a church board meeting, with only half the hot air.

So they are encouraging the disrespectful mocking of the elders in the local Body of Christ. How very sad.

A Musician by Grace

Glenn said...

At what point in time do we, speaking as a parent, take responsibility for our children's Christian upbringing? Granted, the problems Phil identifies with "youth groups" exist. BUT, we should be teaching them at home and not relying on a "youth leader" to teach them. Shame on us if we are not.

Also, I will not let my kids go to a separate childrens service. They need to be with us, worshipping our Lord as a family.

Jacob said...

I work with Christian youth in the summer on the staff of a leadership and apologetics training camp. We are very upfront with the fact that we are not a "fun camp" and don't have jet skiis or a blob. In fact, our students only have about 2 1/2 hours of free time three of the five days our camp runs. We keep them in about 25 hours of lectures on worldviews, apologetics and leadership, make them go street evangelizing and then discuss it all in a small group setting (my job!). I will tell you that this summer, we had an average of 30% of our students sign up on the spot at the end of the week, to come back the next year. It's not uncommon for us to have 40% of our students at a camp be returning students. In light of my experience in all this, I think it is very clear that high schoolers can handle learning doctrine. If they, like gluttons for punishment, sign up to come back for another week of it, I think they can handle it for an hour and a half once a week. Give students real questions to wrestle with, and you'd be surprised how it will mature some of them!

Lin said...

In my teens, youth group for me personally seemed more like a softer coed version of Lord of the Flies.

I tend to think of it now as the company of fools.

FX Turk said...

Before I say anything, there's not question that the elders of a church are responsible for discipling and raising up more elders for the church. You can't read 1 Tim, 2 Tim or Titus and not get that.

But what's also very clear as we read, for example, Ephesians or 1 Cor is that it's not just up to the pastor. On the one hand, churches that leave it "up to the pastor" saddle one man, no matter how holy he is, with much more than he is able to do by himself; on the other, those which resign all control to the pastor wind up with ministries (as someone said here) "off the rails" because when you put one guy in charge, he's going to act like he's in charge because he has responsibility for everything.

I was going to try to let this subject cool off a little because so many people are a little upset by it, but here's the balance: it's not either the pastor or the parents: it is both the pastor and the parents. A pastor who isn't raising up a Godly congregation is going to get what he makes; a congregation which abdicates its responsibilities to some person amkes the same mistake and gets what it makes.

Do people really not see that this is inherent in the Mt 18 model -- that's its mutual responsibility?

Strong Tower said...

Hot air- but the disrespect doesn't stop there. Next time your church has a bash the men sermon on father's day, you know those jokes that caricature fathers the way the world does, stop it. We tear the foundation out from under our youth by teaching disrepect for mother and father. It is inherent in youth ministry, per se.

Cent's point, who is tending the sheep? Is the youth minister a qualified Elder, apt to teach?

End specialty days, Men's work day, et cetera, involve the the kids as a family. Set the mold. The mature teaching the immature. An older person is not necessarily mature, eventhough they have been in the church for decades. The essence of ministry is to produce parents or in bibivernacular- shepherds. Children will learn best in community. Keep them all involved together. Sharing the same load with knowledge and understanding of the intended goal will correct many problems of confused youth who seem not to connect the end with the reason.

threegirldad said...

This sounds suspiciously like 30 years ago to me. In fact, my version of the post's subtitle would be something like this:

"Here we are now. Entertain us. Just go ahead and try. Good luck."

Which, unfortunately, the elders of my church at the time (in their mis-guided desperation) did, with predictable results.

Oh, and Cent -- you appear to have forgotten that in the "church", there's clergy and there's laity. The clergy do all the work, and the rest of us laity around. That's how it works...

Spurgeonwannabe said...

As one who has done time in purgatory aka youth ministry :)

I would agree wholeheartedly that teaching needs to be the emphasis

I spent two years trying to entertain then God kicked me in the spiritual backside - brought me to the reformed camp and gave me a new vision

I was told DO NOT teach more than 20 min or you will lose them (funny now that I am a senior pastor I hear the same thing about sermons ironic isn't it?)

I decided to try something I went to a prayer time followed by Bible study and let them socialize and play games afterwards

Well slowly but surely the Bible study time increased to about an hour and a half - and I had more kids attending than the church ever had in the last 20 years - It was like I had discovered some big secret - open bible teach bible - God brings results

So for those youth pastors who don't think it will work - try it

Secondly I want to make a comment about "fun" we must be careful that we understand something here - there is nothing inherently sinful about having fun as a teenager - socializiation is extremely important - but don't make it the focal point - we had fun with our youth group raking leaves, hauling logs or whatever and playing sports because we had the same spirit to serve the Lord

But please don't run away from fun - in fact being a Christian is something to enjoy IMO

marko said...

funny -- i was reading the post and agreeing with so much of it. then i got to the last bit and found it ironic that the this "fun and games" approach to youth ministry was being called the "youth specialties approach"! wow, i can only be left with one of two conclusions:

1. either there's a different youth specialties than the one i'm president of, the one that has publicly apologized for our role (decades ago) in promoting a program-approach to youth ministry, and regularly rails against this approach today.

2. or, your only contact with youth specialties was decades ago.

the commenter who flagged tony jones' book with the claim that it is gnostic and neo-hindu (ha, tell that to the early church fathers!) might have a less misplaced "accusation". but to say YS is about fun and games youth ministry is certainly not reflecting who we are, what we say, or what we publish these days.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Suppose anyone has taken into consideration that some folks have been shepherded by a pastor that teaches Biblically? Those same folks may home educate their children spiritually and academically(while remaining prayerful concerning God's saving grace and wisdom toward those in their charge by God's gracious design). It sometimes happens that those folks will sadly find that the leadership will have a problem with them because they are in a sense competition to those with "the jobs" over the youth and the programs, especially if there is a fair share of Word-of-Life type competition involved(and how dare parents dislike performance acceptance?). Other parents in the congregation might have a problem with them because they stand as a conviction to folks that would rather have someone else be responsible for a good portion of the training of the children God placed in their direct charge.

How did the early church get by without all the programs and awards and passive entertainment? They had their share of issues, too.

David said...

OK people,

I totally agree with this blog. It's time to really teach the kids something.
But now I have a question: my wife and I are leaders of a small group here in Holland of teens of around 13 years old.
We want to teach them things from the Bible, but they totally don't like the Bible, sigh when they have to look something up, etc.
Does anyone of you have a tip on how we can make these kids enthousiastic about the Bible?



Kim said...


Thanks for the reminder about the fun.

As you are well aware, our youth group tends to focus more on fun at times. A balance is needed.

One thing should be remembered. No young person will suffer irrepreable damage or need psychotherapy because he does not have a youth group. They are a luxury. The question is will it be an extension of the church, or will it be a social club?

Personally, I think parents need to be more involved with the youth group. There gets to be a "oh well, I'm a youth worker, so I know more about your teens" mentality.

JustJan said...

pfg -

Kids looking for meat and only finding entertainment find other sources for food. They go to a different church, they find a couple that does a good study out of their home.

It isn't like our teens have a hard time finding ways to amuse themselves. They don't NEED the church to educate them regarding that sort of thing.

We have a RESPONSIBILITY as a body and as parents to raise up our children. We are going to answer for our stewardship.

David - They don't like to look it up because they aren't accustomed to doing it. Maybe a short course in memorizing the books of the bible might be helpful.

Last comment...."Ministry Mutiny" by Stier is a response to the youth ministry problem. The story telling style is cheezy, but the info is good.

Earl said...

While it's great to try and blame parents, alot of youth groups, ours included, have a significant percentage of kids who either have very little or no spiritual leadership at home....what we're talking about is the church's role in the spiritual development of a child....and in that case, the collective leadership of the church is to "blame" if it is entertainment-centered and not Christ-centered. Now as far as the results, I get a little antsy when I hear the statistics like 70-80% of students walk away in college, then hear about how watered down our youth groups are. Well, if 70-80% stay faithful, is it because of what we did? Or are the results up to Christ? I'm not saying we have any less responsibility to preach the full counsel of God and do the best we can to disciple the students...but, are the results up to us?

FX Turk said...


Here's what CBD says you sell, sorted by "relevance".

Here's the same list sorted by "best seller".

Maybe they're 10 years behind as well.

Nash Equilibrium said...

the commenter who flagged tony jones' book with the claim that it is gnostic and neo-hindu (ha, tell that to the early church fathers!) might have a less misplaced "accusation".

I was the commentator.

Excuse me, but your website says that this book you're promoting, promotes "sacred reading, the Jesus prayer, the Ignatian Examen, spiritual direction, pilgrimage, service, and more."

The "early church fathers" were Peter, Paul, John, Matthew, Mark, Luke, etc.

There is no evidence that these Apostles practiced any of the things listed above. It's just mysticism, not Christianity.

FX Turk said...


"laity" around and complain about my pastor and why he isn't feeding the sheep. We're not well-fed sheep, but we can tell whether or not our pastor is any good.

777law said...


"Do people really not see that this (raising up a godly congregation) is inherent in the Mt 18 model -- that's its mutual responsibility?"

Earlier, before you posted this comment, my wife was saying to me, "Do people really not see that it is the individual family's responsibility to raise up godly children?" I agree with her; and I'm afraid this is something we are soon going to have to face, less the numbers posted grow more grim.

If one has not instilled spiritual training in his children when they reach high school age, two things can generally be taken for granted: 1) The family has dropped the ball, and 2) The local church is not going to be able to put humpty dumpty back together again. Not that it can't happen, but that it in all probability in today's society, it won't.

The groundwork has to be done in the home, with a father who takes the lead, and the mother close behind. The church leadership serves to foster, protect and nuture their flock. But I do not believe for one minute that it is their primary or even shared responsibility to grow them.

I am beginning to believe that our thinking has become very warped, when we fail to recognize the importance of familial nuturing in the raising of godly children. It isn't supposed to happen in church.

I was raised neither in a christian home nor a christian church, the Lord saved me much later in my life; but the majority of my spiritual growth took place as a result of the time I spent reading scripture, praying, and discussing such matters - at home with my family.

I can also say, without question, that my childern have experienced by far their greatest spiritual training at home. Yes we love our church, and it is a wonderful place to worship, learn and fellowship, but my children have the tools they have at church because they have a mom and a dad who are active in their christian training. This makes it much easier for our pastor, I know he appreciates it, and it brings joy to my wife and I to bless him with children who sit straight through the entire service attentively, as he instructs them in the Word of God. They play and interact with the other children after church.

I am afraid we have to face the truth that the dysfunctional family structure has deep roots in our thought, culture, and churches; I will even go so far as to say that the emergence of the youth group or youth ministry is a symptom of this problem. Since the family is no longer carrying out its biblical role, the vaccuum is being filled by the surrogate.

In my humble opinion, the time, energy, and money that is much needed in most churches today to properly instruct their respective families in their biblical familial roles, is being eclipsed by the subsidization of youth groups, much to the hurt of their youth.

Spurgeonwannabe said...

If Judas was part of God's plan then must we not say that Emergent Church youth ministry is too?

I wonder sometimes if it is a separating of the sheep from the goats

David A. Carlson said...

Sharon (re comment on hot air/disrespecting elders)

Would of the sarcasm of been ok if it was done via a poster with a funny graphic?


Just checking...

JR said...

I have been the student pastor at two churches in ten years...I don't know if that qualifies me to comment, but I will.

In my experience I have chosen to always err on the side of depth with students. I think students like to be challenged, and when you put the cookies on the bottom shelf they grow contemptous and run towards the door.

My purpose has always been that students would come to believe the gospel, but not in a attractional, pizza pigout, lock-in, evangelistic sort of way. But rather in a understanding the cross and its amazing implications sort of way.

I think manufacturing fun is a complete waste of time, because if your students like each other they will have fun just hanging out together. So you don't need gross out games to make students laugh. If you have been around students you know that they laugh quite naturally.

In my mind the cool church/emergent church movement is a commentary on the failure of youth ministry. Most of these churches, whose greatest asset is that they are cool (cool music, cool pastors, cool videos, etc...), are eseentially youth group for 18-35 year olds. A person enters into a youth group at 12 years old. He graduates to the senior high group. Then he goes to college and is in a college ministry. He gets out of college and goes to join a church, and then realizes he has no idea what it means to be a church member, becaus e he has never been to church when he wasn't catered to. He has never worshipped cross-generationally, and never really been asked to contribute to any sort of body life. His job has always been to watch...and laugh. So what are most of our modern/post-modern churches? Places where the 25-40 group goes to watch the pastors do their thing. Body life is optional. Being challenged is rare, and emotionalism rules.

But at that point they are old enough to know better, so they just sort of stop going. Until they have teenagers...and at point they hunt down the church with the best youth group. Because (one) they want their kid to go to church and (two) they don't want to make them.

And the beat goes on...

DJP said...

777law — being mistaken for Frank is actually a huge upgrade for me.

But that was Frank who said that, not I.

Tell your wife.

Nash Equilibrium said...

If Judas was part of God's plan then must we not say that Emergent Church youth ministry is too?

I wonder sometimes if it is a separating of the sheep from the goats

I agree, but the tragedy is that there are a lot of parents who are in otherwise-sound churches, and their kids are being exposed to Tony Jones/Brian McLaren type teachings, without the parents' knowledge.

There is plenty of blame to go around for why this is happening, but the result is that outfits like YS are replacing authentic Christianity with mysticism and left-wing political ideologies, to the next generation. We need to wake up as many parents as we can, to this scheme.

Anonymous said...

I find myself disagreeing with you more often than not these days but I do agree with you here.

Teens and young adults must have a sense of ownership when it comes to the local Church if we expect to retain them. As long as think of the Church as their parents or the "old folks" they will continue to leave.

In the Churches I pastored I never had youth groups. It wasn't the kids that clamored for it.......it was the older members.

I have raised six kids. All of them can carry on a cogent discussion with older adults. Why? Because they were forced to worship and interact with adults from an early age. We had no youth group, no nursery,
and no Sunday School. We were a Church, a family that worshiped together

Kristine said...

Jay -

Those were some great thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

David Portela said...

@Silly Old Mom: Thanks for the tip, Generations of Grace looks fantastic! I'm not sure whether our church can afford it ($300/yr x 3 might be cheap for a US church, but our church's economic reality is very different). :-)

@David (the other David, from Holland): One thing we've done at times in our younger group is to read them a Bible story and then show them a video version of the same story (for example, the story of Miriam watching over Moses contra-posed to a clip from the Prince of Egypt), and get them to pick out the differences between the Biblical account and the film version. This (1) helps them to pay real attention to the Bible story, (2) makes them aware that the story they see in film is not always the way the Bible tells it, and (3) gets them engaged in picking out those inaccuracies, so that they won't remember them as truth.

With our older group, we have sometimes used video clips from various films and TV shows and evaluated what we saw in the light of the Bible lesson for the day, by discussing it as a group or in smaller groups (with some prepared questions to help lead discussion). This has the same #1 benefit as above, and can be applied not only to videos, but to articles, book excerpts, music, news stories, and so on. Especially from 13 years of age onwards, it's time to get them engaging their minds in critical thinking, evaluating the world around them.

We've found that our groups show much more enthusiasm for Bible reading/stories if they're asked to do something with what they've read, rather than just read it and listen passively. And the insights and applications mean a lot more to them if you can guide them to arriving at them "on their own". You're not just facilitating a discussion (vade retro, Piaget), but leading an intellectual/spiritual journey towards well-defined Biblical goals you want to touch on during that meeting. And once they get used to it, you'll find that the ideas and applications they come up with often go beyond the ones you had in mind. May God bless you in your ministry!

777law said...


Always happy to give an endorsement.

Solameanie said...

All of this boils down to the age-old argument: how much accommodation do you give the culture in terms of ministry? I think it is prudent to recognize the prevalent cultural mindset with the Apostle Paul on Mars Hill as our example. However, Paul did not adapt TO the culture or become the same as the culture. He indicated his understanding of the culture, and then proceeded to confront it.

One always hears complaints about how attention-deficited today's young people are. Do we accommodate that and dumb ourselves down, or do we make an effort to try and lift them up? How about encouraging and helping them to be BETTER than that? I don't think most kids are anywhere half as stupid as some of today's "specialists" assume.

Finally, don't we have to give the Holy Spirit some credit in all of this? I didn't think He was age-restricted in whom He could reach. Teach the Word of God unvarnished and the Lord will be faithful to work through His Word. Does one need to be an MIT grad to get it?

David said...

One of the criticisms I often hear when I get into discussions about having a youth ministry that desires more than just "converts" is that we don't want our youth ministry to be just about the ministering to the Christian kids. Has anybody ever been to that youth ministry? Apparently there is some youth pastor out there who is growing Christian kids like crazy while at the same time having no heart for the lost. I don't understand how this is possible but because of him tons of churches are scared to death of teaching doctrine and ensuring that they assist the families of the church as they make disciples of their kids.

Sheri said...

I have never written on this blog. Most of the time I feel inadequate when comparing myself to the articulate theological wisdom that comes from many of the commenters here. However, this subject is near and dear to me and so I have decided to take the plunge.

The statistics in the loss of Christian youth is alarming. It seems to me, though, that we can also link this statistic with the 50% divorce rate among the Christian community as well. We are seeing our self-centered, individualistic culture's breakdown of the family inside the church doors and yet, we insist on contributing to this failure by continuing to divide up our families.

God sets the lonely in families (Psalm 68:6) In each individual family, He has instilled a natural parental desire to nurture familial relationships creating an indelible bond with one's children. Strong families are what make up a strong body of believers. When a youth leader/minister is brought into the picture, many youth are prone, especially in those cases of sinful, parental abdication, to bond with him instead of their parents. The intentions may not be to that end, but it happens anyway. Saul had good intentions, too, (I Samuel 13) but obedience to God's mandated pattern is what is required.

Instead of youth groups/ministry, why don't leaders/pastors/elders spend their time/energy/funds in equipping the fathers to take seriously their God-given priestly role, preparing them to bring their respective families together in daily family worship at home? Each week, in our own family, we discuss the sermon with our children (ages 10-19) after church, giving them opportunity to make comments and ask questions. These are the things that will benefit the church as a whole and, over time, strengthen the body of Christ, collectively and individually.

And what do we do with those young people who don't have believing parents? We bring them into our homes...into a family setting to show them how a believing family functions at home, as well as at church.

It doesn't take a village, a church, or a youth leader...but two loving, dedicated parents to raise a child in the fear and admonition of the Lord. After, all, the Church is a family of families.

pastorbrianculver said...

I walked into our youth sunday school classes. I asked the junior high kids and the senior high kids the same questions, and none of the kids were able to answer the questions. Here they are, how would you do?
1. "Why" are you a Christian?
2. Where do you go when you die?
3. Do you believe in Hell?
4. What does it take to go to heaven?
Now, I have to tell you, one of the kids was the child of the teacher (high school). None of them could say anything about question one other than to say, my parents make me come here. Six feet under was the popular answer for number two. Yes, they do believe in hell. And not a single teenager knew enough to say repent and put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ for going to heaven. They all cited John 3:16 -- they believe in Jesus and that is all it takes (again, no mention of repentance). When I told our adult sunday school class that we needed to pray for our kids, I was basically scolded because what I said made the teachers look bad. These kids are about to go off to college in the next year or so and they have no clue as to what it means to be a Christian. Please keep the kids in Galesburg, IL in your prayers.

pastorbrianculver said...

I need to put out a disqualifier here, I am not the pastor of the church that I was talking about. I told the pastor about the results (he is a friend of mine), and he just shakes his head and says, "I know they all know the answers but for some reason, they just don't know how to "say" it. I have told them over and over so I know they know it." I have been in this church for several months and have tried very hard to get people fired up about doing evangelism. No luck!

Paula said...

As a 20-year veteran youth volunteer (recently quietly "put away" for objecting to pomo & EC content) this is a subject I've put a lot of time and thought into....to the point of wondering if maybe I need to repent for the years I participated in something that may have damaged the Church (universal)in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

The thought first struck me three years ago when the pastor asked all the high school graduates to stand to be recognized during the worship service and only one homeschooled kid stood up. Granted, we have more than one service, but surely there should have been more than ONE high school graduate in this very large Mega-church! Where were they? And thinking of the hundreds of kids who had gone through the youth ministry in the past 20 years, surely there would be a good number of them who stayed in town and stayed at our church, yet I could only think of a handful.

In thinking through the whole emergent church...emergence...I have to believe that much of this is a response to the youth group movement of the past 20 years. Youth groups are largely led by kids who have gone from the youth group to college to seminary and right back to the youth group. Many (most?) of them have never had to interact with the adult church community for any significant amount of time themselves. They mean well, but they have only known one "model" for how to do church: the fun, touchy feely, emotional, me-centered model. In some ways they are emotionally and spiritually immature themselves.

When the kids who graduate from these youth groups are suddenly pushed out of the "nest" of the youth group, and forced to go to adult worship services that are not tailored to their need for entertainment, and do not have their favorite music playing and there are no watermelons chucked off the balcony and no IPod giveaways if they bring a friend, they are bored out of their minds and see no meaning or purpose.

Some of them stop going to church completely, some find something more comfortable in an emergent or seeker-sensitive church, others become angry opponents of the church and feel like they were duped.

At the root, I believe, is that some (many..most?) of these are not regenerate believers at all; they were seeds planted in bad soil to begin with and they fall away when things are not to their liking. It's the inevitable fruit when you get away from a reliance on God's word and the holy spirit and instead turn to man-centered methods to attract and hold the attention of youth. I ache for these kids...how many opportunities did we squander when the music was too loud and the entertainment too time-consuming?

Another problem is that the rise of youth ministries has caused a growth in a welfare mentality among parents in regard to the spiritual instruction of their children. Parents think they can drop their kids off once a week and outsource the spiritual training of their children to the professionals. NOTHING could be more unbiblical!! Many youth pastors perpetuate the problem by having a "trust us, we're the professionals" attitude. Many youth ministries discourage parents from participating or hanging around, feeling that the kids need a "safe" place to become independent from their parents because teen rebellion is a normal part of growing up. Teen rebellion is NOT God's plan for the family!! It may happen quite often, but it is NOT God's desire or something we should just expect and perpetuate by separating families in church as often as possible.

I think it was on Voddie Baucham's website I read that in our society we treat teens like "Large children" instead of young adults. So true!! I taught a theology class to teens for several years and I KNOW they are capable of sitting and listening and enjoying it! Critics will say that postmodern kids will not stand for lecture-style teaching, but I strongly disagree! I don't hang out at medical schools much, but I suspect that they still teach most of the classes in medical school that way! I sure wouldn't want a brain surgeon who was taught by playing games and sitting around discussing their feelings and getting everyone's opinion!

There are several churches that are being proactive about not segregating the youth from the rest of the church. Here are a couple I've found. Their philosophies are interesting to read:



"A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher."

I think kids will be SO much better off if we get them out of the youth wing ghettos and re-integrate them back into the church. The social experiment of youth groups begun in the 60's is proving to be a monumental mistake. I think a simple graph might illustrate the drop of church attendance among young adults is directly proportional to the rise of youth pastors in the seminaries. That would be a really scary Barna study : (

David Portela said...

@pastorbrianculver: Even some pastors have trouble anwering those questions (sorry, couldn't resist). :-)

I suspect many of the kids in our groups would have trouble answering those questions as well (many come from backgrounds in other religions, yet still come weekly and hear the Word). Nevertheless, we need to do our best to provide them with biblical answers to those questions!

Phil Johnson said...

OK, I'm back from Florida and amazed at how many comments appeared whilst I was in the air. I'll just answer one for now and perhaps have more to say later tonight, after I've opened the mail and fed Wrigley.

Marko: "either there's a different youth specialties than the one i'm president of, the one that has publicly apologized for our role (decades ago) in promoting a program-approach to youth ministry, and regularly rails against this approach today."

The books I linked to in the post are the same kind of books—perhaps even the very same ones, with new covers—that Youth Specialties was peddling 28 years ago when I was a youth pastor. So whatever apology you're referring to seems to have fallen short of the kind of repentance that bears fruit.

Still, it's quite true that YS has changed dramatically since then, and I'm sorry I neglected to say that. You've gotten much worse. Now instead of empty fun 'n' games, you're peddling a postmodern ministry philosophy and publishing some of the most outlandish authors from Emergent Village.

pastorbrianculver said...

To DavidP and CarolC, I agree with you. I was leading the prayer and praise time in church. We had people openly involved in homosexuality, openly involved in drugs and openly rebellious to their parents. I read 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and was asked to step down as the prayer leader. They did not want Scripture read from the pulpit. This is a church that was started by a group of four families from one of the larger churches in town (and please, don't get me started on "that" church!!). Anyway, these families basically run the church and the pastor is the original pastor from the start, he is a pawn to them. He will not stand up for what is right, he wants to keep them happy. one family has the gay son, another family is related to the drug abuser. No names were mentioned as this Scripture covers many sins. I told our church that we need to become true followers of Christ. We need to help each other and to encourage each other. I have tried to teach the kids what they need to know, but there are parents there that feel it is not "my" place to do that. What they really want, is a youth program much like YS. How sad!

Strong Tower said...

It is not an either or situation-
First, we are not primarily families in community, we are individual members of the body in community-

Second, the varying levels of relationship should not be compartmentalized, mens relationships and womens relationships are spelled out in Scripture. Women's relationships to other women, to children and to men, also. This is true of men. Chidren are addressed as a distinct, but not separate group, too. There are offices in ministry and ministries. Discipline of the Mt 18 kind is found throughout Scripture, and each kind mentioned above has it duty and responsibility. The church is called the 'family of God,' and that relationship is not to be confused with the family at home. Each of these relationship categories has their own peculiarity and particularity. A fruitful church will not neglect Scriptures recognition of them.

However, the church is the primary unit for Spiritual training, not the family, which does not mean that the family and its various internal relationships are outside its influence, nor does it mean that the family should not be directly involved in the spiritual upbringing of its own. In Ephesians it is called the mystery of the church, not the family. The first layer is the church, family relationships are secondary, relationships among the brethren folded in, in type, throughout the Word. Far from the modern myth that love begins at home, the Scripture places the beginning of all this in Christ, his church which is his body.

Someone mentioned "body life." And just what that means is a mysterious as Paul's myterion. But it is not as if we have not been given the dynamics.

There is nothing wrong with youth groups. Call them what they are- youth entertainment night, youth club, youth alternative, but not discipleship training. That is done in church, in indoctrination and in practicing, with qualified teachers. But this will mean that that church, leadership on down is qualified at their level with the attitude that we are training soldiers able to put on the whole armor of God, and that no one can be left behind. To do that we must rediscover what "regenerate membership,"is, and how Mt 18 applies across all facets of local church life and not just in areas of obvious sin, but also in those areas that we have come to exclude, such as attendance, subjugation in education and responsibilities.

I especially appreciated the post that claimed to have raised competent children without all the modern amenities ofthe "pop" culture church. It really does not require an entertainment atmosphere, or any of the specialized forms of formal ministry, only dedication to the call of the church to teach them both to keep and to do all the Lord has taught us.

Do you see the emergent church? Is it a result of what we have done? Are we giving cause for the disenchanted, when they leave our folds and wander off on their own, to look for adult youth groups as shallow and undemanding as that which they grew up in? Have we groomed them for their kind?

Andrew E. Courtis said...

Thanks Phil, as a Youth Pastor I really appreciate this post. It is both encouraging and convicting.

The pressure to compromise in youth ministry is getting greater and greater. Such compromise comes as a result of a man centred theology. The truth is our youth are depraved by nature, and need the grace of God in order to be saved. There is a lot at stake in YM, and such a burden brings me back to the faithful teaching of the Scriptures. Thanks again Phil!

DLW said...

God settled the issue of who is spiritually responsible for raising children. Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6 clearly states that parents and specifically the father is responsible for raising children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. If the church is responsible how are they going to follow Gods will to teach them in the comings and goings and in there rising up and sitting down.

The proper spiritual response from the church and pastors should be to equip parents to do the work of the ministry and encourage children to obey the 5th commandment.

Teach children to love the Lord, serve in their own family and then serve selflessly in the church. Most churches cater to much and are centered to much on children. It is just a reflection of the world and the worlds thinking regarding education. Segregation by age group is just a recent phenomena in education and as same sage pyro lamented the other day smells of liberal academia.

Sheri said...

Just as we have been given a picture of Christ's relationship to His Bride in "earthly marriage", so are "earthly families" the model given to us by God to prepare us for our individual roles in the body (family) of Christ. Throughout the scripture, God works in families. He didn't create us as individuals apart from a family unit, though He could have. Therefore, family must be an integral part of His purpose and plan.

I beg to differ with Lordodamanor where he states that the church is the primary unit for spiritual training, not the family. Deuteronomy 11: 18-21 states that this is the duty of parents. In the end, whom will God hold accountable for these children; the parents, the pastor, or the youth group leader? It will be the parents, especially the father.

As parents teach their children, they are also commanded to not forsake the assembling together of the saints (other families), Hebrews 10:25. According to Acts 2, this gathering together consists of doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread and prayer. There is no Biblical model or command given to separate family members during worship, nor is there a command for others to instruct our children. As the family unit worships together, what is taught by the pastor or elders is then later reinforced by the father and mother. Now, doesn't this make a whole lot more sense? Since the parents are in constant contact with their children, they can talk about these things all day long - thus the fulfillment of Deuteronomy 11. How can they possibly reinforce someone else's teaching for which they were not even present?

God has given us the pattern to follow. It's the pattern that works. I realize it would take great effort to revamp our churches back to this structure, perhaps another reformation of sorts. Yet, it is becoming very obvious that those methods concocted in the last hundred or so years are not working. Why are we so insistent on trying to reinvent the wheel?

tnpotts said...

This reminds me of something that happened last year. I was actually thinking about it quite a bit just last night. A young man at my son's school was involved in a car accident & was seriously injured. He was in a coma & hanging on by a thread. The youth pastor of the church the young man attended put out an email through a parachurch ministry asking for counseling help. The church is across the street from the high school & they opened it up to all students to meet & pray for the young man & his family that evening. While I was listening & observing, his yout pastor asked me if I could go up front & pray for the boys family.

I'm not sure that there was ever going to be a better time to share the Gospel with the group of students that were there. Some of them had probably never darkened the door of a church. I gave a short message about God's soveriengty, the reality of death, heaven & hell, & the need to repent & trust in the Lord Jesus. Prior to praying for the family I asked every student who was serious to get on their knees with me & pray. When I was finished praying the and went to the back of the room the youth pastor came up to me & said "that was awesome." That statement in & of itself may not have been bad, but he seemed almost gleeful that there was this huge emotional moment. It was like it was just about this moment and not about eternity. I'm not sure what the point of this is. It just seems that experience & emotion trumps everything sound in youth ministry today. I have replayed that statement in my head a thousand times. The worst part of it all is that I too am guilty of shallowness. It is only recently that I have begun to see the entertainment ministry for what it is. Thank God.

Paula said...

tnpotts said: "It was like it was just about this moment and not about eternity. I'm not sure what the point of this is. It just seems that experience & emotion trumps everything sound in youth ministry today"

I had an eye-opening experience like that a few years ago at a youth retreat. The guest speaker decided to change his message at the last minute, feeling a nudge from the Holy Spirit. He preached a message of sin and repentence to jr. high kids - not your average youth fare - one of those "youth-speaker-never-invited-back" deals!

Some kids stood up and publicly confessed sin and repented, some spoke to youth leaders, some sat quietly in their chairs. Understand that ours is not a church that encourages this sort of outward expression of repentence or even talks about it much. Only God knows, but I truly believe that a good size group of kids came to saving faith in Christ that night. Kids who were raised in the church and probably thought they were saved.

I've talked to some of the younger leaders who were there that weekend and thought it was "a really cool experience." The youth pastor thought it "was an amazing weekend," but failed to grasp what the ingredients were that led to the event (Holy Spirit, God's Word, repentence) He thought it was the kickin' band, the great speaker and the awesome activities. And the beat goes on...

777law said...

I am a little disappointed. Most of the time I can hardly keep up with the great depth of theological discussion regarding the various blogs that are posted here. However, today, in spite of a rather robust response to the blog, I have seen a tepid response to a biblical proposition to the problem of youth groups. I am under the impression that scripture has a great deal to say about raising children in a familial setting, and very little to say about them in relation to the church. I believe there are solid biblical answers to the youth problem in the church that are founded in the family; and while I have seen evidence of serious misgivings regarding the effectiveness of youth groups/ministries, I am getting the impression that there is a sacred cow here that many do not want to skewer. Again I defer to the statistics.

Unknown said...


Very good -

I think the part that is most insightful is in the clause, "separating them from the rest of the church".

In our little church, high schoolers regularly attend the teaching times with their parents. Whether on Sundays, or midweek studies, this approach encourages kids to think on an adult level and also engenders a kind of blended approach to the church that I think Paul envisioned in Titus 2.

So, I think the biggest problem facing youth is that they are segregated into corners of churches with a Nintendo, and as long as they are quiet, noone cares...even in fairly Biblical churches. The only solution to this is for parents to individually take on the role that God intended for them and get their kids to start attending and engaging with the deeper studies of the church. That may not be popular with the kids, but then, neither will Christ be until they know Him.


@Marko aka "President of Youth Specialties"

You're dragging these kids into contemplative and not the bible.

Once I figured my past Willow Creek church was going full emergent, I asked the prior youth pastor (now assoc pastor) to explain emergent. He brought me Youth Specialties CD's with none other than YS speaker- Doug Pagitt.

Youth Specialties is a facilitator of the Emergent Church and contemplative. Doubt me? Debate it w/-the pyros- I'd love to see it!

Marko speaks 7/07


Doug Pagitt @Youth Specialties



No more fun and games huh?



Youth Specialties
"Day at the Improv"


Strong Tower said...

"I beg to differ with Lordodamanor where he states that the church is the primary unit for spiritual training, not the family. Deuteronomy 11: 18-21 states that this is the duty of parents. In the end, whom will God hold accountable for these children; the parents, the pastor, or the youth group leader? It will be the parents, especially the father."

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes...You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also...

And our confession: In the exercise of the authority which has been entrusted to Him, the Lord Jesus, through the ministry of the Word and by His Spirit, calls to Himself out of the world those who are given to Him by His Father, that they may live in His sight, rendering Him the obedience prescribed by Him for them in the Scripture. He commands those thus called to form particular societies or churches to promote their common welfare, and to engage in the public worship which He requires them to carry on while they continue in the world...To each of these churches thus gathered according to the divine will made known in His Word, the Lord has given all the power and authority requisite for the carrying on of the form of worship and discipline which He has appointed for their observance. This extends to the provision of such commands and rules as are needful for the rightful and proper use of the power conferred on the churches...

And much more could be said, the primary unit, in fact the one holding all authority in teaching all under it care is the church. Families are intergral, but not the primary source. Parents function in subjugation and compliment to the authority given to the church. Parents are vastly influencial, and not second class. There are no classes, but their role is to facilitate discipleship, not lead it. It is most definitely a parents duty, but not their's first, the keys were given to the church and they are administered through those gifts given as accounted in Ephesians.

Perhaps this where the problem begins and ends. There is no isolated role in discipleship but each part doing what it is given to do, builds up all others. If we think that it is the parents job, then the church has no obligation, if we think it is the church's, then the parent is free. I said, that compartmentalization of ministery is death. Cut off your arm, you will not be able to blow your nose, each part has function particular to itself, and in concert with the body provides all that the other parts need. Particularity though is often neglected. Our Elders are our Elders whose primary task is the teaching of all, including the children. And it is their's first and foremost. Secondarily it is the parent whose particular ministering to their children comes under the authority and particularity of the teaching authority in the church. The two should work together, not at odds, and in the order of submission laid down in Ephesians and elsewhere. Youth night, should not be parents' night off any more than Monday should be the pastors' day off. It doesn't work that way. When does a parent get a day off? When we took the job, we agreed it would be twentyfour-seven. And, by the call of God, the fathers of the church should likewise concern themselves with their flock. Ours has become a society, of indifferent selfish seclusion, what's my is mine and what's yours is mine if I need it. Partly that is do to our affluence, but partly it is due to our failure to recognize the biblical roles of particularity and peculiarity in the make up of the body of Christ. And fathers nor mothers are the primary gifts to the Lord's bride. We insult Him to make it otherwise. Fathers and mothers have a dear and sacred trust, to be sure, and where it is in proper respect to the church as founded upon the apostles and prophets, the fathers of the church, our elders, to whom we are to pay double honor, then, and only then, do they properly teach their children to honor their fathers and their mothers.

Our vitality demands that the church is the "first family," as Christ said, those who do my will, they are my sister, brother, mother,.....

David said...

@JustJan and David P.: Thanks for reacting to my question. It helps me to get my thoughts around this issue!

But I'm afraid that in general the way we approach church needs to change, as I think we all that commented, agree.
It's no good when teens don't want to go to church anymore because it's "boring" or they don't understand what's being said in church services.

We don't need to dumb down the faith, but challenge the youth.

tnpotts said...

I think 777law is right. Youth ministry is a sacred cow no one wants to skewer. However, maybe you haven't seen a biblical proposition to the problem of youth groups because some of us slower folks are just beginning to see for this mess for what it is. My response to this is to be on my knees asking God what I should do different & asking for understanding as I read my Bible. Also, I used to force my two younger kids into the childrens services, but recently, since I have been considering all the places I went wrong with my oldest son, I've allowed the childrens service to be optional. If they want to join my wife and I in the "adult" service, we let them. My daughter (8 yrs) takes notes during the service. She may not understand everything shes hearing, but I'm sure she understands more than I give her credit for. Have we all forgotten just how intelligent children & teenagers really are. Maybe the teenagers don't really want to do the fun & games but are waitng for someone who treats them as young adults instead of large children & helps them to learn to search the Scriptures daily.

Upstate S.C. Dorcas Society said...

When my husband and I were first married, years and years ago, he was called to be a youth pastor at a church on the verge of a split (we didn't know things were that bad). He wasn't given any materials to follow, and so was writing his own studies.
Things were going great, we thought. The kids were really into the discussions he initiated, and all of them seemed excited about delving deeper into the word and growing in Christ.

Then he was suddenly fired.
About half the parents in the church were as excited about the kids as what was going on, but the other half seemed to think that they'd hired DH to be a game leader and not a spiritual instructor. (erm. Youth PASTOR?)

His ministry was the very light straw that broke the camel's back, and the church split very shortly after. The whole thing was so sad.

I think Youth Ministry problems are more of a symptom of a deeper problem with the adults in the church. I see little commitment to training children at home from the time they are little.
Kids who are hungering and thirsting and not being fed are going to wander away looking for someone who will feed them. They won't stay in a church that perpetuates indifference in spirituality. They'll leave the church and become worldlings, or they will seek out churches that talk about "authenticity."

I think the first thing that needs to happen is that parents have got to commit themselves to laying firm foundations in the Word with their children from the time they are infants, so they have something to build on as they grow. And then we will see more young people growing up with deep commitment to their churches and families.

Joanna said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joanna said...

Maybe the teenagers don't really want to do the fun & games but are waitng for someone who treats them as young adults instead of large children & helps them to learn to search the Scriptures daily.

YES!! Please do!! Older people might not be seeing it but many christian young people i know, particularly in the upper highschool/college age bracket are interested in deeper things and discussing it amoungst themselves. The contribution that caring mature believers could make would be so valuable. With all the junk society is throwing our way we could use all the good help we can get.

DLW said...


"There are no classes, but their role is to facilitate discipleship, not lead it."

This is just wrong wrong and unscriptural. Ephesiaons 6:4 clearly tates it is the role of the father to teach. The word teach is a far cry from facilitate.

The final arbirtur of what to teach is regulated by scripture not the church. It is scripture where truth eminates, it is scripture that trumps Elders. According to your definition if I were a believing catholic than my primary source for truth would be the pope.

In addition, scripture clearly states we are not under subjegation to Elders/Pastors if they go against scripture. Your definition sounds cultic and biblical.

Have you ever read John MacArthurs book on Christian Parenting? He among others clearly lay out with scriptural backing that the teaching of children is primarly the responsibility of the father.

Does this truth take away the role of the church? No, absolutely not, but the teaching of the Elders had better line up with scripture and it is the fathers responsibility to know the difference.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Googled for info on the Sunday School Movement and the Raike/Wesley/Arminian connection and found this. Then a friend shared this CBS story on Millennials with me(concerning children raised other than God intends now making way into the workplace). No connection? Sure there is.

Pragmatism and just one result as in the Pyromaniacs post that follows this one? The movement began to address not children of believers capable and willing to train up the children God placed in their charge in the way they should go. And where did trying to church the world unto "simply believe to receive" to make things nicer for everyone lead? Look around. Parents that profess to believe drop off their children or would rather someone else do their job(and very often because they are both working themselves to a frazzle to give their children more stuff than they had growing up) while they take a break, sometimes being spooned spiritual food themselves rather than spending time in the Word themselves. Satan never tells the end from the beginning...the beginning that at first can seem so rightfully synergistic. Does he?

Yet God orchestrates everything for good to those He is conforming to His image in Christ. Let the parents parent and let the shepherds and those in leadership roles given by God over them help them do just that rather than notice shortcomings and effort to do it for them as if there is a codependency/enabling factor happening. Encourage those within flocks that are parenting or desire to parent righteously. It may mean less numbers with a better percentage of believers worshipping and fellowshipping and it may mean less in the donation plate but it will also mean a church with heat on the crucible turned up and dross drawn off through church discipline unto purity God desires(how many that claim to do church discipline are doing just that with parents disobeying God's commands concerning their children? Overwhelming thought, isn't it?). What a courageous Biblical idea that begins with humility and resting in Christ from the top down. For God's glory alone.

DLW said...

I meant cultic and UNBIBLICAL

Sheri said...


I humbly submit that I have not, through anything I have stated, attempted to undermine the authority of the Church. Nor would I argue that children are the property of parents, for they are a heritage of the Lord, a gift, a reward temporarily in our care to raise for His glory. In my first comment, I stated that one of the benefits of parents spending time teaching their children the ways of the Lord is that it will strengthen the church, both collectively and INDIVIDUALLY. Of COURSE, the Church's sphere of authority is over the family. And the family's sphere of authority is over its children.

What would a parent do when the church they are attending has promoted a false doctrine? Could they sit back and leave that burden to the church believing it's not their duty, not their problem, not their role? The buck has to stop somewhere and I submit that it stops at the feet of the parents. The children, when grown, will THEN submit directly to the authority of the Church.

I have been a mother for 24 years. I have made many mistakes, mind you, but I have also attained wisdom that the Lord has graciously given me. In coming to understand what my role is and how I function as that "hand or foot" in raising the children He has given my husband and me, I realize the responsibility I have to prepare them to love, honor and serve Him. I don't see that the Church is going to step into my house and do that, especially 24/7.

This post is about the problem churches are experiencing with youth groups. I have offered a solution that, I believe, is a Biblical solution. My hope is that, for the glory of God, it will help some here. But, "...as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." Joshua 24:15

777law said...

Is there a 2,000 pound gorilla in he room?

Strong Tower said...

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

This is true and it is addressed to Israel, the assembly. I do not negate the first teacher role of the parent. We must ask just what are the fathers to diligently teach. The covenants and promises were given to Israel in assembly, it was through Mose, given as a teacher and Elder over the house of Israel to instruct the assembly. The assembly is the keeper and in that role is the primary unit of instruction.

When quoting Ephesians 6 we dare not pass by: "This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church." Families are a reflect of and not the source of the teaching of the church.

David, you quoted Ephesians 4, but in part. I agree with Martin-Lloyd Jones that the "for" in each of the duties of the five men mentioned point back to their referent "gifts." Each for is the duty of those who do "the work of the ministry." Further, whenever ministry appears with the definite article it is referring, at least as far as I know, to The Minisitry, or, the duly appointed and called officers of the church.

As I finalized my last comment, it is this divisionism that gave rise to specialty ministries. Who, how and what is to be taught to the members in assembly is the propriety of the church. The family is no doubt involved as is rightly indicated in Deuteronomy and Ephesians. That is not the issue. Parents are a necessary compliment to the church. But, the home is not the church. That error has lead to the current craze of Home Churches where there is no accountability in local assembly nor is there accountability among the community of the several local churches.

The teaching that is taught at home comes from the church, it is it alone that is the primary unit of education of children in the way of the Lord. I am surprised that no one has mention Proverbs. In that we have abundant evidence that the parents do have a first role in the upbringing of their children. But, when it comes to what, and what manner, the assembly teaches its parents, singles, children, it is the propriety and responsibility of the church and none other. The question then is what are parents to do to hold the church accountable. It is there that their primary stewardship of their child is brought to bear upon the church. It should not be a tug-of-war, but all things should be established in the mouths of two or three. It should not be "the church is responsible, let her do it," nor should it be, "they are my children, do not touch." Nor can it be "they are your children, see to them." Otherwise, the churches responsiblity to hold the parent accountable also goes. And we would be left without the means to inforce: "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord."

RMo6- I do not think that your were undermining the authority of the church. Sorry, if I left that impression. We have a rift though. How did the impression arise that it was one or the other and not both. Our jobs as parents, contrary to David, is to facilitate the instruction give through the church. And your point is well taken. Children are under your stewardship, and not the church. You most definately have the responsibility to defend them from preditors, of all kinds, and most definitely the most damaging, the perveyors of false doctrine. This division came from somewhere, but not Scripture. Ephesians is layered, with the family being folded into the overarching ministry of the church. All governments are established by God, the is one kind and reach of the church, there is another of the family. I surely do not want the church acting like the nanny state is. On the other hand, the consistency of the church demands that we have a hierarchy of authority and due respect, in that, I agree with you that parents should have a first role in teaching children, but the primary duty authority to instruct in the Word is the church. How that is worked out is the matter of this thread. It is not that youth education is not the proper role for the church. The question is, under what circumstances and what modes that is carried out. I do not expect the church to step into my house 24/7. What I meant by that is that it is not a career, just as parenting is not. The idea that we have compartmentalized, our week, our family, church functions, is the idea that we have created unnecessary and unworkable barriers and hinderances to the end for which Ephesians puts forth. It was not my observation that youth groups are not working, though I agree. But, they do not work because they are considered a ministry with The Ministry, isolated and not integrated in the catechetical process. Children and teens from my experience are not part of the work of the church. They tend to be the objects of its work and not members working with the body.

You have given me lots to contemplate as I raise my own. I never leave it to the church, alone. I engage my children after every activity to see what they are being taught, to my great disgust. So, I retrain. And, I bring forth to the leaders my concerns. Which are, as has been noted, often looked down upon. In that lays the real problem, an isolated clergy and an isolate laity.

Strong Tower said...

"Have you ever read John MacArthurs book on Christian Parenting? He among others clearly lay out with scriptural backing that the teaching of children is primarly the responsibility of the father."

Nope! Let me get this straight, it is Scripture you said that is the final abitur, then you establish JMac as your authority?

Now, I want to ask you, you're competent it sounds to teach your children. How many others are? Is that myopia speaking, tradition? I would agree with JMac's premise, if indeed it was the case that all father's are as he is. Of course, if that were the case, what need would there be for Pastor MacArthur? The home would suffice as a church.

Strong Tower said...

One more thing David. Grace community does teach the children well, and does not leave it to the parent as the primary teacher:


Go here and find out, just how much there is to facilitate the parent. And check out how much there is to help the parent facilitate the church in bring up it disciples, the children. I think either the total scope of MacArthur's ministry has escaped you, or you have read through the eyes of tradition. But I do not know. Perhaps you can justify for me the rigid dualism you paint, for I have not read the book. You can post it at my. For now I am done here.

DLW said...


I made no reference to Ephesians Chapter 4, I specifically wrote Ephesians 6:4, which is chapter 6, verse 4 and reads:

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Interesting Words that God uses here, it says instruction (refering to teaching) of the Lord. He does not tell the church to instruct children. He instructs the church to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry and to preach the Word. Again it is the Word that is the primary source of instruction not the church.

I am not sure why you continue to harp on the Home church issue. I have surely never mentioned it, because the original post references youth ministry which as a whole is unbiblical and according to statistics may be one of the reasons that the church has lost the 20-30 something generation.

Scripture reads fathers are to instruct. Maybe if the church would honor the 5th commandment and equip fathers and mothers to do the work of the ministry, than the blessing God promised in that commandment would be realized.

Aaron said...

Regarding the points discussed by Stratagem, Marko, and Phil:

Stratagem's comments cut through to the heart: The apostles were the "early church fathers," and in Tony Jones' book, Soulshaper, he encourages youth ministers to abandon the soundness of the faith in exchange for mysticism. Is it "neo-hindu"? I suspect it's Hindu-Christian syncretism; it's certainly not any kind of practice that would develop in a place that valued the Scriptures!!

Jones says in his book that the mystics were seeking, through silence, the Jesus Prayer, et cetera, union with God. Excuse me, but we have that in Christ, through his death. Consider Romans 6:3-5 the climax of Paul's argument to this effect. Ergo, the mystics were either despising what had already been provided or were lost men.

So why in the world should we teach their practices to our children?

Paula said...

Another issue I see (maybe more prevalent in larger churches) is that, "certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you" (Jude v.4) through the youth ministries. I've read more than a few accounts of what were thought to be solid biblical churches (including my own) having emergent philosophies introduced through the youth ministy of the church while the sr. pastor is asleep at the wheel.

The parents have NO idea what fruit this is going to bear in the lives of their children, not the least of which is rebellion against the beliefs of their parents. Many of these youth pastors have a deep anger, even hatred toward the church of their parents' generation and have very left-leaning political views. How can this not cause division in the families at a time when the church should be encouraging family unity?

I'm not saying that kids shouldn't be exposed to opposing viewpoints d(I believe they should receive a rigorous education about them and learn to defend their faith against them!) but when it's coming from the authority of the youth pastor and they are pushing authenticity over/against holiness, mystery over/against clarity, incarnational friendship over/against evangelism, you are going to cause divisions

While this is troublesome, the more important issue is that the doctrine is not being guarded. I think in many cases the sr. pastor has no idea what some of these younger pastors are teaching. They think that Rob Bell's and YS materials are nothing more than a methodology and a pragmatic tool that is necessary to reach this generation. They believe the 20-something "expert" youth pastors when they tell them that kids 'love Jesus and hate the church' therefore we must throw out the baby AND the bathwater. They don't seem to grasp that the Jesus people love is a figment of their imagination - not the true Jesus who calls them to a life of self-denial and commands them leave their life of worldliness.

My son wrote a paper on Martin Luther last year for his 9th grade history co-op. His thesis was,"Martin Luther was justified in defying the church" One of the points he made was that the people in the church were like little children (Matt. 18:6) because they were unable to read the Bible and the church hanging millstones around their own necks because they were leading people astray. When I think of what some of these churches are doing, lots of "woe's" come to mind. Woe to the parents who are sending biblically illiterate teens to church. Woe to sr. pastors who are allowing false teachings in their church: "Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds" Proverbs 27:23, Woe to the youth pastors who are wandering off into the netherlands and taking others with them.

Stefan Ewing said...

I don't even have kids, but all this talk over the last month or so about the state of youth ministry compelled me to inquire about the soundness of our own youth ministry.

Apparently the lead youth pastor is rock solid, and all the youth pastors are required to go through our multi-year, doctrine-heavy Bible school program.

Part of the key in our large church seems to be that we have, effectively, two senior pastors: one formally so called, to preach the Word; and the other to ensure that our entire local body of Christ sticks to Biblical teaching in all that we do.

Mike Riccardi said...

Lordodamanor and RMo6,

I have a curious question for the two of you. What's your stance on baptism? Are you paedo- or credo-?

Also, LOM, how many words per minute do you type? I've always wondered that...

northWord said...

This Is Such A GREAT Article Phil!!!!


Even nearly every one of the ensuing comments are a rich blessing.

ezekiel said...


"Interesting Words that God uses here, it says instruction (refering to teaching) of the Lord. He does not tell the church to instruct children. He instructs the church to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry and to preach the Word. Again it is the Word that is the primary source of instruction not the church. "

You will find more support for your argument in Hebrews 8 and 9.


"This is true and it is addressed to Israel, the assembly. I do not negate the first teacher role of the parent. We must ask just what are the fathers to diligently teach. The covenants and promises were given to Israel in assembly, it was through Mose, given as a teacher and Elder over the house of Israel to instruct the assembly. The assembly is the keeper and in that role is the primary unit of instruction."

You may want to re-evaluate your argument in light of Heb 8-9.

If I am looking at the arguements properly, and my reading skills are up to the task, We have established that Moses, MacArthur, david, Paul, reformedmom and the WORD all clearly place the responsibility to teach and the authority to teach squarely on the shoulders of the father. Is he the spiritual leader of the family or not?

Unlike reformedmom, I will challenge the church's authority to teach my children. And I will take that one step further. I will challenge the church's authority to teach me.

To meet that challenge and to prevail, the church is going to have to show me that they are in fact, teaching correct doctrine and that the elders and leaders of that church submit to the authority of the WORD. If they can do that, then I would have to say they have authority and that I should submit to them. If they can't.....they have no authority.

History is full of churches, religious establishments that were in fact, anti-christ. We can start with the church at Jerusalem......Luther's church......Pick your mega/pomo/emergent/warrenista church today. While we ask if fathers are competent to teach.....we need to be asking the same question of our local....church/youth pastor....senior pastor...

Scottj said...

I've been working with church youth for about 30 years, sometimes as a "youth minister," but usually simply as a pastor. Here's what I would do differently, or am doing now, if applicable:
1) select youth ministers who are much older than the youth.
2) youth ministers should focus on building up local teachers who can teach the youth after the youth minister leaves.
3) whenever possible, given the spiritual status of parents, select youth leaders who have children the same age as the ages of the youth with whom they minister. Ie, youth leaders of the Junior High age group should, if possible, have children in that group.
4) in the long term, try to recruit Christian parents of small children to minister to that age group. As the children mature, move the parents into the older groups as well.
5) do not accept a full time paid youth ministry unless it is agreed that your wife and children may accompany you on all youth group trips, including camp, concerts, rallys, teaching times, etc. This can save your marriage from teenage crushes, helps you model Christian parenthood and marriage to the kids, helps your own children to learn from the teachings you teach the older children, AND to learn from the older youth's errors. When I was a full-time youth minister, my wife and children (infants and toddlers, preschoolers), went everywhere with us. Be sure to protect your children from older youth's teasing and scorn.
6) you are not the kids' friend. You may be winsome, kind, appreciated, but they do not need a 20 year old something peer.
7) the most lasting influence you have will be with those who stay in the church and lead others.
8) kill children's church. Worship together with the children present as young as is feasable. During the sermon, offer a time of BIBLE CONTENT geared for their age.
9) in small churches, do not worry about mixing children and older youth. The one-room school house can succeed on Sundays too. Employ the older youth as well-supervised instructors of the younger (I don't mean, let the older youth "take care of" the younger, but work under the careful supervision of a Biblically qualified teacher).
10) Make special provisions for spiritual orphans. Most of the youth in our church come from families where the parents never married, or are divorced, and are on crack or alcohol. Try to arrange for these young people to be "adopted" by healthy families in the church.
11) Most kids from the wrecked families I mentioned above want the conservative virtues offered by the Bible. If you reach them by age 10 they are just beginning to HATE the lifestyle of their parents, and are open to something else.
12) Atheists are nurtured in the gradeschool years, in homes more than in the classroom.
13) Listen to your youth's complaints about their homelife, but never disresepct their parents to the child. They will, at the same time, HATE their parents and defend their every action.

Sheri said...


I'd like to clarify myself as to what I believe about church authority. My husband and I would NEVER submit our family to a church that does not submit to the Word of God. In fact...please don't gasp here, everyone...I know how you all feel about home churching...but, in hearing the authentic gospel only three years ago (we had been Christians for over 25 years, or so we thought), we spent two years in intense study...at home. Without going into a lot of detail about that experience, let me say that it was two years of the deepest growth my husband and I have ever experienced. Our children were so deeply affected by it, that I can't imagine having done it differently. Nevertheless, the time came when we knew we had to find a church that truly taught the Bible. We now drive an hour and a half to a small country church where a handful of faithful old folks have kept the flicker going and, boy, were they glad to see us! All of this to say, that we wouldn't submit our family to a church that isn't scripturally sound.

M. Riccardi,

To answer your question: We attend a church that practices paedo. We are still studying both sides. I have to admit that there's good evidence for both and that I've observed some people switching their beliefs after many years.

Now, as a sidenote: my convictions against youth groups is ten years old. Red flags went off for me and I am so grateful that the Lord gave me the discernment when He did. It saddens me to see that others want to continue to try to "fix" youth groups rather than recognize them for what they are and return to the Biblical model for family.

777law said...


That was oneheckofa post.

I think that the problem in churches today that has given rise to the whole issue of youth ministries is basically a simple one, but it is the solution that is the real bugger. But let me give it a try.

Biblical father roles are not being taught, discussed or enforced by the church for the same reason that the issue of biblical roles of women are not - because we don't like them.

We have unwittingly allowed the world to impose its values on us and instead of rejecting them we have attempted to sterilize them with christian trimmings - because we like them.

Thus we have swerved in to a major dilemma, adopting some of the doctrine of the world and discarding some of the doctrine of scripture; ignoring biblical familial doctrine, but adhering to biblical church doctrine. This essentially amounts to a half-truth, and it bears half the fruit.

Where is the biblical doctrine of family government? I do not believed it is being promoted in our churches. And this is a very big part of why I believe we are losing our youth.

Family government is not being promoted in our churches because it is too hard. Father's don't want to be godly fathers and mother's don't want to be godly mothers. Therefore, children don't become godly children. I think it is that simple.

To be a biblical father is hard work. Dad has to work and solely bring home a living. He also has to teach his children the ways of the Lord when he is home with them. To be a biblical mother requires staying at home and investing her life in raising godly children and making a home for her family. This may seem old fashioned and boring, however, I don't think those who practice such a life would agree. It surely is not the world's way; but it is God's way; and if you think about it, anything else is vanity.

Many resources are available on the subject of the biblical family, so there is no excuse not to start changing the way we do things today. It is a huge, huge task and calling, but are not the souls of our children worth it?

I have no doubt that what I have just stated will not be well received, but that would validate my whole point.

ezekiel said...


Now that is what I am talking about. Real growth in the WORD. Abiding in Him. The WORD abiding in you.

Churches today, just like churches of yesterday struggle under a load of responsibility that doesn't belong to them and labor to perform a task that they can't do. Is it any wonder that the church is failing to teach children? All that works to elevate leadership to a role that they were never intended to have and opens the door wide for the Nicolaitans. (Rev 2:15) Authoritarian rule rather than humble servant to all......Not any different in any real way to what we see in EZ 13,14. And that is my real beef with churches and daubers......

It took you 25 years to get to a point that the WORD really came to live in you. For me, it was around 25 years as well. Now was that because we were deceived? If so, who deceived us?

So when we fully grasp 1 John 2:25-29 and Hebrews 8:10, then and I think only then do we aproach church the way that it was intended. That is when we start taking the gift that we have and sharing it there. Serving Christ. Going to give rather than to get......

Hold your head high when you tell folks where you got your learning......and show them where they can get it too......

Jake said...

don't worry, I'm sure after a few years, they'll realize their programs aren't working (if they haven't already) and spend millions of dollars developing a new program. Maybe they could create personal youth growth plans.

Sheri said...


Great comment! Thank you.

The "church" is not an institution to which we ignorantly or haphazardly submit ourselves, but is the gathering of the saints, who have been changed internally and come together to hear the external gospel. It is these individuals who set up church government and the system to which we hold one another accountable to the Word, lest someone should stumble. Family government precedes church government, yet ultimately submits itself to church government.

I am not ashamed of the gospel...it contains the words of life; not words that merely pertain to an eternal end, but instructions for practical every day godly living in the here and now, that we and our children may be complete and thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Unknown said...

Mike Yaconneli was one of the founders of Youth Specialties. Before his death in 2003, he wrote an article titled The Failure of Youth Ministry.

He said "Youth ministry as an experiment has failed. If we want to see the church survive, we need to rethink youth ministry."


Scottj said...

Yaconelli says that most youth ministries focus their attention on the following:

A) Introducing young people to Jesus
B) Providing healthy activities
C) Involving young people in service
D) Abstinence pledges
E) Good theological training
F) Worship

but, he says, this is missing the point because YM is supposed to be about discipleship. He doesn't really explain what discipleship is except calling it "longevity." He also bemoans the "aging effect" of students dropping out as they grow older.

But wouldn't we be thrilled if youth ministries actually accomplished these six things? And how would these six differ, if the content and teaching methods are Biblical, from discipleship? Longevity of commitment will certainly flow from knowing Jesus.

Many youth drop out because they simply outgrow the fun 'n games of the all-you-can-eat bananna split night. Our youth drop out of "youth group" so they can earn money for university, or more often, Bible college. But they are still very much in Bible study, worship, and ministry.

The real problem is that, aside from "activities," the other five things listed aren't happening much at all, or disciples would be produced.

DLW said...

Ezekial, ReformedMom, 777law,

We have a similiar story yet have only been saved for three years. When I became saved I devoured bibles, commentaries, books etc, seeking to find the truth. My wife and are still learning and have a long ways to go, but I can not help but see God's outline for a biblical family all over the bible. I don't have the working knowledge as you do but what I do grasp is clearly outlined.

We were saved at an older age and our kids were teenagers. The power of God is in plain sight to our little family. After He saved my wife and I, then came our 13 year old son and soon after our 15 year old daughter. Our daughter fought very hard because she had no point of reference as to what it was to actually be loved by her family and that someone had a desire to be around her and truly love her.

God is incredible and I have no doubt it is because we earnestly sught and are still seeking after Him and directing and planting our children's hearts to the Lord. He has given incredible increase.

No youth group, or Elder or Pastor would have loved her enough to not only tell her the truth but live and teach the truth with her every single day in every single moment. Too expect Elders and the Church to teach ones children everyday is ludicrious.

We were fortunate to be in a church where the Pastor grasped the concept of a family integrated church and one that beleived in equipping fathers to lead and teach there families. He was a tremndous help and a example of how it could work. Faithful men teaching other faithful men what there responsibilies are before the living God and equipping them with the tools to carry out the task before them.

777law you got it right, parents are allowed to stay in their sinful selfish state and are not held accountable by the church but are coddled into going into their own bible studies and having someone teach them so they can then go out and create some ministry they think needs filling instead of fulfilling the one God gave them because they are seeking their purpose.

Reformed Mom I salute you because it is women like you who have given up their lives to raise children for the Lord that are carrying out the great commission. Investing time, effort and energy like Christ did with the apostles. An absolutely thankless job in the world's eyes but how so richly rewarding on this earth as it will be for you in Heaven!

Sheri said...


Thank you for sharing your experience and for the encouraging words.

Your story brings up another element that has not been addressed in the comments (other than my own), and that is the emotional component. As you stated, you and your wife are what your children, especially your daughter, needed.

It is God's design that parents develop this emotional bond with their children; not third-party, non-family authority figures. Children have a propensity to bond. When they bond, they develop a trust that makes them vulnerable to the one in whom they look to. If their allegiance is directed outside of the home, they have a tendency to detach from the family and its unmitigated God-given authority... even if the intentions of that figure outside the home are only good and intended to reinforce the parent's stance. Youth leaders, void of the direct involvement of the parents, ultimately end up working against the home.

Parents are the ones who will be in constant contact with their children, not only short term, but for the long haul. It is the parents who know their children like no one else and recognize their particular physical, emotional and spiritual needs. They are the ones who will effectively hold their children accountable...through life...first, as God-ordained authority figures, and after adulthood, as brothers and sisters in Christ.

777law said...

Reformed mom,

It is indeed amazing what a little common sense can bring to ones worldview.

steveprost said...

john & scottj,
Yaconelli also had some good ministry stuff on the fear of God, which is also an element of biblical emphasis missing from our modern evangelical church in general, and from youth ministry even more particularly.