Friday, August 13, 2010

Youth ministry: why equipping is better than entertaining

I passed thirty-five years spending most of my professional day every day with people between the ages of thirteen and nineteen. During that time I made some discoveries: it is impossible for an adult to be "cool" by trying, and it is impossible to keep up with what is "cool" because it changes about every five minutes. If kids like and respect adults, the reason is likely to have more to do with integrity and lack of artifice than with anything more superficial. Actually enjoying and liking teenagers helps a lot, too. And if you are a teacher, genuinely, transparently, and effectively conveying that what you are offering and demanding is valuable — and interesting — goes a long way.

These thoughts were inspired by Jon Nielson's essay about the challenge of being a youth pastor: "Teens Want More Than Pizza."
.... Faced with increasingly busy schedules—packed full of sports, music, drama, and college-prep classes—many teenagers are finding little time (or need) for the church. While youth group and youth retreat attendance skyrocketed in the late 1990s, many youth pastors are now finding that students are “not even coming for the pizza anymore.” Maybe the pizza was part of the problem to begin with. ....

I’ve been a high school pastor for about eight months now; I certainly have much to learn! In just those eight months, though, I have formed a few convictions from which, by God’s grace, I will not soon depart:
  • I cannot compete with my students’ culture in the area of entertainment.
Some youth pastors can keep up much better than I can. Still, even the savviest, coolest, most-in-touch youth pastor around will find himself unable to entertain students in a way that will keep them coming to his youth group. The competition is simply too stiff.
  • I can offer high school students the real gospel of Jesus Christ—and they can handle it.
The gospel—the objective reality that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,” which is received by faith alone—is what high school students really crave. The amazing (and constantly humbling) thing about continually offering the gospel to students is the response it brings. The response is not: “Wow, Jon, you’re cool,” or “That music was off the hook!” It’s actually a much more biblical response: repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. High school students crave the real, true, life-changing, not-watered-down gospel of Jesus Christ. Woe to us if we give them anything less.
  • Growth happens not by entertaining, but by equipping.
.... It is time that youth pastors return to a surprisingly ancient concept. God gave pastors and teachers to the church to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry” (Eph. 5). Chris Palmer, a youth pastor quoted in the USA Today article, was on to something when he described his new approach to youth ministry: beginning to teach that following Jesus is “hard work,” as well as “radical and exciting.” If high school students crave the true gospel of Jesus Christ, they desire to see lives (including their own) that are radically and genuinely affected by a relationship with Jesus Christ. They spot hypocrisy better than most of us adults. .... [more]
Teens Want More Than Pizza – The Gospel Coalition Blog