Modern youth ministry has been with us now for about 30 years. I believe the distinguishing feature of this youth ministry movement is founded on entertainment. The idea is if we make the church seem “cool” to our youth than they will desire to come and maybe hear the Gospel and maybe not even leave the faith when they leave their parents’ home. This movement has been around long enough to cycle through multiple generations of youth ministry participants. The results of this entertainment model have not been positive. The youth of this age are fleeing the church faster than ever. Worse yet this entertainment model of ministry has spread to almost every facet of the church. Ministries seem to think that their job is to ensure people are having a good time and if they are not entertained then they will not stay.
Why would we double down on this failed entertainment model of ministry? It hasn’t worked in youth ministry and it hasn’t given long lasting results in other ministries either. As I think through my own role in leading our youth group, I must decide, will we be entertainment driven or discipleship driven? Some of the wisest words I ever received when first beginning my ministry was this, “What you win them with, that is what you must keep them with.”
In anything we do we should ask, “What are we trying to accomplish?” When dealing with ministry the answer should always be “to make disciples.” This is what every Christian is called to do. Now more than ever it is vital that we create disciples of our youth and not consumers. This is because today’s consumer youth will be the church shopping, lukewarm adult. Worse than that, we can convince them that it is alright to not take living the Christian life seriously. We send our children out into the world with a shallow and cheap brand of the Christian faith and expect them to somehow keep this said faith. Worst of all, we create environments where they never come under conviction of their sin and are therefore never born again. Regeneration comes by the Spirit, but the normative means of the Spirit is hearing the Word of God as “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” Why are we watering down the message and distracting from what is most important?
Brothers and sisters, this cannot be! We need to center our youth ministry around the same thing we center our church around, the Gospel of Christ. This is why here at our church we have named our student ministry “Outfitters.” Our mission statement is this: “Outfitting young adults with the Gospel of Christ for life’s journey. Ephesians 6:13, ‘Take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to with-stand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.'”
As a minister to our youth, I want to outfit our young people in preparation for the battle they will face in the future and even the battles they are facing at this present time. And just like the concept of discipleship, where all Christians are both being a disciple and working toward making disciples, so too we want our young people to be “outfitted” and to be working toward the process of outfitting one another.
This approach also gives them a model of living in community that will equip them well as adults. We want to create out of our youth, strong Christian adults who first grasp tightly to the Gospel, live in Christian community, and serve the body of Christ. If this process is not being taught from this very early age, when will it begin? Fellow ministers, parents, and church members, let us build our youth ministries, and every other ministry of the church, not on the shifting sands of this entertainment culture, but on the solid foundation of Jesus Christ.