The Miracle Model of Youth Ministry

CemetaryWhen I was a teenager, we did some really crazy things in our youth ministry. I wasn’t a super risky teen but I did like a thrill. Looking back I can see how youth ministry really played off of that. We went after one thrill after another. The standard ones included retreats, camp, Winterfest, Youth in Action, out of state VBS trips, service projects…and then the crazy ones included…playing in a creepy cemetery at night, driving really fast in the church van over a dangerous and hilly stretch of road called “the dips” and even repeatedly taking the church van up LaGrange mountain, the creepiest mountain road you can imagine where people were known to worship the devil, just to see if we might run into something scary (here is one guy’s story about venturing up there). Not everything we did was thrilling…but that component was definitely in our youth ministry.

Now think about how Jesus discipled people. He led his disciples, taught publically and privately and did miracles. The miracles were not the bread and butter of his ministry. The bread and butter of his ministry was the time he spent with his disciples and what he had to teach them about God, the kingdom and their role in it. Miracles were the exceptions because thrilling people for the sake of a thrill was not a part of Jesus’ agenda. Miracles were done to support the real meat of what Jesus had to say. Miracles testified that the rest of what Jesus was saying was true. Miracles were not the bread and butter of Jesus’ ministry because miracles can be misunderstood (remember that group that wanted to make Jesus king after he multiplied the food?). In fact, Jesus actually turned away the people who came for a thrill or for a full stomach…some ministries thrive on this and in the process miss out on making Jesus the center of attention and replace him with our own desires for the next big thrill, the next big miracle…to be a part of the next big thing that is going on.

A note to all of us in leadership positions, not just youth ministers – When people are thrilled by what we do, it gives the leader a fix. It makes us think we are able to provide them what they need. They need us and we can do things that keep them coming back to us and to our ministry. That can be deadly. I am going to sound like an old fogey here…teens don’t know how to be discipled. I am not saying teens are clueless or that they are spiritually unaware. Many of them are far more spiritually savvy than we give them credit. But discipleship is counter intuitive. They need guidance. They need leadership.

The core of what we do cannot be the thrill. Crosses aren’t very thrilling and neither is washing feet. What is more, I am sure Jesus would have much rather thrilled the crowd by calling a legion of angels instead of having soldiers pound nails into his hands. Needless to say, this type of ministry undermines what discipleship is all about and leaves teens woefully unprepared for life in the real world.

Last thought here…Jesus actually did take his disciples into a creepy cemetery and they actually did run into a creepy guy who was full of demons. Kind of reminds me of my youth group experiences! But Jesus didn’t take them there to thrill them or even scare them straight. Jesus took them there to demonstrate the power of God and redeem that man from the power of Satan. We have to keep pointing people to Jesus. Sure sometimes it will be thrilling but the thrill is not the driving force behind why we do the things we do.

How To Reach a Lost Generation 8: Effects of the Young Adult Exodus from Christianity are Bigger Than You Think

The most optimistic estimate is that at least 60% of Christians leave Christianity between the ages of 18-25. That is a big hole. But there could be something even more troubling that we have noticed in our ministry that is going to take us some time to address. There was a long time at Northwest where we had a vibrant youth group but nothing after that. So when people graduated they pretty much fell off in line with the statistics.

That is problematic in and of itself but it gets worse. What happened 7-14 years ago, the drop off of young adults and young families means the congregation had an extremely small number of children being born for a 7 year stretch. We are now six years into our ministry to young adults at Northwest and we have had a baby boom.  We now have a ton of kids ages 6 and younger but those who are 7-14 are few and far between and what is more, we don’t have as many families in that age range who are involved in the spiritual well being and maturation of this children as we once did. That gap will move up through the youth group, college group, 20s & 30s group over time and it is a noticeably large hole.

So we are experiencing the exodus of our young adults but what will effect will that have on the church 10-20 years down the road? The effects we have seen are substantial. I am convinced that the mass exodus of young adults from the church is one the most serious problems we are currently facing in Christianity. I am glad to see more and more people aware of it and doing something about it. I am also glad to see guys like Wes Woodell teaching on this at Pepperdine in a few weeks.

Lack of evangelism multiplies this problem. If you aren’t reaching new people and are dependent upon your kids to age in order to fill these holes the problem gets even worse. Over the last few months I have become convinced that one of the big keys to Christianity moving forward is evangelism…purposefully reaching out to those who need Jesus, studying with them, connecting them with other Christians, etc. That sounds like a no brainer and it should be but somehow we have lost our gumption and don’t invest in others like we used to. This has to change.

Has your congregation experienced this? It is not to say that this makes me feel hopeless. God can work good out of any situation. It is a reminder that the young adult exodus has repercussions we might not yet have noticed but will also need to be addressed.

Hurt by Chap Clark

Have any of you read “Hurt” by Chap Clark? Our youth minister has highly recommended that I read this book and has laid out the premise of it for me. Then I was speaking with another youth minister who also mentioned this book and how powerful it is in understanding today’s adolescent culture. From what I understand this is a book of qualitative social research into the lives of today’s youth. It is a genuine attempt to try to understand them and their differences from their successors. One of the things the youth ministers are saying is that there is a wide cultural gap between today’s teens and when the rest of us were teens, even those in their late 20s/early 30s. The danger is to assume their life is like ours was and that their needs are the same as ours. So we keep aiming at a culture that no longer exists and end up being ineffective.

I am looking forward to reading this book. Have any of you read this, what did you think?