|The Barnabas Ministry
Family-Based Youth Ministry
Youth pastor burnout. Teen isolation. Ineffectiveness
of youth ministries in terms of transitioning kids from youth ministry
to adult faith and ministry in the church. For all the good that is
done in many youth ministries, these persistent problems cry out for a
solution. As DeVries says in the introduction:
This book is for youth
workers who are tired of quick fixes and eay answers. It's also written
for anyone responsible for a Christian ministry to teenagers-- pastors,
youth committee members, parents, volunteer leaders and search
committees looking for youth pastors. It is written for parents wo want
to understand the forces that most significantly affect their
children's spiritual formation.
If you have a teenager or a pre-teen, you'll be
interested in Mark DeVries' discussion of youth ministry.
DeVries rightly observes that the real measure of
any youth ministry is not attendance, how zealous teens appear to be,
outstanding the "mountaintop experiences" or if it attracts teens from
other churches. None of those things are evil, but the goal is to
nurture members towards a lifelong, mature faith.
The author provides some historical perspective about
how youth ministries got to be the way they are these days. He also
discusses the current state of affairs in youth ministries based upon
his own years of youth ministry. For example, he discusses kids who
seemed really faithful in youth ministry, but departed from the faith
in their early adult years. He also discusses kids who seemed out of
touch with the youth ministry who grew into faithful adults. Based upon
these observations, he concludes that the factors that make for a
well-prepared young adult Christian have to do with a lot more than
just involvement in a dynamic youth ministry. And in this observation,
he is right on the money.
DeVries puts the cross-hairs on the youth ministry
model that largely separates youth from family and the rest of the
church. Like anything, there is good and bad in the model. But one big
problem with the isolated youth ministry is that it creates an
artificial world for the teens, compounding the already problematic
issue of teen isolationism and bringing it into the church. Another is
that is has a way of removing parents from their Scripturally-ordained
role of raising children. DeVries shares how some youth workers lament
about "drop off parents," but if a youth ministry effectively "locks
out" the parents what else can the parents do?
This artificial world doesn't serve teens well now or
later. DeVries points out that teens are likely to associate their
faith with this period of their lives and their energetic, dynamic
youth ministry. When they grow older, many leave behind the faith just
as they leave behind the teenage years. Others reject a new
age-appropriate expression of their faith and lifestyle because it is
so radically different from what they experienced in the "great youth
ministry." Because they were isolated from the family and the rest of
the church, they have limited experiences and relationships to draw
upon as they make the transition from teen to adult.
The answer is to integrate family and the church in youth ministry as well. There are numerous benefits that ought to be relatively obvious upon some thought. Such a ministry creates a more realistic "world" in which the teen learns and grows in the faith. They see faithfulness in various expressions and have an example to follow as they grow and mature. More than that, the teen, family and church all benefit from being integrated with each other-- and isn't it kind of obvious that's the way it ought to be anyway?
The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!" (1 Corinthians 12:21)
As an adult and a parent of teens, and one who also has
significant experience with insulated/isolated campus ministries, this
rings true. Building a youth ministry that does not integrate
the various aspects of its members lives creates a false
"compartmentalized world" that makes it difficult for kids to see how
faith applies in all areas of their present lives. And as DeVries says,
this model does not prepare youth for life beyond the youth
ministry. One of the most important jobs parents have is to prepare
children for adulthood; a youth ministry without this same perspective
will find itself doing a disservice to the kids in this regard, in
spite of all the good otherwise being done.
The way the kids learn about the world beyond their
insulated youth ministry is to be exposed to it. This doesn't mean
requiring the kids to participate in the most boring event going on in
the church, but
it means finding ways to integrate parents into the youth ministry and
youth into the church.
DeVries' observations and ideas resonate with important
ideas I've seen in other contexts, too. For example, Dr. Henry Cloud in
"Changes that Heal" discusses the
developmental importance of teens having relationships with non-parent
example, coaches, teachers, youth ministers. They learn to deal with
these adults independently of their parents, separating from their
parents as a normal part of growth but still being connected to other
mature influences. It is evident that parents of friends and
other adults in the spiritual community can help nurture teens in
ways that peer relationships, the youth ministry and parents cannot.
Scripturally, parents cannot delegate their role to the
ministry. DeVries encourages creative thinking for how to get parents
and the youth ministry working together for the long-term benefit of
the teens. He also provides some practical ideas of his own, with each
chapter ending with some great ideas about how to put the ideas of that
chapter into practice.
Being a parent of a teen is no easy thing, and being a
youth minister is no easy thing either. It's great to have a great
youth ministry be a part of your child's world, and it's great to have
parents be involved in the youth ministry instead of just dropping the
kids off and picking them up when the events are over. And it's great
to have a church enriched by the involvement of teens its activities as
This is a thought-provoking resource that will help you
be a better parent and a better youth minister. Elders and "adult"
ministers will also benefit from reading this book because they, too,
need to be involved in the lives of teens in their churches.
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