From the Gospel Coalition: On Youth Ministry

I think that the biggest problem of youth ministry was that it tended to separate the family at a time that the culture was doing that too. Rather than contradict the prevailing thought, the church utilized it. The same can be said for several trends in the church, such as consumerism, political ideologies, etc. The church could have been the last place on earth that families were whole (and given the modern family’s schedule, that even includes much of home life), but instead took its cue from culture. Sad. The following is from – The Gospel Coalition Blog – 

A Brief History of Youth Ministry

Posted By Dave Wright On April 2, 2012 @ 10:00 PM In Articles of Interest,Commentary,Featured,Noteworthy | 82 Comments

Editors’ Note: Everyone has an opinion about youth ministry. Parents, pastors, and the youth themselves have expectations and demands that don’t always overlap. But the rash of dire statistics about the ineffectiveness of youth ministry has prompted rethinking in these ranks. So we devote one day per week this month to exploring several issues in youth ministry, including its history, problems, and biblical mandate. The Gospel Coalition thanks Cameron Cole and the leadership team of Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry [1] for their help in compiling this series. Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, Alabama, will host their 2012 conference [2] from August 9 to 11. Speakers Ray Ortlund, Timothy George, and Mary Willson will expound on the conference theme, “Adopted: The Beauty of Grace.”

**********

To read books on youth ministry these days, it is hard not to get the sense that this experiment we call youth ministry in the local church has failed. This perspective is not shocking or new. Mike Yaconelli, founder of Youth Specialties, stated this rather boldly [3] in Youthworker Journalin 2003. According to Lifeway Research [4], 70 percent of young people will drop out of church after high school, and only 35 percent will return to regular attendance. Christian Smith’s National Study of Youth and Religion found that most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise do not give it much thought. Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian [5] asserts, “American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith—but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.” This result is far from the intention of most youth ministries. Smith describes the religious outlook of teenagers as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism,” a far cry from the gospel of Jesus.

[6]

To get an idea of where we have come from, let’s turn back the clock more than a half century. Space here only allows the broadest overview, so bear with the generalizations. Back in the 1940s Jim Rayburn began a ministry to reach teens at the local high school, which became Young Life (YL). Their mission—to introduce adolescents to Jesus Christ and to help them grow in their faith—remains to this day. The strategy was and is for caring adults to build genuine friendships with teens and earn the right to be heard with their young friends. At the same time, Youth for Christ (YFC), was holding large rallies in Canada, England, and the United States. YFC also quickly organized a national movement that turned to Bible clubs in the late 50s and 60s, shifting the focus from rallies that emphasized proclamation evangelism to relevant, relational evangelism to unchurched youth.

By the early 70s, churches began to realize the need for specialized ministries to teenagers and began hiring youth pastors. Some of these were former staff members from YL and YFC. With this the church imported the relational strategy of the parachurch movement. During the 70s, youth pastors seeking to reach large numbers of youth for the gospel began to employ a more attractional model. Gatherings with food and live music could draw enormous crowds. Churches found that large, vibrant youth groups drew more families to the church, and, therefore, encouraged more attraction-oriented programs. Later in the decade, this writer watched leaders swallowing live goldfish in both the church youth group and local Young Life club when we brought enough friends to reach an attendance target.

By the 80s the emergence of MTV and a media-driven generation meant church youth ministry became more entertainment-driven than ever. Youth pastors felt the need to feature live bands, video production, and elaborate sound and lighting in order to reach this audience. No longer could a pile of burgers or pizzas draw a crowd. By the end of the decade the youth group meeting was being creatively inspired by MTV and game shows on Nickelodeon. The message had been simplified and shortened to fit the entertainment-saturated youth culture. By the start of the 21st century, we discovered many youth were no longer interested in the show that we put on or the oversimplified message. Christianity was no different from the world around them. Some youth ministries intensified their effort combining massive hype with strong messages that inspired youth but did not translate to everyday life. We realized we were faced with a generation whose faith was unsustainable.

The Result

What happened in all that? First, we moved from parachurch to church-based ministry (though the parachurch continues). In doing so, we segregated youth from the rest of the congregation. Students in many churches no longer engaged with “adult” church and had no place to go once they graduated from high school. They did not benefit from intergenerational relationships but instead were relegated to the youth room.

Second, we incorporated an attractional model that morphed into entertainment-driven ministry. In doing that we bought into the fallacy of “edu-tainment” as a legitimate means of communicating the gospel. Obscuring the gospel has communicated that we have to dress up Jesus to make him cool.

Third, we lost sight of the Great Commission, deciding instead to make converts of many and disciples of few. We concluded that strong biblical teaching and helping students embrace a robust theology was boring (or only relevant to the exceptionally keen) and proverbially shot ourselves in the foot.

Fourth, we created a consumer mentality amongst a generation that did not expect to be challenged at church in ways similar to what they face at school or on sports teams. The frightening truth is that youth ministry books and training events were teaching us to do the exact methods that have failed us. The major shapers of youth ministry nationally were teaching us the latest games and selling us big events with the assumption that we would work some content in there somewhere. In the midst of all this, church leaders and parents came to expect that successful youth ministry is primarily about having fun and attracting large crowds. Those youth pastors in recent decades who were determined to put the Bible at the center of their work faced an uphill battle not only against the prevailing youth culture but against the leadership of the church as well.

The task before us is enormous. We need to change the way we pass the faith to the next generation. Believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we must turn to the Bible to teach us how to do ministry (rather than just what to teach). Students need gospel-centered ministries grounded in the Word of God.


Article printed from The Gospel Coalition Blog: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc

URL to article: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2012/04/02/a-brief-history-of-youth-ministry/

URLs in this post:

[1] Rooted: A Theology Conference for Student Ministry: http://rootedconference.com/

[2] host their 2012 conference: http://rootedconference.com/2012-rooted-conference/

[3] stated this rather boldly: http://books.google.com/books?id=IuVXnxeJsPsC&pg=PT78&lpg=PT78&dq=mike+yaconelli+%22the+failure+of+youth+ministry%22&source=bl&ots=1gXwXWRoCg&sig=nK4FvvT24jq2zF0vm7K_a0Tjd4g&hl=en&sa=X&ei=GglQT93XCOPv0gG19t39DQ&ved=0CFYQ6AEwCA#v=onepage&q&f=false

[4] According to Lifeway Research: http://www.usatoday.com/news/religion/2007-08-06-church-dropouts_N.htm

[5] Almost Christianhttp://www.amazon.com/Almost-Christian-Teenagers-Telling-American/dp/0195314840/?tag=thegospcoal-20

[6] Image: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/files/2012/03/Graham-Youth-for-Christ.jpg

Copyright © 2009 The Gospel Coalition Blog. All rights reserved.

QOTD

“He that knows nothing will believe anything.”

–Thomas Fuller, 1608-1661

"The Intolerance of Tolerance" by D. A. Carson. Review by Tim Challies

Original Review Here

The Intolerance of Tolerance

  • Tim Challies
  • 02/28/12

The Intolerance of ToleranceSeveral times in the past decade D.A.Carson has been asked to give a public lecture at one university or another. Three times he has taken the opportunity to speak on the subject of tolerance, or intolerance, as the case may be. Those lectures proved the foundation of what would become his cleverly-titled new book, The Intolerance of Tolerance.

Here’s the thing: In a society obsessed with tolerance, we are actually not tolerant at all. It’s all a big lie, a big fiction, and we’re all playing along. In order to claim tolerancewe’ve had to rewrite the definition of the term and in so doing we’ve put ourselves on dangerous ground. Tolerance has become part of the Western “plausability structure”—a stance that is assumed and is not to be questioned. We are to be tolerant at all times. Well, almost all times, that is.

Carson begins by showing that tolerance presupposes disagreement. That’s the beauty of being tolerant—one person expresses disagreement with another but still tolerates him, accepting that differing views exists even while holding fast to his own. He puts up with another person even though they do not believe the same thing. But over time there has been a subtle, and sometimes not-so-subtle shift in the word’s meaning. Today’s version of tolerance actually accepts all differing views. We’ve gone from accepting the existence of other views to believing that we need to accept all differing views. This brings us into the natural outworking of postmodernism, a philosophy that denies the singular nature of truth.

Things get trickier still when we see that tolerance is not considered merely a virtue today, but the cardinal virtue, the virtue above all others. “Intolerance is no longer a refusal to allow contrary opinions to say their piece in public, but must be understood to be any questioning or contradicting the view that all opinions are equal in value, that all worldviews have equal worth, that all stances are equally valid. To question such postmodern axioms is by definition intolerant.” To quote Carson, “Oh dear.”

Tolerance rules today with one important caveat. There can be no tolerance for people who do not agree with the contemporary usage of the term. People like Christians, for example. Those who hold to the old meaning, that I will tolerate you even though I believe that you are wrong, sinful even—there can be no tolerance for people like that. Hence this new tolerance is inherently intolerant.

The Intolerance of Tolerance explains this strange new definition, traces its development, shows how it is particularly opposed to Christianity, and discusses what we stand to lose if this intolerant new tolerance continues to reign in society. Carson closes by suggesting ten ways ahead—ten suggestions that each of us can adopt if we wish to combat the new tolerance.

This is not just a book for smart people, but you’ll find it helps. If you’re really smart and well-read you can probably read it once with pretty good comprehension. If you’re like me, you’ll need at least two readings and even then be scratching your head at times. It’s not that it’s exceedingly dense or difficult, but that it deals with categories that are unfamiliar. At least that was my experience. But I’m glad I read it as it helped me crystalize exactly what I’ve seen going on all around me. It’s given me the parameters I need to ensure that I don’t inadvertently lose the better meaning of tolerance and it has given me fair warning of the consequences should I do so.

It is available at Westminster Books ($15.60) or Amazon ($16.03 hardcover, $9.99 Kindle).