by Benjamin Kerns
For the past few years, it has been obvious that the culture in which we do ministry has fundamentally changed.
I know that pop culture continues to devolve into twerkfests on MTV, but that is nothing new. What I am seeing that is new, is that the Christian adults within this culture have a totally different worldview and values than those Christians that have gone before them.
There was this time in youth ministry’s heyday where a youth group was made up of the kids of that particular church and their friends. It was important for the kids to be a part of youth group, and if it wasn’t important to the kids, it was at least important to the parents. In fact, much of my early years of student ministry was bemoaning the fact that so many church kids would be forced to come to youth group and cause trouble for me and my leaders. If I only knew how good I had it.
Now, students along with their parents see fellowship, gathered worship, church, and youth group as electives.
Our post-modern, determine-your-own-values-and-reality mindset has finally trickled its way into the local church. Carey Nieuwhof wrote an excellent blog about the 15 characteristics of today’s unchurched person. These 15 characteristics are spot on. But I would actually go further and say that they are not just characteristics of today’s unchurched person, but of every person both in and out of the church. And now church, youth group, and actually any spiritual discipline are firmly on the bottom of the pecking order. This means that if homework, sports, vacation, being tired, practice, fill in the blank, don’t conflict then both students and their parents might consider attending some gathered Christian event like church or youth group.
For adults, this elective version of church involvement doesn’t really have any short-term consequences to their faith. Most Christian adults had some incredible experience in late high school or college and are maintaining that faith as they go through the rest of their life. They can take months or years off of church and fellowship and still have a mostly intact faith. While there is a ton to say about this new cultural expression of Christianity, the parents here are not my concern. My concern is for the faith development of their kids.
These adults have had a significant faith encounter in their youth, but are not helping their own kids participate in the very activities that God used to grab ahold of their hearts when they were younger. And unlike their parents, any significant break in community makes it next to impossible for the adolescent to ever really enter the group later.
Students are relational animals and will only participate in an environment where they have friends and feel welcomed and cared for.
Even the least clique-y youth groups on the planet still have relationships and those relationships have history. If a group of students spend a year doing youth group together, Bible studies, going to the movies, going roller skating and skiing, and going on a mission trip together, there develops a history. A student who chooses youth group simply as an elective and misses out on these memory-making events will naturally feel on the outs, and once they feel on the outs there is little incentive for them to commit.
Add to this the fact that they culturally don’t feel a need to participate, feel little guilt spiritually and see little need for a gathered experience, these poor students don’t really have a chance!
For the sake of their children, adults need to model that commitment to Christian worship and fellowship is not an elective.
This goes against every cultural trend. But for the sake of our kids, for the sake of the students we are called to love and care for, may we help the adults in our lives go old school in their Christian understanding. As much as faith in Jesus is about a “personal relationship,” it can only be worked out in community. And community only happens with students through a safe environment that is an authentic, consistent time together, building memories, and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds!
May we, in a loving and gracious way, sound the alarm and make the case that involvement in student ministry is not an elective course in faith development, but vital for the faith formation of our students.