Monday, September 24, 2007

Here's looking at you, kid.

Erasmus* wrote: 'The best hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth."

I wonder, is that also true of a church? When you look at the next generation of your church, the kiddos, do you see future deacons and elders and those who will faithfully serve and take the baton?

Or do you see problems that need to be dealt with so the big people can have church?

At what point do they move from being liabilities at church to being viewed as assets?

We're at a point at Providence Church where we've been at it just over a year and some circumstances contribute to this being a good time to re-evaluate our children's programs.

What are we doing? How well are we doing it? Why are we doing it?

In most churches, there seems to be little emphasis on kids in church. But, why?

Perhaps it's because adults are the givers. Adults have cars and decide where the family will worship. Adults make the decisions regarding church for the family, but priority is often given to things solely dealing with parental happiness and preference.

Yet, children are the most captive audience. They are the most receptive & open audience. As many statistics will affirm, the vast majority of people who claim to be Christians say they became Christians by age 18.

The hardness of their hearts has not hit its zenith yet and they are still willing to listen to silly people like us who tell them things about God.

Thinking the discipleship of children should be a priority in the allocation of resources and time and evangelistic strategies, I wonder what those in the blogosphere look upon favorably regarding the children's programs at their respective churches.

As I don't get to visit other churches, much less get to experience their programs, I ask your help for those non-Providence Church people.

What have you experienced in other churches with regard to children's ministry that you deem effective, or praiseworthy, or otherwise worthy of emulation?

I happen to think we have a responsibility to train up the next generation, not just to be good Americans who stay out of jail, love their spouses, and don't beat their kids. We have a responsibility to turn over the reigns of the church to those we've prepared to far surpass anything we've done in the advancement of the kingdom.

* Erasmus - This Renaissance Humanist was responsible for the first published Greek New Testament (1516), a critical edition called the Textus Receptus (the "received text"). He was also the author of The Praise of Folly, wherein he satirically depicts areas of concern and/or needing reform in the 16th century church. Though he and Luther were greatly at odds over the nature of the will and the manner of reform of the church, Erasmus contributed greatly to the cause of reformation, particularly with these two efforts.


At 24 September, 2007 17:17, Blogger Scott Shaffer said...

I read the following article today by Dan Burrell that addresses some of your questions.

think about things from a more Biblical perspective.

On the “Dumbing Down” of Youth Ministry — Causes and CuresSeptember 24, 2007 at 10:24 am · Filed under Misc. Musings

It has been a tremendous joy and privilege to have served with two of the finest youth pastors I have ever known over the last seven and half years. Ben Rudolph and Frank Shimkus personally embody what I believe a youth director should know and do. I have watched teens (two of which were my own) absolutely blossom and aspire to be used by God under their leadership. However, I also believe that Ben and Frank were rare finds in a church culture that seems bent on entertaining rather than discipling. Much of my impetus in writing this article grew from seeing youth ministry “done right” by these two men (one of whom is now a pastor in Denver, NC) and it is my desire that church leaders re-evaluated what is happening in what passes for “youth ministry” these days.

For too many churches, the youth pastor has become little more than the spiritual equivalent of an activities director on a cruise ship. He plans “events” and activities, they hang out with the kids, they entertain and provide some semblance of oversight in order to keep the kids reasonably safe and occupied. Many churches have designed “youth programs” that allow their teens to grow up with a sense of “entitlement” wherein they expect to be amused, indulged and isolated from the adults with most every whim of appetite and interest being met by the church. They have separate services – sometimes to the point where they never even have an opportunity to go to the adult service which is often described as “dry” and/or “irrelevant” to what they need. (Think about this – many children are growing up in a church culture wherein they never sit under the pastors teaching or with their parents and family in a church service from infancy through adolescence because of our nurseries, children’s programs and youth programs.)

Parents frequently demand that the church hire a youth director/pastor whose primary job description is to keep their kids “engaged” in church – preferably through weekly activities, contemporary music and activities and youth centers equipped with video games and comfortable lounge areas exclusively reserved for teens. Youth pastors are expected to be “hip”, accessible, relevant, and responsible and masters at keeping teens “occupied”.Thus, many teens develop an “us” vs. “them” mentality which sees the older generations within a church (those of their parents and grandparents ages) and many of the “older” generation are quite fine with that because, let’s face it….teenagers can be rowdy, messy and ornery. They become compartmentalized apart from the church “body” with their own facilities, program, ministry leadership, music and calendar. They aren’t encouraged to and sometimes even permitted to be integrated into service opportunities generally reserved for adults like serving as ushers/greeters, participating in the adult choir or even working in various aspects of the children’s ministries. Over the passage of time, they buy into a “consumer” mentality of church wherein they expect to have their “needs met” rather than looking at their role and function within an overall body life.

Today’s youth ministry has been dumbed-down for a variety of reasons and I offer a limited list of causes here:

1. We have created an extended adolescence.Western culture has normalized a premature adolescence and a delayed adulthood that has extended puberty into a nearly two decade-long process that begins with little girls wearing make-up in elementary school and ends up with 30-year old college grads living in our basements with mom still doing their laundry.

2. We do not believe that teens will listen to or have a thirst for strong teaching of Scripture. By listening to our culture, we have bought into the fallacy that kids can’t or won’t tolerate “deep” stuff and that we must “keep it real” by offering them intellectual and spiritual pabulum. We fear challenging our students with meaty subjects might bore them or turn them off to spiritual interest.

3. We have bought into an entertainment mentality that sees keeping our teens occupied as an adult’s obligation.The mantra of today’s teens is often “I’m bored” and angst-ridden parents with inflated sensations of guilt seem all-too-willing to rush to provide more and more activities and distractions for their precious progeny.

4. We fail to recognize the raw potential that most adolescents possess.If you’ll study the culture of families when Jesus walked the Holy Land, you’ll soon realize that most of the 12 who were his disciples were probably in their late teens to middle twenties. Children were expected to put away much of their childhood once they reached majority which is age 13 in Jewish culture. From that landmark age, apprenticeships and jobs were soon to follow with many teens getting married in their mid-to late teenage years. Today’s teens are no less capable of acting maturely and making an impact even in their youth.

5. We have low expectations and even lower accountability for teenagers.Many parents have surrendered their kids to an extended period of foolish behavior marked by rebellion, anti-social (toward adults) behavior, irresponsible conduct and a lack of accountability during which they are “expected” to experiment, sow their “wild oats” and push the limits. Today’s parents expect too little from their teens and seem more than willing to shrug their shoulders and roll their eyes at behavior that could threaten their health and heart for many years.

So with those causes in mind, what are some challenges that youth pastors should consider in bringing back some sanity to our strategy for spiritual development among adolescents? Here are some thoughts.

ü Emphasize teaching, not activities.

Expectations need to be changed as to what parents and their teens should expect from their youth ministries. If it’s about drawing a big crowd of kids – then build a huge lounge, order the PS3’s, buy a pizza oven and hire a band. If it’s about training young people in Scripture and equipping them for ministry, then let every parent know up front that the youth ministry does not view it as the church’s responsibility to provide recreation, entertainment, amusement and a complimentary buffet on a weekly basis. Kids need to spend more time at home, not less. Mom and dad would be smart to park the cars in the driveway for a few years and turn their garage into a family “rec center” and have their kid’s friends over to their house. Let the church be used for equipping. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have the occasional fun activity or food – it just means that it is the occasional treat not the expected norm.

ü Have a “grown-up” youth pastor.

The kids don’t need their youth pastor to be their “buddy” – he needs to be their pastor. He doesn’t need to dress like a mortician, but he doesn’t need to pretend he’s sixteen any more either. (There are few things more pathetic in the world than an adult who refuses to grow up. Neither real grown ups nor real teenagers respect that.) Balance is essential in being an effective ministry leader. The youth pastor must be mature enough to know what his objectives should be, where his boundaries should lie, where the authority should reside and how to move students forward spiritually.

ü Challenge teens toward maturity.

Our Western culture exalts values that promote rebellion – from hard-edged rock-n-roll to extreme sports to uncensored expression. It’s almost become synonymous with being “American”. Fast cars, loose morals and risky business in all its permutations have been the generational mantra from James Dean to Tom Cruise to Britney/Lindsey/Paris. But even many teenagers are now becoming aware of the soulless vacuousness of such a lifestyle. They desire something more substantive, more concrete, and weightier. Certainly not every teenager is sick of low expectations, but there is a core that is ready to get a jump on their peers and start taking life appropriately seriously.

ü Spotlight Prioritizing

Youth leaders can train teens by teaching them to comprehend establishing priorities in their life. What role is authority going to play in their lives and where is that authority found? Every teen should be confronted with the principal of “First Priorities”. Are we willing to give the Lord the first and the best in what we do vocationally, with whom we will spend it (marriage), how we will spend our money and how we will use our talents and gifts?

ü Teach Doctrine, Apologetics and Rhetoric

Many within fundamentalism have bought into an “isolationist” mentality that withdraws from the world rather than engages it with Truth. Without a doubt, it is foolish to shove our kids into a world system intent on ignoring and countering spiritual truth without adequate preparation. Today’s youth ministries have an opportunity and an obligation to equip our next generation of leaders with a sound grasp of Biblical doctrine, the education to tell people “why” they believe what they believe and the skill to fluently communicate and articulate Truth and it’s logical defense in the public forum.

ü Encourage Service and Ministry

In a generation that’s “all about me”, Christian teens can make a difference by living out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. By this author’s definition, service involves using our skills and talents to be a blessing to others and ministry involves directly bringing the souls of men and women into contact with the Word of God. Our teens can learn and practice service and ministry at an earlier age than most give them an opportunity to do so.

ü Promote Cross-Generational Interaction

Rather than isolating our kids from the older generation, we should be integrating the generations. There is much that older generations can teach teens and there is much that teens can do to inspire and encourage older generations. This will mean that we, of the older generation, are going to have to accept the fact that today’s teens aren’t quite like they way we were and to patient with them as they grow into maturity. It also means that teens are going to need to be taught respect and consideration for those who have traveled a few more miles down the road than they. Our current approach of inflexible isolation is making generational transfers of ministry and leadership difficult and at times, impossible.

ü Include the Pastor in the Ministry

The lead or senior pastor needs to be plugged in to the teens of his church flock. He needs to spend time with them, preach to them, and get to know them. He should be a cheerleader for them. Too often, teens view the senior pastor as some out-of-touch stiff who wears a suit and prays in King James English. No wonder he makes little, if any, impression on them. Most people in ministry today surrender to go into the ministry in their teens with the fast majority doing so by the time they were fourteen years of age. Any pastor who spends time with his teens is using his time wisely. The youth pastor isn’t a substitute for the senior pastor; he should be an extension of him.

ü Create a positive spirit toward the youth

It’s long been a sort of sport to trash-talk teenagers. Sure, they are pimply, hormonal, gangly, unpredictable messes in sneakers. But they are also witty, gifted, vibrant, gregarious, curious, reflective gifts from God as well. Let everyone else put them down and diminish them in word and deed, but let the church and her leadership be their cheerleaders. When we project a love, enthusiasm, interest and confidence in our teens, we will create a positive spirit and a positive relationship that will benefit both sides of the generational divide.

ü Train and Equip the Parents and not just the Teens

Today’s generation of parents who have teens often grew up in dysfunctional homes themselves. These are the parents who first experienced the consequences of the 50% divorce rate. These are the parents who parents had tuned out during the free-love, drugs and rock-n-roll craziness of the 1960’s and 70’s. Many of these parents did not have a stabilizing, spiritual role model during their own formative years and the church has an opportunity to train and equip them as the parent their teens. Church youth pastors and ministries ought not to be a general substitute for parents, but rather an extension of them. We can serve the teens by serving the parents and helping them to adopt healthy leadership strategies and Biblical values in their God-given roles.

Today’s ministry leaders need to smarten up and counter the dumbing down of the youth ministry. There is an unfathomable well of opportunity at hand and the wise pastor and spiritual leadership must recognize it and the alert and conscientious parent should anticipate it as they work together to see teens come of age into the leaders God created them to be.

Feel free to share your additional thoughts in the comment section. I would particularly love to hear from folks who have been blessed by a youth pastor or youth ministry and what it was about him or the ministry that helped them.

This article was written for and can also be found at “Sharper Iron“.

At 24 September, 2007 19:12, Blogger M. Jay Bennett said...

Great thoughts Gun!

I have a couple things (in true Edwardsian fashion) that I think are important for ministering to children:

(1) Understanding. Kids are primarily in the category formation stage of their lives. Their general world view will be pretty much set before they leave high school. That's why I think catechetical training is so vital for the kiddos. It gives them the categories with which they can construct a biblical world view. Spurgeon's is an excellent Reformed baptist catechism.

(2) Affections. As difficult and inconvenient as it may be, I think the earlier children can learn to participate in the worship service the better. Much truth is communicated when children view adults worshiping together, even if they aren't able to understand much of what is being said or affirmed by the adults. Memories from my own childhood of the sweetness of adult attitudes during and after worship are precious to me. I can't remember a single sermon or even a single phrase spoken from my early childhood, but I remember the warmth of the smiles, the kindness of the eyes, and the sense of deep love, which in retrospect I believe was the love of God among his people.



At 24 September, 2007 20:12, Blogger Lionel Woods said...

If the ball is dropped by the next generation it is because it was a bad pass. We are to busy entertaining, we think that will win them. I pray for my son and thank God for The Westminster and other great confessions and Chatechisms.

At 24 September, 2007 22:09, Blogger GUNNY said...


Great stuff on Youth Ministry. Thinking of youth in terms of teens, I think most churches deal with the fruit of anemic children's ministries.

They fail to teach much beyond "Noah was the guy who built the ark" and "God will help you slay the giants in your life, like He did for David." Consequently, teens are produced who expect to be entertained and parents are content as long as their kids stay off drugs and aren't involved in teen pregnancy.

So, churches encourage their youth leaders to cater to "felt needs" and boost their self-esteem. Amen, youth peeps? Any of you have that experience in the past?

Another thing that I repeatedly think back upon is the approach a church takes towards teens/youth. Are the youth seen as big kids or are they seen as young adults?,

Jay, great thoughts, expecially from your own perspective. I've appreciated Spurgeon's catechism personally and know we've benefited from using it at church. I've thought many times, however, about creating one as a church that would be more updated language-wise and less verbose in places, but it's a hard one to top.

Jay, do you think these issues are approached necessarily in a different manner depending on whether a church is credo or paedo?

I think at times it's more difficult for us Baptists because of the ambiguity of whether or not you treat them as believers with regard to expectations.

I would anticipate less complications in the paedo community because they are members of the New Covenant and expected to keep covenant.

Lionel wrote: "If the ball is dropped by the next generation it is because it was a bad pass."

Well said, and very appropriate metaphor in light of the most recent Cowboys victory.

At 25 September, 2007 13:37, Blogger samurai said...

I have been worried about the youth in my local church for sometime. I've even left a church because of this concern.

I am in prayer to see what God would have me do... right now I am just as active as I can be with my own children - especially with son #2 who has Aspergers.

Your blog is becoming a daily read for me... thank you for taking the time to post.

At 25 September, 2007 15:43, Blogger Scott Shaffer said...


John Piper has a brief Baptist catechism. You can find it at Desiring God's web site, somewhere in the resource section.

At 25 September, 2007 16:13, Blogger GUNNY said...

Thanks, Samurai, for your kind words. I think churches need to be aware of just how huge a concern these issues are becoming with families.

Personally, I'm often at a bit of a disadvantage. I didn't grow up going to church, so I have no experiential frame of reference with regard to what I liked or didn't or saw that was effective or not.

That's why I appreciate so much the aspect of the affections shared by Jay the Bennett.

Scott, thanks for that. That sounds familiar, but I don't think I ever tracked it down. I will now for sure.

At 25 September, 2007 23:00, Blogger Kyle said...

Hey Gunny, you might try to contact Providence Community Church.. it seems that had a good children's ministry.

At 26 September, 2007 00:31, Blogger GUNNY said...

Good stuff on the catechism adapted by John Piper.


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