Someone pointed me in the direction of this article today. It argues that the answer to youth abandoning faith in Christ is to abandon the youth group. I’m not convinced. But there’s much that I liked about the article.
I like the brief critique of modern youth ministry as too shallow and too entertainment focussed. Though I’m not sure that the English conservative theological constituency are as guilty of this as we once were. Or whether we’re as guilty of it as perhaps many in the States are. Certainly those who trained at Oak Hill under Ian Fry and now Mel Lacy would have no truck with superficial youth work. And anyone who sends people on the Good Book Company training sessions ‘The Bible Centred Youth Worker‘ is unlikely to fall foul of this disparaging assessment.
At CCB we’re definitely not shallow and entertainment focussed. We believe in having fun and we believe in studying the scriptures. That’s why we’ve got the kids’ worker that we have; she embodies both convictions in perfect harmony! We don’t think that application and amusement are mutually exclusive activities. And in addition we encourage our youth workers and to a lesser extent our Sunday School teachers to cultivate relationships of trust with our kids so that they have a context in which they can benefit from personal discipleship. We make the parents aware of this. And we seek their permission. Our ten year old daughter has benefited enormously from the care and encouragement of one of our godly younger women. She doesn’t undermine what Rosslyn and I are trying to accomplish; she’s supplementing it and strengthening it. And we’re all for it. We want to encourage and facilitate a deep quality work done by our leaders with those in their spiritual care.
I like their observation that Fathers need to step up to the plate. They set the spiritual temperature in a family. If Dad’s on fire for the Lord then you can expect the spiritual input to hot up. He may not be able to manage a daily family quiet time but you can guarantee that he’ll make sure there’s something substantial at the weekend and that the conversation over Sunday lunch has something to do with the kids’ slot or what they were thinking about in Sunday School. We’ve been enjoying working our way through ‘Long Story Short‘, which has ten minute devotions five days a week. We take a little longer. We’re hopeless at weekends. But we all contribute and we all pray. And it’s been brilliant. I’m meant to be reading the Bible with our eldest son. They all have a daily Bible story (Explore, Discover and the Action Bible) but we’re trying to go deeper with them as they grow up. It’s just I’m hopeless and we’re running out of mornings. But the intention is there. I’m not convinced that we need to get rid of youth groups. But I am convinced that we need to equip and encourage our Dads to take a lead at home.
I like the emphasis on age and wisdom all too often being absent from youth ministry. I heard Carl Trueman argue for something similar in a recent interview he did with Mark Dever. In one sense you can only staff your youth work with whoever you have available. We’re a congregation in which our oldest member has only recently turned fifty. Overwhelmingly the majority of CCB is in their twenties. They need discipling because many of them are young and immature in the faith. And so our more senior men and women are taken up with that. They can’t also be involved in our fledgling youth work because they don’t have the capacity. And so we have to use our fine young men and women and train them on the job. And yet, I do wonder whether we need to get one or two Mums and Dads in from time to time to be interviewed and provide a more weighty view of life that comes from having lived it a bit longer than everyone else. We have an evening congregation in which many do not also come to our morning congregation. That’s a shame in my view. And it’s why I encourage people to do both if they can. The New Testament expectation is that the old teach the young (we’re studying Titus at the moment). Hard to do that if there are no oldies! But I agree that though we want our kids to encourage one another, we don’t want to create an environment where they are ‘focussed on their peers rather than their parents or their pastors’. I happen to think that the interaction between kids and adults at CCB is one of our strong points. There are several young adults who clearly have a heart for kids and several of our kids are not backward in coming forward!
But I’m anxious that we don’t go overboard in our reaction to these studies. We mustn’t throw the baby out with the bath water. It’s true that there’s no scriptural verse to tell us to have a youth group. And so it’s not mandatory for every church to have one. There’s freedom to try to think through how we grow disciples of Christ in our own contexts. But it’s worth saying that there’s no scriptural verse to tell us to have small group Bible studies either. So should we also get rid of those? Probably not if by having them we can help one another grow in our godly maturity.
It’s a travesty that kids who grew up in youth groups in the States (and perhaps also in this country) no longer profess the faith that they once learned. But there are youth groups and there are youth groups. So if a kid grows up in a rubbish youth group and as a result doesn’t belong to Christ, we shouldn’t therefore write of all youth groups. There are youth groups and there are youth groups. Change the rubbish ones by all means. But don’t get rid of the good ones because the bad ones are, well, bad. The answer to youth abandoning faith in Christ is not to abandon youth ministry but to abandon bad youth ministry.