Monthly Archives: August 2013

Youth Ministry: What’s the Point? 3 (Evangelism)

If youth ministry is going to accomplish a worthwhile purpose it must accept and pursue the purposes of God.  That’s easy to establish in theory but difficult to carry out in practice.  A youth ministry that says it exists for the purposes of God is quite different than one that accomplishes the purposes of God.  The difference between the two is often defined by whether or not leaders and students will do the hard things God has called us to.


Enter…Evangelism—“The active calling of people to respond to the message of grace and commit oneself to God in Jesus Christ.” (Holman Bible Dictionary)  Undoubtedly, evangelism is one of the hard purposes God calls churches, Christians, and youth ministries to live out.  There are three main ingredients in the above definition of evangelism:


1.    “The active calling of people…”  This requires that Christians, individually and corporately, pursue people far and wide, through in-depth relationships AND brief encounters, with the purpose of calling (urging) them toward the God of the universe.


2.    “…to respond to the message of grace…”  The gospel message of salvation is not one that a person can remain indifferent towards.  A person will either fully and freely accept God’s offer of salvation available through Jesus Christ His Son, OR fully reject this offer through blatant denial of truth or an attitude of indifference.


3.    “…and commit oneself to God in Jesus Christ.”  Evangelism has fallen short if it only calls people to respond to the message of grace.  This happens all to often when well-meaning Christians present the ABC’s of becoming a Christian or the Roman Road and believe that the task of evangelism has been completed once a person agrees to receive the gift of salvation.  Salvation includes accepting the gift, but it also requires making a commitment—to place God in Jesus Christ at the center of one’s life.  This commitment in salvation will later be proven by living as a disciple of Christ.


Why is evangelism hard?  Because it requires loving people unconditionally, intentionality and planning, personal maturation regarding Biblical truths and answers, time and hard work, and perseverance.  Leaders must be evangelizing students; students must then be evangelizing other students…and on and on for the spread of the gospel.


Call it evangelism, missions, living missionally, being “on mission”…or any other tagline, this purpose of God is fulfilled when, and only when, Christians actively call others to respond to the message of grace and commit oneself to God in Jesus Christ.  This requires actions AND words.  It requires boldness and courage.  It can be a program, event, or activity; but it doesn’t have to be.  Regardless, youth pastors must prepare themselves, engage themselves, prepare students, and commission students…to GO.  Leave the results up to God, but GO…in grace…with a heart for people…for the benefit of the Kingdom.  This is the purpose of evangelism.   

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Youth Ministry-What’s the Point? 2 (Worship)

Youth ministry—what’s the point?  God has mandated the church and all Christians with the purposes derived from Matthew 22:37—40 and Matthew 28:19—20: worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry.  Let’s begin with worship…


Somewhere during the past two millennia the church traded worship as a lifestyle for worship as an event.  In our consumerist culture everything is an event.  Eating is an event.  Shopping is an event.  Sporting competitions are an event.  School is an event.  And so too church has become an event.  And the highlight of the church event is none other than…the worship service, that is—the music.


During my ten years in youth ministry I have served at a small, medium, and large-sized church (in regard to attendance).  While each church was very different from the other, one thing is sure across the board: everyone has preferences.  Everyone has a preference about how the church should be run, who should be in charge, what programs and activities should be offered and many more tedious items of preference beyond these.  But out of all the possibilities on which one could voice a preference, the debate about the style of the music in worship services rises above the rest.  Personally, I have a wide taste in music.  I love the hymns, I love the praise songs, I love a choir and orchestra, I love a praise team, and I love a live band.  I don’t care for skinny jeans or fog machines in worship, but that’s just my preference.  But at the end of the day guess what…my preference doesn’t matter.  Guess what else…when we have made worship a service or an event we have missed the mark completely.


Worship is a lifestyle.  I am certain that a fair share of students who drop out of church and leave their faith do so because they were never taught about true worship or they never saw worship modeled a lifestyle—a response to God’s greatness and love that involves every aspect as of our beings.  Worship services—the music—is but a minute part of genuine worship of God Almighty.


In Matthew 22 Jesus says the greatest commandment is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind (v.37).”  Can we love God in these ways during a worship services; certainly.  But does loving God in these ways end when the service is over; absolutely not.  In fact, a genuine life of worship involves the other four purposes: evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry.  Worship is a life lived for God, in honor of God, and by the power of God—in every action, word, and thought.  It is a life empowered by the Holy Spirit and also motivated by an obsessive awe of and love for the Lord.


Do our student’s understand worship in this way?  If they do not—if they understand worship only as a service—why would they feel obligated to carry that on into their adult years?  Why wouldn’t we expect students to abandon the church and even their faith when they have never been taught anything beyond worship through attendance in a service?


Youth ministry—what’s the point?  To teach students that worship is a lifestyle and to provide models of a life of worship.  To challenge students to offer their bodies (and hearts and minds) as living sacrifices unto the one who loves and saves them.  Life—every second of it—is our service of worship unto God.  Worship of God is the primary reason we exist.

“Youth Ministry—What’s the Point? 2 (Worship)” is part 1 of forthcoming seven part series written by John Howard, Minister to Students at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon Illinois.             

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Youth Ministry-What’s the Point? 1 (Introduction)

Depending on the article or book you might read, recent research is reporting that anywhere from 40—70% of teenagers who are connected to a youth group will abandon their faith after they graduate from high school.  These same studies present that only half of these “Christian dropouts” will return to their faith and the church later in life.  The most common reaction to the “dropout statistic” is to criticize the church and youth ministry by saying they are not doing their job.  In part, this criticism is valid.  After all, if a youth group were worth a dime, wouldn’t it be churning out modern day Apostle Paul’s?   But because half or more youth group kids are dropping out of church and abandoning their faith the implication is that youth ministry and the church is failing.  Only in major league baseball is heralded for doing their job (hitting the ball) one-third of the time!


Youth ministry is a fairly new movement in the life of God’s church.  Beginning in the 1940’s a ministry called “Young Life” was birthed by Jim Rayburn to reach students with the gospel at local high schools.  This movement birthed national rallies across the US followed by Bible clubs that spun off these rallies.  In the 1970’s local churches began to notice the need for specialized ministry to teenagers. “Youth ministers,” many from the Young Life and Youth For Christ (similar to Young Life), were employed in local churches to lead strategic ministry focused on junior and senior high students.  These youth ministers brought the same mentality they held with YL and YFC, employing efforts in the local church to reach masses of teenagers with the gospel.  Any and every effort that would attract a crowd was used, thus the introduction of “attractional youth ministry.”  In the 1980’s when MTV and other entertainment outlets begun, youth ministry shifted its attention toward entertaining students.  By the 1990’s and 2000’s youth ministry was growing, often without a biblical identity.  Many youth ministries used the attractional and entertainment models of the 1980’s. 


And then the statistic.  The fact that 40-70% of teenagers are dropping out of church and abandoning their faith upon graduation from high school is proof that ministry to teens is not effective when it is attraction and entertainment driven.  Even when students, and often their parents, plea for “fun” and “relevance” history proves that when the church pursues such “ministry” it ends in spiritual failure.  Though youth groups have matured beyond the gimmicky attempts of the 1990’s and early-2000’s, in its place is bright lights, fog machines, fashion trends, watery messages of personal opinion (not the Bible), and technology just to name a few.  Why are so many youth group graduates leaving their faith and the church?  Because many churches and youth groups have failed to gain and live out a biblical identity; rather they pursue contemporary relevance which is a repackaged version of attraction and entertainment driven youth ministry.    


Youth ministry—what’s the point?  God has mandated the church and all Christians with these purposes as derived from Matthew 22:37—40 and Matthew 28:19—20: worship, evangelism, fellowship, discipleship, and ministry.  There is a place for youth ministry, one that is neither specifically mandated nor denied.  So if a church has a youth ministry it must exist for this: to foster an atmosphere whereby the church comes alongside families to lead their teenagers to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ by helping them embrace and pursue God’s (Biblical) purposes for their lives.  At this point it must be understood that parents/families of teenagers have primary responsibility to spiritually guide their children (Deuteronomy 6:4—7).  The church is an extension of a parent/families ministry to their children.  In circumstances where no Christian parents/families exist over a teen(s), the church must step up to the plate and take on additional responsibility much like the Bible mandates for orphans and widows (James 1:27).


The dropout statistic is high because youth ministry and the church have built upon the wrong foundations and accepted the wrong identities.  While being attractional and entertaining have their time and place in youth ministry, they cannot be the grounds for operation.  Rather, churches, youth ministries and parents/families must view the church’s role in teens lives’ as that of claiming, teaching, and pursuing the purposes of God and using things such as attraction and entertainment only to aid in accomplishing His purposes.  While this is not a guarantee that the dropout statistic will be reduced to zero, it is a guarantee that a youth minister and ministry will place themselves in the hands of God to be used for His will in the lives of teenagers. 


“Youth Ministry—What’s the Point? 1 (Introduction)” is part 1 of forthcoming seven part series written by John Howard, Minister to Students at First Baptist Church, O’Fallon Illinois.             




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