This is a continuation of yesterday’s post on some of the concerns surrounding youth ministry as it is often practiced in Evangelicalism today. To read part one click here.
Some Practical Suggestions for Ministering to Youth
For those who may be weary of the extraordinary and want to invest more energy in rethinking how we engage in the ordinary ministry for all generations, including the next, here are a few suggestions. I’m sure others, more experienced than I, can come up with others.
- Turn the youth group into a nursery for faith. In our culture, the “youth culture” is in the driver’s seat, with the goal even of older people to be “forever young.” According to the Scripture, though, sanctification is all about joining the rest of the church in “growing up in Christ” as our head, through the ordinary ministry of pastors and teachers (Eph 4: so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:10-15). In The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers notes how children learn at first by parroting. This stage is perfect for rote memorization, building the stock of Christian grammar that they will use the rest of their lives. Then they begin to question things, looking for the logical connections between different beliefs and reasons for them. (We call this being a teenager!) Finally, they enter the “rhetoric” stage, where they understand, express, explain, and live the faith for themselves. We shouldn’t let our culture’s child-centered educational philosophy keep us from emphasizing rote memorization. However, we also should be ready to accept and even to encourage the questioning stage, so that they can embrace Christ and his Word for themselves.
- Are we preparing younger believers for the communion of saints? When do they actually share in the public service, learning in growing stages to participate in the corporate prayers, confession, praise, giving, hearing, and receiving the Supper? When we include them in the service from the earliest possible years, they grow from fidgety toddlers to gradually appreciate what is happening and that they are equal sharers in it. We should not create alternative services for different age groups during the ordinary worship service, but bring them into the service and worship of the Triune God with his people.
- In the teen years, supplement engagement with the catechism with serious apologetics. What we believe, why believe it, and why it matters for our lives: these are always the coordinates that we have to keep in mind together especially as people enter emerging adulthood. If we show them why these questions are important and invite them to press us on the reasons, they won’t even wonder why there isn’t any pizza and they haven’t gone to Six Flags in months.
- Don’t inculcate in them a fear of the world, but show them how their faith encourages them to engage widely and deeply in the arts and sciences, to reflect on the way technology shapes their lives, to open their eyes to the needs and opportunities in the world. If they go to a secular college—even many Christian colleges—they will be surrounded by a naturalistic worldview. How do you work back from that eventuality to where they are now? Don’t ignore now the challenges that they will certainly face when it comes to questions like creation and evolution. Are Christians afraid of science? How they answer that as college seniors will depend in large measure on how such topics were treated in church and at home. Engage these issues without simplistic and dogmatic assertions. And while exposing the irrationalism of a naturalistic worldview carefully and over time, be wary of basing the Christian faith on precise conclusions about matters on which orthodox Christians differ among themselves. Too many college students have given up their faith at least in part because they were told that Christianity stands or falls on the age of the earth!
- As they become more interested in sharing and defending the faith that they now own for themselves, offer concrete “courses” in how to do it. A great resource is Greg Koukl’s Tactics, where he provides a masterful way of explaining Christian claims and exposing the inconsistencies in alternative worldviews in a winesome and persuasive manner.
- What are the priorities our children have seen in our own lives as they were being raised? When we moved, did we consider where we’d plant ourselves in a local church? Did we go with anticipation, expecting the Father once again to meet us in holiness and grace in his Son and by his Spirit? And did we take this faith seriously enough to commit to regular patterns and habits of family prayer, Bible reading, and catechism in the home?
- Above all, we trust in the Triune God to fulfill his promises to us and to our children through the ordinary means of grace. No more than Finney’s “new measures” can the ordinary means of grace be treated as magical techniques that work simply by doing them. God is sovereign. Covenant heirs, richly bathed, fed, and clothed with the gospel each week may disengage for a while. Some may not return. However, we cling to Christ’s promise to work through the means he has ordained and to bring wandering sheep back into his fold. Pastors, elders, deacons, parents, school teachers, youth leaders, and fellow church members have their distinctive role to play, but only the Spirit can bring sinners to repentance and faith through the Word.