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Generation Me and Youth Ministry Today (Part 2)

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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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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?
  7. 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.

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  • I agree, Leslie. I think mentoring plays a major role in assimilating our youth into the adult church body. And it is not only a blessing to the teens, but to the adults as well. Especially when they enter the "questioning" phase, inviting teens into our homes offers a great opportunity to share how our faith is expressed in the ordinary vocations of everyday.

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  • Guest - Neil Sierocki

    First of all, GREAT POSTS! My wife I I recently returned from a Children's Ministry Conference at the Creation Museum, and they spoke to a lot of what you are saying. However, they said something that I believe does not match what you said here.

    You stated, "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!"

    Somebody at the conference stated that it is important that we teach the younger generations what scripture says, such as the literal 6 day creation, 1 day rest. They explained that it is important because if we waver from what scripture says clearly, it allows the next generation to push the door open further to other clear statements in scripture, such as homosexuality as a sin or something of the like.

    Do you agree or no? Please reply

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  • Guest - Michael Horton

    Dear Neil,

    Although I respect the concern to uphold confidence in Scripture over naturalism, I had exactly the counsel you heard in mind while writing. First, slippery-slope arguments are notoriously, well, slippery. The question is always whether something is true, not whether someone embracing it might take a further step beyond it in a wrong direction. Second, many Christians disagree over the age of the earth who nevertheless share the same view of biblical inerrancy and supernaturalism. In my understanding, the passages adduced as requiring a young earth do not actually support that view. Genealogical records in the Bible are selective, not exhaustive, so we can't just add them together for a total. Furthermore, while there is nothing at stake theologically in affirming an old creation (with a historical Adam and Eve), there is a theological danger in saying that God created a young earth with the appearance of age. We've always affirmed that the "two books" of nature and Scripture agree, but doesn't the young-earth view make it seem as if God has deceived by giving us a revelation in nature that contradicts his revelation in Scripture? Where Scripture does not address (much less settle) this question, we have no reason to dispute the conclusions of scientists.

    In any case, regardless of one's position, we have to be humble and careful not to draw a line in the sand that will be easily crossed in college, if not before. If someone raised in the church thinks he or she has to choose between a young earth and unbelief rather than between Christianity and naturalism, I believe that this is not only wrong but a terrible tragedy.

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  • Guest - Reg Schofield

    Although I agree that the age of the earth is not the end all be all , I have to inject that the more I have read from old earth advocates concerning the teaching that death and decay were part of the universe prior to the fall is problematic for me. I'm not saying that I have all the answers and within my circle of friendships we have a wide spectrum of belief and have had some pretty heated debates concerning these matters but always maintain our respect to differ . But one issue we all agree on emphatically is the historical reality of Adam and Eve and a real historical fall. That is the one issue that if one removes a real Adam , then we have a real problem that I cannot see anyway out of . Would you not agree Dr.Horton that is a teaching that cannot be surrendered without having a cascade effect on many other doctrines and even how we understand Paul.

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  • Guest - Neil Sierocki

    Dr. Horton,
    First of all, thank you for taking your time to comment back. I appreciate your incite and wisdom on theology and ministry. I do not wish to argue, but rather sharpen our faiths as iron does iron (SO BIBLICAL!) :-)

    You stated, "there is a theological danger in saying that God created a young earth with the appearance of age." Could you please expound on what the theological danger is? If God created everything at a particular "age" (ex. a tree known as fully grown to you or me as opposed to a seed or sapling. Or Adam and Eve as 30-year-old as opposed to babies), and at the end called it "VERY GOOD", how would age really be defined? Adam and Eve could have considered themselves young. 150 years of age was possibly considered young to them, seeing how many lived so many years. If you interpret these genealogies differently than I, please tell me.
    You stated, "...doesn’t the young-earth view make it seem as if God has deceived by giving us a revelation in nature that contradicts his revelation in Scripture?" I reply: The theory of man has deceived us and made God look like a liar.

    You also stated, "The question is always whether something is true, not whether someone embracing it might take a further step beyond it in a wrong direction." Do you believe we should guard our faith and the faith of those coming generations by teaching them in such a way that they will not step in a wrong direction? I truly believe that we should be prepared to defined our faith in every moment (IT'S BIBLICAL!) so i believe that we should be teaching apologetically to those under our leadership. And I also believe that the only way to OWN what you believe is by discovering it on your own, but through the guidance of doctrinally sound teachers. If one has stepped in a "wrong direction" but not so much to where the church stops him from teaching, where does one draw the line for the next generation who takes a step further? And so on. It is often quoted, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." We see through history, starting with the Biblical accounts, that mankind continues to repeat his sins, and the similar results occur. The first generation takes one small step, but as it snowballs, it becomes a leap for the coming generations. I believe we individually NEED to draw the line on what we believe, so as to not waver from God. I also do believe that there are particular parts of theology that, as an elder in our church says, "I wouldn't die on the hill" for. Some people choose the age of the earth debate. I would never turn my head from a man who is truly born of the spirit who believed this. I would never tell a student, "You either believe the young-earth, or else you're never coming back here!" Rather, my desire would be for them to be able to defend their position with the authority of scripture before anything else.

    I do not mean to speak as a naive or ignorant Christian, so correct me as you see need. I welcome accountability and correction. THANK YOU AGAIN!!

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  • Guest - Joyce

    Re: the age of the earth: realize that secular scientists are looking at the evidence from one perspective, and young-earthers are looking at the same evidence from a completely different perspective. It is a bit like dispensationalists and amillennialists looking at scripture, actually. Where you begin influences where you end up. There are many brilliant Christians out there who have put forth workable theories about a young earth (try Dr Russell Humpreys, for example) which require no "deception" at all.
    If one cannot believe the miracle of a young earth, why should one believe the miracle of resurrection? The secular scientists say neither one is possible, based on how they see the evidence...

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  • Guest - Erik Williams

    I stand with you on almost all your points expect one, kids of all ages always in the same service with adults. This is a pie-in-the-sky idea that is banking on hope to "just work".

    You indicate how kids move from parroting to rhetoric and beyond clearly articulating how differently kids learn at different stages.

    Is there value to the whole body being together at times? Absolutely.

    Is there as well value to kids learning apart based on their life and learning stage? Absolutely.

    Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

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  • Guest - Kirk

    Dr. Horton - thank you very much for your work. Can you recommend a good catechism curriculum for use at home or at church? We are starting with kids who are in Kindergarten. Thank you again.

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  • "If one cannot believe the miracle of a young earth, why should one believe the miracle of resurrection?"

    1. Because the Bible teaches one and not the other.
    2. The resurrection is the cornerstone of faith for Christians from the first moments of the church. Young Earth/Literal 7 Day Creation is a is point that many Christians have rejected from Augustine to John Piper. One is central, the other peripheral.
    3. Equating the resurrection of Our Lord and Savior with a dubious interpretation of Genesis is exactly why I almost lost my faith. Please think before telling kids this is a hill to die on.

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  • It really is unfortunate that a really good post on ministering to students has evolved into a young earth soapbox.

    As for the suggestions Dr. Horton has offered, they're fantastic.

    Church leaders who minister to youth must create environments where students can openly express their questions, doubts, and struggles without feeling shamed, ostracized, or put aside. Alister McGrath has a great book on the subject called Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith.

    Many of the students I've talked with are experiencing a thick sense of cognitive dissonance about what they've heard about God and what they see in the world. And because many of them have been taught to think about faith with only "in or out," "all or nothing" categories, they feel like they have no middle ground on which to stand and think and pray and believe . . . so they leave.

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