Archive for September, 2011

Divided : a strong backlash against youth ministry

There is a movement growing in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) towards family integrated churches.  You can watch a documentary from their perspective at  You have to sign up for their mailing list to view it for free.  I found it very intriguing. 

A house church is a family integrated ministry.  Nothing is separated by age group.  In their main thrust I find some of common ground.  The main points of the video are:

  • Youth ministry is a relatively recent invention that follows the societal shift towards age segregated youth education. 
  • It is largely a failure as a ministry strategy in recent years as somewhere between 40 and 80 percent of people leave the church once they go to college. 
  • Youth ministry is unbiblical.  Nowhere in the scriptures is age segregated ministry described.

It is this last point that I found the most intriguing.  I am all for considering the bible an authority on how we structure church.  I agree with the notion that youth ministry is hard to find scripture.  What seems a little ironic about it is they don’t seem to apply this same standard to the rest of their church practices.  It was surprising to watch a pastor talk about how he gave up on youth ministry because it is unbiblical while sitting in a posh, movie theatre style sanctuary.  Such a setup wouldn’t really be consistent with Paul’s description of the church in 1Cor 12-14.

It it would be easy to take this argument against youth ministry to absurd.   I can’t find documentary’s or the Internet in scripture either so maybe we shouldn’t use those either.  Just because we don’t find something in scripture that doesn’t mean it is “unbiblical.”  The question has to go deeper than that. 

This movement can quote Eph 6:4 all day long and I know how people will respond.   They will say the existence of youth ministry is designed to supplement the work of parents not replace it.  It is the parents fault for not discipling their own children.  They will be correct to a degree.   The truth is so many parents are biblically and theologically illiterate.  They would not have the first clue of how to disciple a child.  They’ve never been discipled themselves.  Why?  Because conventional church ministry is not strong on discipleship for adults either.

I don’t think canceling Sunday school and youth group and having everyone together in a conventional worship service is going to make that much of a difference.  I imagine the solutions purposed by this group do go deeper than that, but the documentary doesn’t suggest anything deeper.  It would be interesting if they did another documentary on the hang ups and obstacles for parents in discipling their children.  That really is the issue.  By trashing youth ministry they seem to be demonizing the bandaid instead of addressing the wound.  Would we still need the bandaid if parents could disicple their children?  Probably not.

That being said there is much to criticize in the entertainment oriented approach of current youth ministry.  I was part of a youth group that had a lot of scripture and discussion and most of those people were still in church after they left home and most even went to bible school. 

I’m going to watch this debate.  I’ve already seen some very harsh criticism of this movement, and some of it seemed over the top irrational. It will be interesting to see if it evolves.

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