The Death of Youth Ministry (pt 6) | So What’s next?

I think we can all agree, youth ministry is awesome! I loved being in youth ministry and I loved working in youth ministry even more, but I have come to a realization that something has to change.Through the death of youth ministry series we have identified some issues that most people haven’t even realized are issues, probably because they are too busy just doing ministry.

This is probably a common occurrence in any type of ministry or business. Most of us are so caught up in the day to day, that we can’t be concerned with what things might look like in a year, 5 years, or 10 years. Not to mention the fact that a lot of youth workers just don’t have the freedom in their jobs to make major changes to the youth ministry structure.

So what changes need to be made?

The biggest problem with youth ministry is that it exists because churches are unwilling to make church palatable to youth. So we have to create a church within a church to meet their needs. I will balance that by saying, that in the western world ‘youth culture’ is a reality that must be addressed.

The problem that the ‘church within a church’ model creates, is generation after generation that doesn’t know how to be a part of a church. So we are forced to continue this cycle by creating a ‘college service’ and then a ‘singles service’. I don’t have a problem with these ministries existing, in fact I think they are important, but we need to be honest about why they exist and what their purpose is.

So the question is this:

What will need to change in youth ministry in order for it to come back to the church and assimilate?

The Death of Youth Ministry (pt 5) | The Bible Doesn’t Take it Serious

I have tried to be clear at the start of each post on the death of youth ministry series that I think youth ministry has done a lot of good. It’s clear that there are a lot of people that started their spiritual journey in a youth group setting. What this series is about, is the coming change that we are going to see in youth ministry. The youth group models that we see for the most part in America are or will be irrelevant, and the conversation needs to happen regarding what is next for youth ministry.

This post should be a short one, because the Bible doesn’t say anything about youth culture or youth ministry.

One of the cornerstones on which the church is built is the Bible, we can all agree on that. But what does it say about youth ministry? Youth workers like to quote that verse from Timothy all the time because a lot of translations use the word youth. And it is really the only place we see the word used.

Up until the industrial revolution in the western world, youth culture did not exist. You went from being a child to being an adult almost overnight. Depending on where you lived and what sort of future you were going to have, the age would vary.

The Bible is more specific about what age you became an adult and most of us know that age is 13. At 13 you started your career doing what your family did, and for a select few, you would become a disciple and study Torah even further.

This seems to ring true still today for most of the world. You get your basic education and then work with your family, or you continue your education, either way, at the point you would be considered an adult.

So what are we to do?

I believe ministry and evangelism strategies need to be geared toward the culture that is being targeted, and in America that means we have to target youth. This also tells me that youth ministry should not be a sacred cow that is mandated by scripture, because it is not. Youth ministry is however a matter of cultural relevance, which means maybe we shouldn’t take it too seriously and be willing to tweak our ideas to match what is happening and what is coming in our culture.

A lot of people would say that they wished they had spent more time preparing to be a successful adult and less time trying to be a successful youth.

And that’s the point. Are we using youth ministry as a platform for making youth successful or as a place to prepare them to be successful adults. And by success, I mean in the Kingdom sense. I believe the former is true. This is indicated by the 80% drop off rate we see in the average church in America.

So how do we balance the Bible’s lack of insight into youth culture and the reality of western culture?

The Death of Youth Ministry (pt4) | Youth Pastors Don’t Take it Serious

::read the whole series::

I have been asked a couple times where this series is headed. After the deconstructing, will we see a solution? Yes. As with anything we do in ministry, we should put all our cards on the table from time to time and ask the tough questions. Maybe we need to do some drastic overhaul, or maybe just a few little tweaks. Who knows.

When we invented this thing called youth ministry it wasn’t long before we had to have youth pastors to care for and manage the ministry. It makes sense. But there have been some problems along the way and they are not all the youth pastor’s fault.

So here are some of the issues we have seen in youth pastors:

Stepping Stones
This tends to be a bigger deal in some denominations and less so in others. You graduate from bible college and you want to be a pastor, a teaching/senior pastor. Prior to the invention of youth ministry in the seventies, it was very common for pastors to plant churches and/or be hired as senior pastors right out of college or seminary in their early twenties. Today this has become all but unthinkable and you rarely see a teaching pastor under thirty anymore.

So instead young pastors are forced to use youth ministry as a stepping stone to what they really feel called to do. I think this is the case more often than we are willing to admit. Someone who is just waiting for an opportunity to move on will not have the passion and drive that is needed for success.

Broken Will
Youth pastors every where sit in board meetings having idea after idea shot down. Weekly, they have parents make clear to them that they value youth ministry as little more than a good time. Youth pastors are relegated to managing a little church within a church and often have a hard time fitting in with the church as a whole.

Youth pastors are in the desert and it’s hard. They can hardly be serious about their ministry when they are hanging on by a thread to a dead end job.

It sounds less like youth pastors are not taking youth ministry seriously and more like youth pastors are not taken seriously_

The Death of Youth Ministry (pt 3) | Parents Don’t Take Youth Ministry Seriously

This is probably going to be one of the touchier subjects in the series on the Death of Youth Ministry. I am a parent, although my children are not yet teenagers, I understand the feelings and emotions that motivate and sometimes cloud the judgment of parents, I am guilty of the same clouded judgment. If you are touchy, please scroll down and read the conclusion first.

As a former youth pastor I can say that the greatest assets of a successful youth ministry is supportive and active parents, but at the same time the biggest road block is parents who just don’t get it. The 80/20 rule applies here, wherein about 80 percent of parents don’t get it.

Let me qualify the evidence by first setting the stage. Youth Pastors have (or should have) a single focus of caring for the spiritual journeys of youth. Youth pastors run everything about a students life through a lens of spirituality. This is the point of friction between parents and youth pastors that I think a lot of people miss. Let’s be honest, parents or otherwise, most people struggle to run their own life through a spiritual lens. And I do give parents a pass, because most of us are just figuring this thing out as we go along.

Parents generally have two priorities for their kids before they worry about their spiritual growth, safety and success. Neither of which is a value that I can find a Biblical mandate for Christians to have. We want our kids to be alive tomorrow, simple. We also want them to have a reasonably easy life. I can’t fault that. But the truth is, Christianity does not value either…man does. Christ promises us food to eat and clothes to wear, that’s it.

The evidence:

Lack of Priority
Time and time again I would run across parents that have a totally different view of the importance of youth ministry. If parents truly believed in the purpose and value that we want youth ministry to have, then it would be the most important thing their kids did, but it’s not. Soccer, football, dance, boy scouts, band, video games, TV and countless other things parents allow to hold as high a value and commitment as spiritual growth. These things could be a great way for students and parents to show their commitment to God and youth ministry by missing games and skipping practice once a week to go to youth group. This would be a great witness to coaches and peers as youth show the people in their life what is most important. But maybe youth ministry as we know it is not what it is cut out to be. Maybe it’s just another thing on the schedule.

Youth Ministry Leverage
Parents let us know what they think youth ministry really is when they use it as leverage against their kids. You know the scenario; Billy got into trouble and is now ‘grounded‘ from youth group for two weeks. Jamie got bad grades and will not be going to summer camp. Loud and clear youth ministry is defined as just something fun that kids do, not something of value that would shape their lives. You would think that the best place for kids to be when they are struggling is around people who are trying to invest in them spiritually. But we have made it known what youth ministry is, just something fun to do_

Youth Ministry ER
Every year we see the couple of parents who’s kids are not involved in youth ministry until something dramatic happens. This is the opposite of the leverage parents, where Billy got bad grades, or did drugs and now needs to be ‘fixed’ by the youth pastor. At first thought it seems like a complement that they would think of the youth ministry as a place to go for help, and it can be. But the reality is that the parents don’t see the truth that most of the time what ever problem that exists is a result of them. Again I won’t fault parents for this, since I am just as guilty of blowing it on many things. The fact that youth ministry is viewed as a dumping ground says a lot about it. Rather than being viewed as a holistic ministry to families it is viewed once again as a separate church for kids.

If you mis-read this post you think I am railing on parents, but I am not. I think all of these parents are right. They have an accurate picture of what youth ministry really is, the youth ministry that we have built really looks like this, parents are not missing the point, youth ministry has been clear about what it is.

Perception is reality, and the perception of parents is not what youth ministry advocates want it to be…but it is the truth.

Read the series :: intro :: the church doesn’t take youth ministry seriously

The Death of Youth Ministry (pt 2) | The Church Doesn’t Take it Seriously

The local church as a whole does not take youth ministry serious. This is clear from the fact that youth ministry actually exists as I pointed out in pt 1.

The evidence:

Youth Pastor Pay
Group Magazine just released their 2007 youth pastor salary report. Now, I will admit it, I live in Southern California and the cost of living here is just stupid. Group broke their report down to regions and the west is at 42,000 just like the rest of the country, that includes benefits. the reality is that actual dollars to live on are 32,500.

Let’s put that in real terms, like buying a house. To buy a house that you can actually afford it is suggested that you not finance more than 3 times what you make in a year. Anything more than that and you are going to feel it in other areas and basically be a slave to your mortgage. This fact is starting to show it’s head in the form of foreclosures all over the country. I don’t know about where you live but a 90,000 house does not exist here. And I can imagine that in areas where they do exist, youth pastor pay is well below the national average.

What does this say about youth ministry? First, youth pastors need not actually be a part of the community that our church is in. That is to say, youth pastors cannot afford to live in the communities they are asked to minister to.¬† No wonder average tenure is less than two years. Youth pastors can’t afford to grow roots.

Need vs. Want
I have found that most churches¬† do not need youth pastors when they hire one…it’s more that they want one. Here are the numbers based on One Size Doesn’t Fit All, by Gary McIntosh. Gary states in his book that for every 150 people you have in a church you can support a pastor on a median income for their given community and also cover budget needs and other peripheral costs. He also says that a growing church needs to plan ahead and add a new pastoral staff person for the next 100 people in order to properly care for the new people.

So what does this mean? The same numbers should apply to youth pastors too. A church shouldn’t hire a full time youth pastor unless they have or are about to have at least 100 students.

A few years ago when I was getting ready to plant another church, I entertained a call to come and sit with a ‘search committee’ of a church of about 125 people. They thought they might want me to be their new youth pastor. I quickly derailed their ‘interview’ into an introspective time of what that church really needs. The church wanted a youth pastor and didn’t need one. The key families now had high school students and thought this was the norm.

What happens in a small church is that the direction of the church is driven along by a few key families. When the kids or grandkids of the key families become youth, then generally a youth pastor is added…needed or not.

The Little Things
The church needs some work done on some old lady’s house. Call the youth group.

We have a special event on a Friday night and we need to staff the nursery…Call the youth group.

Let’s throw the youth a bone once or twice a year and let them have a ‘youth Sunday’ dog and pony show.

The youth pastor approaches the board for a few bucks out of the missions budget for a youth ministry missions trip. The response; the youth have a budget.

The ‘youth pastor as stepping stone’ to a real pastor syndrome.

I know there are some exceptions out there and I also know there are more horror stories too. How else does the church as a whole not take youth ministry serious?

The Death of Youth Ministry | Introduction

We have built a monster in the last 25 years…youth ministry. If you are a Gen Xer like me, then there is a good chance that your spiritual journey started in a youth ministry setting. You can almost taste it, the youth room you were in several times a week. The sounds, the sights, the people. It was a huge part of you life, and for some it was the period in your life where it all started. And for a lot of people, spiritual journeys ended soon after.

Please understand, I think youth ministry is a great thing, I do however think it has a lot of flaws that we have been unwilling to talk about. Sacred cows if you will. And like anything we need to start at the beginning.

Youth ministry exists as an afterthought.
Youth ministry got its start because churches are unwilling to create an environment that meets the needs of young people. So instead, we created churches within churches and called them ‘youth groups’.

Eventually these youth groups needed to become more independent as churches within churches and we created youth pastors.

The youth groups were so good at being relevant and meeting the needs of youth that when the students graduated they had no ability to be a part of a stagnant adult run church.

So for the last 25 years we have been raising Christians that have no idea how to be a part of a church. Don’t get me wrong, ‘adult’ churches are just as messed up as anything else that is run be broken men.

Over the next few months I will layout what it is that I think is wrong with youth ministry and maybe together we can come up with some ideas on how to fix it_