Thou shalt not check Facebook before going to bed.
I’m thinking that is going to be my new personal commandment. Seriously. Last night I was up WAY too late analyzing, over-analyzing, and questioning my purpose in ministry. It was ugly and it had my head (and heart) spinning. As I was taking my nightly scroll down Facebook Lane, I couldn’t help but notice (mostly because the FB gods reminded me) that a large number of my friends had shared the same link to an intriguing article. Obviously I had to click the link . . . after all, it was titled:
And what is one of the things I do for a living? I’m a volunteer youth pastor (my part-time paid position is as our church’s Children’s Director). Naturally, it had me at hello and as I dove into the rabbit hole, my heart sank with every paragraph. I guess it came at just the right time though, because I had actually been riding high through the stressful day of prepping stuff for Sunday’s ministry on the simple, sweet compliments I’d gotten from our pastoral staff that morning about how well things were going with the youth ministry and how they’ve noticed some great positive changes. Still, it wasn’t enough to hold the line amid the confusion I found in that article as I laid in bed near tears, ‘butt-hurt’*, and discouraged.
One excerpt stuck in my mind the most:
According to a new five-week, three-question national survey sponsored by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC), the youth group itself is the problem. Fifty-five percent of American Christians are concerned with modern youth ministry because it’s too shallow and too entertainment-focused, resulting in an inability to train mature believers. But even if church youth groups had the gravitas of Dallas Theological Seminary, 36 percent of today’s believers are convinced youth groups themselves are not even biblical.
Ouch. Just. Ouch. I mean, I just finished up a youth service on Sunday where I spoke to the students about developing healthy relationships with their parents and now the guilt of using entertainment clips and pop culture references (also well-balanced with scriptures and in-depth perspective of those scriptures) is suffocating me. How did I get it SO wrong? I thought I was winning . . . but I guess that’s what losing looks like through rose-colored glasses. I’m obviously losing because YOUTH GROUPS THEMSELVES ARE NOT EVEN BIBLICAL. Excuse me while I GDIAF.** +
It was years ago that I first felt that “calling” from the Holy Spirit to use my gifts, talents, abilities, passionate pursuits, time, and energy into investing in the lives of young people through the venue of youth ministry. Even to this day, the teenagers that I teach every week and walk through life with are my burning passion. The moments when they come up to me to share what God is speaking to their hearts; The testimonies they ask to share in front of their peers; That moment when they realize they not only have incredible value, but are catalysts of hope for future generations is what just GETS my heart excited! That I get to spend time with them where they can show their full selves, unashamed to be judged by an adult is priceless to me. It’s in those teachable moments I thrive because I get to remind them of biblical principles in practical ways that cause them to think (without shame or guilt) about why they are doing what they are doing. We have tough, honest, real conversations that I know they may not be having with their parents. And I get that it’s a big issue brought up in this article—the disconnect between parents and teens—but to assume that all youth pastors are trying to be the parent to these teens is just plain incorrect. I personally don’t want to be their parent. I LOVE their parents and I could NEVER EVER EVER in a million years replace their parents. I simply exist as a youth pastor to coach them, to pray my guts out for them, to help them understand the Bible in a relevant way, and show them how to practically apply the truths found in the Word of God in their everyday life. I also know that their parents want to do the same thing, but sometimes struggle with the “how” of it all. It has happened on more than one occasion that a parent has approached me saying that they don’t know how to talk to their kids about certain topics. So we dialogue and work as a team to put it on their child’s level. That’s the other part I LOVE about my job—being a teammate with incredible parents!
The article goes on to say:
He continues, “I am greatly encouraged by the results of our survey. American Christians are finally waking up to the disconnect between the clear teaching in Scripture in favor of family-integration and the modern-day church’s obsession with dividing the family at every turn. Age segregation, especially during the tender and impactful teenage years, not only hasn’t worked, it’s been detrimental. Even worse, it is contrary to the Bible. But the good news is that practices in the churches related to youth groups are changing dramatically. Twenty years ago no one was even asking this question.”
I will be dead honest with you—this part “ate my dinner.” When our youth group was meeting on Sunday mornings, the beautiful connection was that our students were required to join their families for the main worship service, and then meet up with us in the youth room after the post-praise and worship coffee break. That was a non-negotiable for me, but now that we have a Sunday night service, the requirement is that they choose to either sit in the full service with their parents or come downstairs to volunteer with our Children’s Ministry. Some sit upstairs just fine, some would rather be downstairs, teaching and assisting the younger kids during their praise & worship and Bible lesson. I truly value the inter-generational worship that happens when teens and adults are in the same room, but I’m also okay with that inter-generational worship happening with the teens and younger children in our Children’s Church setting.
Sadly, and I may face the “not-so-well-done-good-and-faithful-servant” judgement for this when I get to heaven, but I’m not entirely against age segregation when it comes to teaching the Bible. And yes, I know, as mentioned above, that makes me an unbiblical Christian, but it’s where I’m at. I have heard from many students that (in regards to a traditional all-church Sunday morning message) they simply cannot sit still for that long of a message; that the message is over their heads; or that the teaching doesn’t really apply to them. Does that suck, yeah it does. But I’d be a fool to say that I don’t know exactly where they are coming from. I was totally that teen that had a hard time being honest about my life with my parents (one of which was not a Christian) because of our unstable home life and family culture. I told my Small Group Leaders MUCH more than I ever would have told my parents about my life and they helped me rebuild the bond with my folks, and ultimately, Christ. It was tough for me to sit through a sermon in the main service because the “songs were so old school” or I didn’t understand why I should focus on putting God first when it came to my mortgage payments, office parties, or marriage counseling sessions. I was bummed that we never played fun games or had object lessons in the main church service. Maybe that’s why I’m a youth pastor. Maybe it’s not about wanting to teach the Bible in a new way to empower teens to understand who they are and whose they are. Maybe it’s not about that desire to enable them with practical tools, scriptural guidance, and a safe place to discover a sure faith that they can continually grow in beyond High School, through College, and carry into their own families. Maybe it’s just because I hated sitting through an adult church service as a kid. I guess I just loved my unholy youth group WAY too much. Am I against kids sitting in the main service with their parents? Not in the least! On the other hand, I’m also not opposed to giving kids another option if they are not in a place where they can get the most out of said main service.
While I get that this article’s main agenda is to put a fire under parents to be their pastors at home (which I’m in full favor of), I don’t necessarily agree that youth group is wrong. I think it depends on the motivation and networking behind the youth group. Every week, I put together a Children’s Ministry newsletter, which lays out a recap of both our kid’s church teaching from that past Sunday, and the sermon notes from our youth service that past Sunday. I do that because I WANT the parents to talk with their kids through the week about what they learned. I want them to dialogue and dig deeper into what the Bible says on those particular topics, as they apply to where that child is spiritually, mentally, physically, and emotionally. It isn’t my desire to cause disconnect, but just the opposite, through our ministry. I believe with all my “unbiblical heart” that it is entirely possible for young kids, teens, college students, parents, KidMin pastors, youth leaders, youth pastors, and lead pastors to team up and work together to empower each other as we pursue a practical, faith-filled relationship with Christ, even if we do allow kids the option to attend Children’s or Youth church services instead of the main service.
I admit, the article has a lot of great points, some valid opinions, and convicting statements. I’m not yet a point where I’m ready to go to our pastoral staff and say, “Look, youth ministry is a joke and it’s worthless and unbiblical, so let’s just end it now!” However, I am looking forward to wrestling with those convictions in the article in regard to where our youth ministry is at. I went to bed hopeless, woke up with a headache, and yet, I still can’t shake this notion that what I’m investing into these kids is completely meaningful and effective on some level. I realize I won’t be their youth pastor forever . . . and if this article proves to be a turning point in how church programming evolves, time and circumstance might just boot me out quicker than I’d like. I’m not even the best youth pastor, coach, or mentor—but even so, I want to take advantage of every moment I can to be a positive coach, pastor, mentor, for every student that walks into our church. I just pray for the grace, wisdom, and understanding it will take to shut the door on that chapter of my life when the time comes. In the meantime, you can just call me that Ungodly Girl Who Loves And Wants To Empower Kids With All Her Heart*** . . . erm . . . UGWLAWTEKWAHH for short . . . you know, Amo works just as well, I guess.
* Offended by something simple that should be easy to “get over.”
** Teen-speak for “Go Die In A Fire.”
+ I am, however, going to do more study and spend time in meditation/prayer on this topic.
** To all the parents whose teens I end up pushing away from God years down the road, please consider this my huge apology in advance. If it makes you feel any better, I hope that my kids get involved with a youth ministry and other positive influencers at some point in their lives. And to my future child’s youth pastor, please work with me—I’ll need your help!