Youth Ministry and the Future of the Church Part 5

Primary Audience – Local Context
Secondary Audience – Fellow youthworkers and Kingdombuilders

In the previous post, I made the case that we need to present a more Biblically responsible vision of Jesus. In this post I want to insist on the second part of that – youth ministry needs to go deeper theologically.

Also in my previous post I am aware that I came across strongly towards my church upbringing. My intention is certainly not to offend anyone, especially those that served in this way. That said, if the goal of youth ministry is to train disciples in the way of Jesus, I think it’s appropriate to say that we haven’t always been faithful and effective with that great responsibility.

It was in college that I really sensed the lack of theology from our church upbringings. Ironically it was at Liberty University that I discovered the anti-intellectualism of evangelical culture. Resolved in my hope of equipping students theologically, during my first few years in youth ministry I kept hearing, “What are you talking about? and “Why does this matter?” Every so often parents would approach and say, “My kid likes you and all but I think you’re talking above his/her head” and “My kid doesn’t like you and you’re talking over his/her head.” To some extent, I would try to respond with better teaching, speak more clearly, slower, less “Christianese”, and tried to be more interesting. Then one day I heard a student say, “Wow, lately his messages have sucked.” (Among the lessons were – You can’t win but be Spirit-led, be faithful and be better for the sake of the Kingdom.)

Now, I”ll save describing how/what I changed for a different post but basically my teaching style is aimed at two audiences, “The church brat” and “the newbie” (At least that’s how I plot in my mind) but I am convinced that we need to offer our academically-geared, post-Dawson’s Creek, sophisticated suburbanite student some deeper Christian teaching. I know that not each of our students are AP and Ivy League bound and some have trouble focusing and such, I get that. But when focused, students can really engage in what is being taught (especially if you can tell a story), the God-sized world of youth ministry is profound.

It is no surprise that this need was one of the attractions to the emerging church discussion. I remember hearing Tony Jones at a YS Conference in 2003 saying, “We need youth ministries with theological robustness.” We’ve heard him and others say that or similar countless times (for more check out youth pastor Dan Haugh talk about the need for better theology in youth ministry here).

In case you are coming into this series a bit late, please remember that a deeper theological emphasis is only part of what we need in youth ministry today. But to have this, we need a number of things. Among them are:

1. Youth workers who love theology and are trained/in training to teach it.
A. Seminary training is helpful.
B. Solutions for the many that can not/don’t want to go to seminary.
C. Training for the countless volunteers that are vital to youth ministry
2. A church culture that values theology for the sake of glorifying God (and committed to not break fellowship over “proper doctrine”).
A. This comes not only from the church leadership (pastors/elders) but must also be from our homes.
B. More books/training resources similar to Mike King and Chris Folsmbe.

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