Christopher Schlect, Critique of Modern Youth Ministry (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1995). 21 pgs., paperback.
Christopher Schlect has written—what many would undoubtedly argue—a “timeless” critique of youth ministry by shifting the burden of training youth in the faith back to the family, especially to the fathers.
Schlect begins by giving various reasons why there exists an age-segregated youth ministry within the church today: (1) the intentional age segregation of public education in the early-to-mid twentieth century and (2) the rise of para-church ministries that have targeted teenagers, such as Youth for Christ and Young Life. Churches, to meet the challenges of these “competitors,” developed their own age-segregated and anti-family youth ministries.
He points out, rightly, that youth ministries today communicate an unhealthy message when they entertain teenagers instead of engaging them in biblical discipleship or modeling the importance of family. Schlect also, rightly, argues for cross-generational ministry, one that places the responsibility of training younger members in the faith primarily on older people, especially parents.
He is also right in saying that parents, and especially fathers, are largely abdicating their responsibilities of raising their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. He maintains that youth ministers should seek to point students back to their families for godly instruction.
While the above points are helpful, I have four critiques of the book:
First—and most disappointing—the book is law-driven and offers mere behavior modification as the solution. There is no gospel. He offers nothing about the role of justification, imputed righteousness, or the atoning work of Christ that would encourage families and youth ministers to adopt his thesis. Thus it lacks the proper motivation for family-based youth ministry.
Second, Schlect advocates a Christ-against-culture model of ministry that is foreign to the Christ revealed in the Gospels. Our task should be about the transformation of culture by the power of the gospel, not complete avoidance of culture—being in the world, but not of it (John 17:11-16).
Third, Schlect offers very little advice (he touches on it briefly on the last couple of pages) for youth ministry with regard to the overwhelming trend of children being raised in non-Christian homes. Obviously, we should reach out to those families, but are we to wait until those families are saved before “biblical” youth ministry can take place? I agree that parents have the primary responsibility to train their children in the instruction of the Lord. But the fact that children are raised in truly non-Christian homes is now the majority report in America rather than the minority one. The book is nearly 17 years old, which might explain why this element is not drawn out a little more.
Fourth, he seems to de-value the role of the church body. While he doesn’t explicitly say this, it is implicit in the pages. Rather than advocating an either-or approach (family or church), it would be better to advocate a both-and approach—one that emphasizes the importance of both the church body and the family in instructing youth in the faith.
Schlect does a fine job at helping us understand the misguided and unhealthy state of youth ministries today. And his solution is also helpful: godly parenting. But the absence of the gospel makes such a call an impotent, moralistic plea. We are to trust in the merits of Christ on our behalf. He took the penalty for our parenting failures and gave us his righteousness so that we now, with grateful hearts, are enabled to strive for student ministry and parenting that pleases God.
Brian H. Cosby, the Rooted blog's newest contributor, is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in America, Associate Pastor of Youth and Families at Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church in Peachtree City, Georgia, and author of Giving Up Gimmicks: Reclaiming Youth Ministry from an Entertainment Culture (P&R Publishing, 2012).