Monday, February 04, 2013

False Reasons for Youth Ministry

In the past 10+ years of Christian ministry, I have been in churches where the expectation for youth ministry was nothing more than glorified baby sitting. There was actually one time I heard a parent talk about how much they liked having date night when they would drop their children off early and leave them at youth group late! I am not making this up, this really went down… It was interesting and eye-opening to say the least. Maybe you have never overheard that conversation, but I can assure you that in any given church, in any denomination there are many different reasons the people of your church think youth ministry exist for, and many of them are neither right or biblical. 
I figured in the midst of this series that is based around a discussion about what youth ministry is for, I would jump in and mention a few of the false reasons for having a youth ministry. Maybe they will simply be good for a laugh or maybe (hopefully) the Spirit will use them to confront pastors and youth workers with what not to have as the focus of ministry.
                It will save the church - Having a youth ministry may be part of the growth of your church, but it will not save your church. It will not ever save your church. Only the gospel will save your church. No youth pastor, no matter how great they are, will be able to give life to a dying church.

                To raise godly kids - Youth ministry is not the way to raise godly children in and of its self. Again, as above, it might be part of the solution, but it takes much more for a church to have godly students than simply have a youth ministry. So don't start a youth group with the thinking that, 'now the kids will be godly!'

                Child care - As the story above points out, there are people within churches that look at youth ministry as simply a place to watch their children. Now hopefully you will actually watch the teens when you are on a missions trip to Africa, but this should not be the utmost goal of your youth ministry.  

                Only for those in the church - Youth group has to be fulfilling the mission that Jesus gave to the disciples, reach the world for Jesus. This means that a youth group cannot be just for those good church kids. It should look more like Wal-mart than a country club.

                Only for outreach - Just as above the church needs to also care for those in the flock, which means it cannot only be about reaching the skater kids, and troubled youth. It also needs to be about ministering to the pastor’s kids. 

                Keep students out of the service - Often the leadership of a church sees youth ministry as a way to keep students out of the service and out of their hair. There is need for rebuke in this situation. Jesus welcomed children and teens into his life, and so should our church leadership!

                Replace parents - Youth ministry will never replace the roll that God has given to the parent. Although some youth ministers may have thoughts along the line of, 'if only I could get rid of these parents, then these students would grow,' this is a lie from the pit of hell. Don't believe it for one moment. You are simply called to come along-side the family and the church to make disciples who love and serve Jesus. 

What false reasons for youth ministry have you either seen in your ministry, or heard about from another youth minister? Use the comment section to share! Humor us and help us guard against the pitfalls of false reasons for youth ministry.

Josh Cousineau serves as the pastor of Redemption Hill Community. He previously served as youth pastor at East Auburn Baptist Church. Josh leads the Gospel Alliance, a network of pastors committed to the Gospel in New England. 


  1. Really good article, John. To combat some of these views of youth ministry I started the year by having an information night with parents where I told them youth ministry is not a baby sitting club, and it required parents to partner with the youth ministry team because we are not substitute parents. I think it help set the foundations for why we do what we do. Thanks again for the article. It's always good to reflect on the reasons our youth ministry exists.

  2. Josh you bring up some great points. If we're really honest, a lot of the time when we do age-graded ministry we do so as a response or as a fix-it. I've seen a church start a great children's ministry program because the assumption was "if we do this, we'll see a turnaround in parents commitment to church and their kids will come more." Unfortunately, all it did was continue the cycle of discipleship in abstentia by parents. I've also as a student minister been told that we should do more activities because the goal of youth ministry is to just have fun.

    There is a great need for age-graded ministry, and it's where I break with those in say the Family Integrated model of ministry. I believe strongly in the redemptive value of specific ministries for certain ages, especially for students. But if we embrace a practice of segregation, or one of a 'holding tank' rather than seeing students as active members in function within the body - then we really have no business doing ministry at all. I think that's a huge distinction to make - a ministry 'of' the church rather than treating youth group as a separate church or as something people aren't involved in. It has implications for how you lay out your facility (our student building was built as an annex with no connection to the main building - huge design flaw, half our church has never seen our student area nor knows what goes on back there), to how you treat students in worship (do they help lead worship, are they able to serve, or do we continue to coddle them), to what's expected of them in terms of church discipline, accountability, and membership (I expect our students to go to business meeting, and since they are voting members I encourage them to show up & speak up).