Today I spoke at the induction of Ryan Harding, the youth pastor at Quinns Baptist Church. Over the week I spent a fair bit of time reflecting on what I would say to a youth pastor, as one who has been there done that and who has spent a lot of time around youth pastors.
I am convinced the challenge of youth ministry to keep ‘making disciples’ as the main game. Its easy to get into event mode & ‘pumped’ mode, but the stuff that lasts is the stuff that matters. Its not to say there is no place for fun stuff – not at all – we need to have fun – but sometimes the priorities in youth ministry get misplaced.
In the last few years of life Mike Yaconelli wrote his ‘Dangerous Wonder’ column in youthworker journal. In it Yac would often cut loose and speak vehemently about the failure of so much of what has been passed off as youth ministry. If it was anyone else writing they probably would have been axed – but when you own the company you can pretty much say what you like!
Here is an excerpt from one of his pieces. Remember, this man devoted his life to providing training and resources for youth pastors and developed the biggest youth training/resource organisation on the planet. Youth Speciaties are still huge.
When viewed thru this lens these are chilling words.
Young people flock to Christian concerts, cheer Jesus at large events, and work on service projects. Unfortunately, it’s not because of Jesus; it’s because they’re young!
The success of youth ministry in this country is an illusion.
Very little youth ministry has a lasting impact on students.
I believe we’re no more effective today reaching young people with the gospel than we’ve ever been. In spite of all the dazzling super stars of youth ministry, the amazing array of YS products, the thousands of youth ministry training events, nothing much has changed.
Following Jesus is hard.
Faith is difficult.
Discipleship requires a huge investment of time. Most of us don’t have the time. Or we chose not to take the time. Or our current models of ministry don’t allow us the time.
So let’s be honest.
Youth ministry as an experiment has failed. If we want to see the church survive, we need to rethink youth ministry.
What does that mean? I don’t have a clue. But my hunch is that if we want to see young people have a faith that lasts, then we have to completely change the way we do youth ministry in America.
I wonder if any of us has the courage to try.