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Youth Ministry Theology

There are many models in Youth Ministries, which a church may follow. No specific model is completely correct, and no model is completely incorrect. To my affirmation, the different models are just different ways to conduct and view Youth Ministries. Obviously some denominations will prefer one model, while other denominations will prefer another. Each approach has its own strong advantages and disadvantages. In Preparatory approach model, students are viewed as disciples in training. In the Missional approach model, students are viewed as a separate entity, which must be reached. In the strategic approach to youth ministry, students are viewed as a bridge to the next generation church. In the Inclusive Congregational approach the youth are not a separate ministry, but are rather included in all the church life.

Preparatory Approach
In the Preparatory approach to Youth ministries, Youth are viewed as disciples in training, who will become leaders in the church. This approach may be good in some areas but its weak points are that itís too program based, and often measures success with numbers. Also, some of its main goals are to have fun, and to entertain the youth. This approach has no goals, being practiced in many churches. Programs are a common denominator to this approach, since programs are what attract youth. Programs in themselves are not wrong, but it seems as if relying too much on programs and using their success as a measure of defining church growth is a huge mistake. Furthermore, this approach has many advantages. Youth individuals are one with the church, but combining them into the regular church is psychologically incorrect, since they are developmentally, and socially different. Those who teach Youth must be competent teachers themselves who will train youth to walk with God, pray, exegete scripture, develop healthy relationships, and the like. In 2 Timothy 2:2 it says that we need to entrust reliable men to teach others. You notice that Paul never mentioned a charming personality, good looks, or one with much charisma. No he said that we need to entrust reliable men to teach others. I believe that many youth ministries prefer first someone who can clique with youth over a reliable competent teacher. Since the preparatory approach to Youth ministry, is to develop new disciples for Christ, much time and energy is spent equipping the Youth to get involved in various ministries. This is good, since Youth are not a separate entity, but are rather serving in the main church. Some churches call their youth ministries "youth groups", and the youth are rarely involved in the church ministry. I once attended an American Baptist Church were the college youth group I was involved in was primarily a separate from the church youth group. In the year I was attending this church, our Youth group only performed one ministry, were never involved in the church, etc. The church acted as if they did not even know we existed! Our Church most definitely did not follow the preparatory approach. That is the danger of not using the preparatory approach to youth ministries. The American Baptist Church I attended was supposed to be fulfilling Matt 28:18-20, which is the great commission, but instead we were playing fun and games in our small youth group. Our group failed in this regard, which is an extremely essential aspect of the Preparatory approach to Youth Ministries. Leadership was very poor in our group. Leaders were supposed to be training youth to one day lead the group, but this never happened. What did happen was that the individual in charge of our Youth ministry exercised the freedom to have his girlfriend teach in his stead. She was not trained like the rest of us, but the leader specially trained her. This was not exactly the preparatory approach to youth ministry, ideal of strong effective leadership training, but it was the reality at the time. People in the group were supposed to be trained to use their gifts (Eph 4:11-13), but they were not. As I said earlier, the youth ministry was about nothing but fun and games.

Missional Approach
In the Missional approach Youth ministry, is viewed as its own separate sub-culture. The verse that many use as a premise to this approach to youth ministry is Psalms 71:18 "Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come" (NIV). Many Youth feel disconnected in the traditional modern church; so many churches are conforming to this emerging church culture. Conforming in a sense, that youth ministry is vastly different from adult ministry. The church needs to meet youth where they are. There are many examples in the scriptures of Jesus pacing (meeting people where they are at). The church cannot afford to be its own separate entity locked up in the traditions of the modern church, which, in turn, has some negative ramifications on the emerging church generation, who, for the most part, seem quite intolerant of the traditional church.

Nicodemus, in John chapter 3, was one such example. Jesus did not judge Nicodemus, but instead met him where he was. Jesus "paced" and led Nicodemus towards a better understanding of the truth. Jesus was not simply a peer, or someone that Nicodemus really liked; no, Jesus simply had the answers, and Nicodemus had the questions, and in John 19:39, it appears that Nicodemus was radically changed. In the same way, Youth need to be met where they are. Many postmodern Adults worship materialism, wealth, and career advancement, while Youth worship image grades, friends, and the like. A teacher cannot simply teach youth using adult standards and statistics, because if he did he would be ineffective at reaching youth.

Another ineffective way to approach youth ministry is Peer evangelism. Most youth choose friends like themselves, and will in most cases only be influenced by these types of people. So in a sense, a leader that can connect with youth is important, but not the deciding factor to an effective youth pastor. Youth are very intolerant of differences, and peer evangelism, as I have personally discovered, is ineffective. Back in High School I made some strong attempts to evangelize my peers, but was not heard. Of course, I could have influenced those like myself, but most of the youth in my High School was not like me, so I was an ineffective witness. The youth needed a culture connection, a bridge to the light, which I was not. This approach to Youth Ministry is affective, and is applied at many churches. Most people realize that youth are vastly different than adults, and one cannot simply combine the youth with the adults, and expect to raise healthy normal youth. Youth that are combined with adults, are oftentimes ones that cannot connect with their own peers, which is a problem.

Strategic Approach
In the Strategic approach to Youth Ministry, youth culture is seen as a bridge to the next generation church. So, in this model, the traditional modern church will eventually be eliminated and this youth ministry generation will be the next church. Advocators of the Strategic Approach would never admit to this, but time will tell as the old folk die off, there would not be much of a modern church. I think there are some serious issues with this model. First, does not the Bible warn of a great apostasy coming in the last day? Many in the last days will come claiming to teach the truth, to preach the gospel, but Jesus warned to stay away from them. In my research, I have discovered most Youth worship services to be extremely "experience" oriented. They are experience oriented because itís the way of Postmodernism, which is poisoning the culture, as well as the church. Instead of basing their ideas on factual concrete scripture, many are rather basing everything on experience. Experience influences behavior in the emerging church and I can foresee churches implanting the Strategic approach having a front seat. Many have a corrupt theology of worship. Many feel that worship is simply what happens on any given Sunday, worship is about what they experience on Sunday, but most do not realize that worship is a life commitment and self-sacrificing relationship to God. This is something that most of the emerging generation does not understand. Therefore, in my view what this approach defines, as a solid youth ministry is incorrect. What they call worship is not the real meaning of worship. Their worship may attract students and adult leader but their entire theology of worship is flawed. People are attracted to God solely on the music and dancing that comes from their services. This is not authentic worship. John 4:20-24 explains true, authentic, spiritual worship: true spiritual worship is done in spirit and in truth; not simply with music. Nor is true spiritual worship done at a location. Jesus states in John 4:21 "a time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalemí (NIV). This verse seems to indicate that true worship is not bound in a building. If youth are being attracted to the music, then they have a false attraction and misconception as to what worship really is. Few would admit outright that worship is not bound to music and dancing, but their own actions communicate more than their words.

I think some of the justifications for the strategic approach are flawed. To contextualize biblical mandates for the contemporary culture would most likely mean producing a seeker sensitive non-offensive gospel message. I have to warn those that do not embrace this approach, that neither Jesus nor John the Baptist preached a seeker sensitive gospel. Jesus himself was rejected because of his offensive message.

As far as the Discontinuity Fallacy is concerned, I would severely question the effectiveness of the spiritual formations of these youth ministries. If many youth are dropping out of church when they are handed off to the church body, I have to question why they were in church in the first place. Perhaps they were there because of the experience-based worship; perhaps they were in youth ministry because of social reasons, or perhaps they were in youth ministry just to have a good time. An effective believer goes to church not for what he/she can get, but what a person can give back to God. If a person works well for a season in youth ministry yet falls away after that I have to wonder did they fall away because of a lack of quality preaching, or did they fall away, because of the absence of the fun and games of the Youth Ministry? Have fun and games replaced the Great Commission? Obviously, some churches have made good use of the strategic approach. Lawndale Community Church in Chicago is one such example. Although I do not agree with their theology of true worship, I do agree with their methodology of ministry, which is giving back to the community, and using the talents, passions, and resources God has given each person and contributing to the kingdom of God.

Inclusive Congregational Approach
The Inclusive Congregational Approach is an interesting but unique model to Youth ministry. Personally, I do not know of many churches that use the Inclusive Congregational model. This model states that youth are not separate, and its up to the congregation as a whole to train the youth. In a simpler sense, youth are not separate from adult ministries, and consequently will probably mature faster than most of their friends at other churches. This is probably not the best way to handle/raise youth. Even developmental psychology indicates that youth are separate developmentally and cognitively than adults, and it is best not to intermingle them. Youth that associate little with their own peers, do not develop "normally", and oftentimes are the type that are quiet, introverted people with little direction and vision for their lives. Looking through the scriptures, I cannot find any hard evidence that supports this approach to Youth Ministries, nor can I find any hard evidence against this approach. The theological foundations in support of this view seem shaky at best. Matt 19:13-15 is one such passage that Inclusive Congregational radicals use to support their approach to Youth Ministries. In this passage, the little children are brought before Jesus, and he places his hands of support on them, and says that the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. In the first century, in the typical Jewish household, men came first, followed by women, and then children. Jesus by touching the children shows that he has compassion on those with low social status. Many of the other passages used in support to this view are taken out of context. In many of the passages children are mentioned, but not in a context to support the Inclusive Congregational approach to Youth Ministries. For example, in Psalms 115:14-15, the psalmist wishes that the Lord bless those with children, but this does not lean towards a view in support of the Inclusive Congregation approach to youth ministries. Overall, this approach to youth ministry, in my view, is unbiblical. The bible does mention children, but does not indicate that they should or should not be separated from the church. It is normal for youth to be with their own age group, as they develop better amongst their own peers. Few would argue that youth develop more effectively around adults.

Out of all the ministry models used to approach Youth ministries, my personal approach, which I find the most in sync with the scriptures, is the Preparatory approach to Youth Ministries. I find it the most biblically accurate approach. Throughout the scriptures I do not see very clear evidence that Youth need to be their own entity, but rather they are disciples in training to one day lead the church. The bible says in 1 Pet 5:5 that youth need to be submissive to adults, and in the preparatory approach they would be, because they are disciples in training. The youth are being trained by the adults, to one day lead the church. Unlike the Strategic approach where youth are being trained to become their own church, in the Preparatory approach youth are being submissive to adults, not separating from the adults and forming their own church.

If churches do not follow the preparatory approach, then our churches may not have the quality leaders it needs. Of all titles, Jesus was called "teacher" the most. Youth need to be trained as it says in 2 Tim 2:2 to be reliable men capable of teaching others. Youth pastors should be competent teachers, however this is not always the case, but sometimes are hired because of charm and personality over exegetical competence. In the Preparatory approach Youth pastors are trained to equip youth to one day lead their ministry and for involvement in other areas of the church. This model would be inefficient, if youth were not trained to do so. Unlike other theologies in this, model youth are not mingled with adults, which proves to be very inefficient for youth and adults. Youth are different from adults developmentally, and do not need to be separated from their own kind, and combined with adults. 

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