I quit being a youth pastor. I would highly encourage you to do the same. Just before the time I agreed to a role within Student Ministries at IHOPKC, I flatly stated that I had no intention of doing roller skating and pizza parties. And bless God, neither did my friend and supervisor at the time, David Sliker.
Certainly on paper my role still states: Director of Student Ministries, but I couldn’t find the term youth group or see anything that remotely looks like modern youth ministry in the Bible. That’s why I resigned in my heart instead, deciding that I would dedicate my life to something I was actually interested in: building the glorious church of Jesus Christ. A quick survey of the generational landscape yields a troubling picture. No need for the statistics that abound in thousands of books, websites, parenting materials, and youth pastor city-wide meetings. Just ask yourself, “How many teenagers do I know that extravagantly love Jesus?”
I’m told that youth ministry is, historically speaking, a relatively new endeavor. While the onset of youth ministry had the spark of life, gradually it’s as if someone began thinking, “These young people are disinterested—let’s put them in another room.” The separation of teenagers from the main body over decades evolved into a subculture with a particular set of expressions and opinions. Insert a youth pastor attempting to be relevant to an established subculture. Now, when someone says, “youth ministry,” immediately an image floods the mind giving illustration to what that should look like. But does that image look biblical?
The troubling pressure that faces parents, teachers, leaders, and youth pastors is ultimately the very thing we cannot do—we cannot change the heart of another human. Jesus likes changing hearts forever by His power. He is really good at that.
The gospel is the power of God to salvation. Does God need us to alter the gospel to make it relevant? As a leader, I don’t need creative ways to rehash a message that is volatile when applied to the human heart. We need the power of the God unto salvation. We can’t get to God without His power. We can’t get His power without the gospel. The gospel supersedes culture, even the powerful subculture of teenagers.
At some point we forgot that Jesus, and His message, was rejected by the world. Further, though the world desperately needs His power, we’ve convinced ourselves that slightly altering the gospel will lessen its offense and make it more palatable to young people. We’d rather have 100 youth in the room than five. In doing so, we’ve decreased its effectual power.
God is not in need of our gospel adaptations. The gospel is the gospel. God is God. And His power is His power. The power that cut 3,000 to the heart by the preaching of Peter at Pentecost is the same power that today converts the soul and brings a person from darkness to light. The power that brought you to the cross and to the delight of the resurrection is the same power that touches the heart of the teenager.
My aim isn’t to fix youth ministry. It’s to kill it (or at least, kill the caricature of it).
First on the chopping block is this idea: more people means better ministry. The pervasive temptation we face is to measure success primarily by outward growth. As long as it’s getting bigger and better everything must be grand. However, a quick look at the Bible finds the need to evaluate success instead by the measure of love (see John 15 ) and faithfulness (see Matthew 25). What if we got a vision for teenagers to bear the fruits of repentance, the fruit of the Spirit, and live in a way that looks like Jesus (Matthew 3:8; Galatians 5:22; Colossians 3:10)? What if we got a vision to disciple five genuine teenagers rather than 100 lukewarm ones?
The gospel is entirely relevant because it addresses the deepest needs of man. What is the deepest need of mankind? That is the deepest need of teenagers. Man does not know God or glorify Him, and desperately needs His power to be changed into something new (Romans 1:16, 21–23, 6:4, 8:11; 2 Corinthians 5:17). The intrinsic needs of adults in the main auditorium are the same needs as the teenagers in the youth room. The gospel is not relevant to world. It never will be. It is considered a “base thing,” inherently “foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:18–31). But the gospel is the wisdom of God and the power of God.
May the teenagers of this generation hear the gospel and be forever changed. Amen.