Ministering to young people is as old as Paul to Timothy and as necessary as Barnabas’ dealing with John Mark. Not every church has a youth minister but for generations every healthy congregation has had those special people (either paid or not) who take an interest in and invest in the young people of that church. In the mid-60’s and going into the early 70’s some churches of Christ began to employ interns or ministers who would work primarily with young people. For a number of years dad was opposed to a paid youth minister. The congregation I grew up in hired a young college student about 1976 from Harding names Bob Stohldrier to work with them through the summer. By the mid-80’s (I was already in college) Bill Brown became Roebuck Parkway’s first YM.
Mark Matlock, Executive Director of Youth Specialities recently penned an article titled: Why the church needs youth ministry that was worthy of consideration:
- Youth Ministry is vital in helping teens to integrate into the larger inter-generational community of the church.
- Helping the church stay relevant in the current culture. Diversity…they are more engaged with culture and more willing to ask questions.
- Youth Ministry is a part of inviting those who are not a part of the body of Christ into His Body. They are more evangelistic.
- Reminds the church that teens are not marginalized members of the Body but co-creators and conspirators of the gospel allowing us to experience life on earth as it is in heaven.
- Youth ministry helps the church to focus on the way of Jesus.
Today most congregations seem to have someone in a role as a “youth deacon, youth leader, associate minister or youth minister” who work either paid or no paid with the youth and families of the congregation. If churches are going to have them we best pray we have good, faithful and effective ones because they are going to be a strong influencer of the future. More than pulpit guy. That change, now pressing two generations old, has produced other remarkable changes. Some good, some not, but all worth noting:
1. Money has changed: The YM has his own budget. And it is most often the last thing cut or slashed in a squeeze. He will often have a church CC. I don’t know a preacher anywhere in our brotherhood who has his own budget to spend as he deems best on events.
2. Youth Ministers: A term that made those of a previous gen quake.
3. Big Box Events: Pre-YM time it was all lectureships and local church youth rallies. Think back a generation or two ago - you had a few big regional youth events (like YouthInAction in Alabama and the Columbus Youth Rally in Mississippi) but that was really about it. Now we have EYC (2,000 kids), CYC (12,500+ this year), SEC (1,000 attend), L2L, EU (over 1,100 come), and about a billion other alphabet soup events.
4. Different transportation: For years churches had vans and busses. Typically to run a bussing program for either older members or kids. BUT “if our kids are going to go somewhere that old VW van ain’t gonna cut it!” At one event recently a speaker said - “There are over a billion dollars worth of church vans and busses in the parking lot!” I did the math and he was not far off. As the number of events has gone up so has the quality of van. When we used to meet at Pasquale's Pizzeria after church we were on our own to get there.
5. Short Term Missions have exploded as kids get a taste of mission work. I’m amazed at the places kids are going and the things they are doing on “mission trips.” I’d challenge us to make sure the “mission” is to increase the borders of heaven and not just to do something good. After all we aren’t the “Lord’s Boy Scouts.” The fruit is better support for mission works they visit AND several really good younger missionaries. I could give you a healthy list of young people in the mission fields all over the world who first went on a trip with their youth group.
6. Retreats: I may be wrong but the first retreats I remember started with the kids and now there’s a retreat for every segment! Men’s, women’s, couple’s, college, family, leader - just waiting for the first “pet” retreat. These tend to bring people together spiritually and often lead not just to greater unity but increased service.
7. Preacher’s Influence: I’ll bemoan this one a bit (cause I’m a preacher). Used to if you had a question or wanted to be baptized the preacher did it. The unintended down on this is that I fear less guys want to be preachers because the youth job looks more enjoyable - AND - whether it is or not - easier. The lesson is that the preacher has to “up his game.”
8. More hand’s-on, servant-minded members: Though many will not remember it, the day was that a church’s “staff” would do the work. Perhaps more than any other positive from youth ministers is this strong development. The most recent generation wants more to DO! They don’t want to sit. When these folks look for a church they look for a Family where they can be involved in meaningful minister, where they can contribute more than money, where they can do something! How beautiful.
9. Churches have gotten much busier: While #8 is wonderful on so many levels, Thom Rainer on 15 Reasons Churches are Less Evangelistic Today wrote: “Our churches have too many activities; they are too busy to do the things that really matter.” But the salary of a youth guy sometimes makes either he or the members think we need to do a lot to justify such. When reality is there is plenty for him to do in helping grow the faith of others.
10. More service projects: programs of work - same argument
11. Our songs have changed: Today many churches continually introduce “new songs” into the worship. These are often songs learned at camp, on retreat, or in some other youth event. While some whine about the quality of some of these songs, I would remind them that all of these songs will not survive and that EVERY song you sing in worship was at one time a new song. There seems to be a resurgence in the writing and composing of “hymns and spiritual songs” and that is certainly a good thing.
12. Mentality of time driven worship is less important: Newer generations seem more interested in quality verses the clock. They do not judge a service on the length but the quality. The danger is this has led some in an effort to do something different or more meaningful to creep into things God has not indicated He desires in the worship of the church. It sometimes has led some to believe that worship is more about them than God, i.e. “I didn’t get anything out of that service.” But that does necessarily follow. You can have quality and meaning without leaving the Word.