The next issue of Conversation Magazine will be looking at youth ministry. As a teaser, here’s a review from Mary Njeri of what many would say is the best book around on the subject:
The book is written by Mark Ashton and Phil Moon who were exposed to youth work with Church Pastoral Aid Society and Church Youth Fellowships Association and have served amongst church-based youth groups in evangelical Anglican churches in the UK. It is through their service that they saw the challenges facing youth workers and they offer some insights from their experience and more importantly from the Bible.
There exists lots of tension between the adult church and the youth fellowship in a number of local churches, and yet the local church is supposed to be a complete family; with children, teenagers, adult youth, men and women. In the postmodern era the challenge gets deeper with an influence on the youth leaders to impress the teenagers with music, fashion and trends in order to attract or maintain them in the church and consequently the Word of God is anywhere else but the priority in the youth ministry.
So what exactly is youth ministry, and is there a way to effectively lead church-based youth groups?
Youth are important to God
The book seeks to look at God’s interest to all groups of people (whether young or old). The God of the Bible is a God of all human ages. The ability of the human spirit to experience its Creator is not limited by the simplicity of childhood, nor by the frailty of old age. So the adolescents and young people should be encouraged to know that God understands young people, values them, reveals himself to them and relates to them in a completely appropriate way. An adolescent’s perception of God may be very different from the adult’s but it is not inferior.
Cross-centred or me-centred
Many young people leaders focus on approaches centred on the young people themselves but not on a Christian understanding of people. Christ does not teach us to support the personal development of young people so that they may realize their full potential rather we are to call them to repentance and faith in Christ and nurture them in the way of Christian discipleship. Leaders should teach the young people about the incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection of God’s Son who sets us free together with the cost that comes with following Christ. The idea of the real inner ‘me’, whom I need to recognize, acknowledge, affirm and realize to be myself is not Christian. The biblical injunction is not to ‘find’ myself, but to ‘lose’ myself (Mark 8:35). The centrality of the cross is the anchor point of all Christian service, youth work not exempted.
Long term commitment
Serving amongst a group of young people is discipling a generation. The Israelites were to teach their children the commands and decrees of the Lord so that their children’s generation may grow into a fear of the Lord as well (Deut. 6). This may involve an extended time for the leader to be with the young people and a degree of commitment and affection towards them. The message about God’s love for people comes in words, revealed in the Bible, but we have to express it in such a way that even those who prefer a life of emotion and experience rather than thought can begin to think about it, to grapple with it, and to respond to it. A personal contact is very important, where the young people can ask questions and receive honest answers as well as observe and develop Christian worldviews in the all aspects of life. Christian camps and holidays communicate faith to one another and where to some change may be hard to adopt, a group of people who meet together regularly throughout the year maybe encouraging.
The youth aren’t a distinct group from the local church; therefore a youth leader should be keen to lead the young people to be part and parcel of the local church. He should bear in mind these distinguishing marks of the local church: a physical location, organized (orderly) worship, authority (pastors and elders), discipline, baptism, holy communion, Scriptural teaching and membership of the local church family which is connected the universal church. The youth group is not allowed to leave the adult congregation behind because the New Testament often reminds us of unity (Eph 2:16-22). The church is only complete with all the ages represented. Youth leaders and the young people should maintain loyalty to their local church.
The existence of church-based youth groups should not be a relief to parents of their parenting duties. Since the church is in large part a family of families, we cannot rule out the significance of having godly smaller (nuclear) families that appreciate and live in accordance to God’s ordainment of household roles. The leadership role is given to the husband, and that of submission to the wife (Eph 5:22-33). The family should neither hide behind the myth of the ‘happy family’ and therefore be always chasing after an unrealistic and unobtainable ideal family, nor should it have a quest for material possessions or idolatry of the career at the expense of bringing up godly children and young people. We should realize that under God it is the Christian parent’s role to nurture their children and youth leaders are to assist in that not to replace it.
Youth leaders should never be lacking in commitment and prayer, vision and planning, management of time and resources and getting equipped through training. The local church leaders should never leave the entire youth work to the youth leaders alone. They need encouragement and counsel even as they seek to link the children and the adults. And finally, the authors remind us, youth ministry is a refreshing and thrilling service to be part of; to see growing disciples of Christ.
The authors seem to strongly suggest (in chapter 3) Jesus’ model of discipleship in having a chosen few in hope of getting the rest in the youth group reached through the few. I feel that it may take quite some time for a local youth leader to pick out a few individuals and the individual discipleship may happen at the expense of the rest of the young people. That aside it has been such an eye-opening book, bringing to light simple but easily-missed truths such as the point about the youth being part of the local church and not a church on its own. I would recommend this book to every children’s/youth/teens-worker.