The Function of Youth Ministry

For my doctoral program I am working on a project to think through the scriptural foundations how we view youth, evaluating the last 150 years of youth ministry development and discussing how the church should function in its ministry to youth.

Essentially the major question to me that youth ministry philosophy must answer is: what is your plan for how youth will integrate into the body of Christ?  Texts like 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 and John 17:20-26 require this to be a sincere goal.

In fact, I think this might be the critical issue of our day because often youth graduate from high school and we go to their graduation parties, but then what?  We have not helped them during their teen years to truly prepare for life beyond youth group in the church.  How shall we help them to be ready for the next step of the journey–belong to the body of Christ.  Various schools of thought are advancing alternate views.

Typical Youth Ministry

Typical youth ministry serves youth directly with a youth pastor and a team of youth sponsors focusing on helping them to become disciples in the midst of their youth culture.  However, typical youth ministry does not have any established process of pathways for youth to become integrated into the life of the church.  If it happens it’s random or exceptional or unconnected from the youth ministry philosophy.  In other words: “integration of youth, huh?”

Family Integrated Approach

The Family Integrated approach on the other hand demands universal and comprehensive integration as the exclusive approach advanced by their interpretation of the bible.  In other words, “youth group, what’s that?”  This approach might be called, integrate NOW!

Strategic Integration Youth Ministry

The path I would like to pursue seeks some of the goals of family integration without entirely dropping all of the means of youth ministry as we know it.  What if an explicit goal of youth ministry was not only to develop the character and maturity of our youth, but also to create processes through which youth were mentored, connected and involved in the body of Christ?  What if upon graduation, they already felt like they were meaningfully connected to a church where they were already members and welcomed?

What do you think?

I would love to hear your thoughts.  Whether you are a student, a parent, a youth pastor or just interested in this conversation.

  • How do you think the church ought to approach ministry to youth?
  • Do we need to abolish youth groups like the Family Integrated propounds?
  • Can we meaningfully integrate students now?  If so, how?  I’m all ears…




Filed under Family Ministry

15 responses to “The Function of Youth Ministry

  1. Chrissy

    Remember, they are part of the body of Christ now, not just then, after they graduate from school and the “youth group” age.

    • revtimbrown

      Yes, absolutely. Actually, that’s my point behind this inquiry. Most current youth ministry practices do not treat them as though they are fully the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12f). The key to them being a part “then” is living it out for real “now.”

  2. I would like to contribute to the conversation by offering some words I have written from the FIC side of things.

    • revtimbrown

      Hi Fred, Welcome to the conversation. I’ve approved your comment with it’s link. However a couple of points.

      First, I desire to create a forum here on my blog where people will interact, not simply get redirected. Though I’m not trying to keep people from finding new sites, I’d love it if your future comments were writing about 2 paragraphs on your opinion for my readers. I know there’s a lot to say–I’ve watched “Divided” and read “A Weed in the Church,” visitied Baucham’s conference & church, and now I’ve visited your site. I also know this is an emotional and divisive topic for many on both sides!

      What I’m aiming for here is how I can encourage a church of 2,000 people to engage with their own families where they are now. Besides the fact that I don’t think FIC is the only option for biblical fidelity, I’m trying to shepherd a congregation as an associate pastor not divide or desert this work and call it faithfulness. I’m called to pastor these people here and now.

      In addition, I’m not convinced that A) FIC congregations can accommodate families who are not already pretty close to those views already and B) that Youth discipleship is as effective in FIC environment as is claimed. Every model has weaknesses. Theodore Culyer and Francis Clark began youth meetings in 1867 and 1881 respectively because the FIC approach of their day was found wanting.

  3. Okay, I’m going to have to think out loud on this one, because of all people, I’m not really sure where I stand. I guess a few points I would make are:

    1.) Youth ministry has done some amazing things. My father in law was saved by attending a midweek youthgroup. I think even Baucham’s argument misses it when he says that even the good things youth ministry has done don’t really “count” because of all of the destruction youth ministries have left. That, I think, is overstating the case.

    2.) Youth ought to be able to comprehend adult sermons and teaching in Jr. high and high-school. We need not treat them like they can’t.

    3.) Youth have very unique challenges in their stage of life that older adults do not face. These challenges need a forum where they are addressed and cared for.

    4.) Youth need some sort of systematic chatechism, as does every new member of the church, by which they can learn the basics of Christianity.

    5.) Youth ought to be able to interact and thrive in relationship not just with peers, but with older generations. We need to prepare our youth to do this when they head off to the “real world.”

    6.) The culture of youth ought to have a voice in the sanctuary. Nuff’ said.

    7.) Churches that don’t start out as FIC aren’t going to succesfully make that transition, unless the church is very small or has just recently been started.

    8.) Youth pastors ought to have the same expectations and voice as other pastoral staff, and meet the same pastoral and doctrinal qualifications.

    9.) Youth need a place where their unique community (high-school) is fostered in a way that encourages both peer-to-peer discipleship and evangelism.

    10.) The primary way the church disciples its youth ought to be through parents.

    That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head.

    • revtimbrown

      Thanks Nick. Sounds like you agree with me that we need some kind of both and with improvements in congregational gathering as well as youth directed engagement. Is that right?
      When you say, #6, youth ought to have a voice in the sanctuary, that’s interesting. But I need more specifics–reading scripture (voice), singing in choir (voice), place in planning worship (invfluence), presence with parents, etc. If we are a family, shouldn’t the older generation lead like in the home?

      • Hey Tim – on #6, I think the older generation ought to lead, yes. But what does it mean to lead? Leading means serving, and laying down personal preference for the good of others. By having a voice, I mean that the sanctuary can’t exist as a place where youth are simply invited in while the entire culture of the service is directed towards an older generation. I think there needs to be some healthy diversity, meaning we have to know youth culture and how they express themselves, and make that culture a part of our weekly worship.

  4. I’m Scott Wilcher, author of “The Orphaned Generation: The Father’s Heart for Connecting Youth and Young Adults to Your Church.” The FIC is delightful, if your familes include mature believing parents with fathers who are articulate, rested and available. However, for the real world, it’s remarkably difficult, esp for the single moms and their kids, who tend to feel shamed, despite a leader’s best efforts. Trust me; I tried it back in the day before they had a name for it.
    I recommend you read my book to get my full perspective on the discipleship of youth,(Not a plug- I’d be glad to send you a free copy, just send me your address) but in broad strokes I agree with your perspective; however, before we can move in that direction we have to renew the thinking of the adult congregation and the expectations of senior pastors who were youth pastors in 1982. The culture has changed, but our discipleship models have not.
    I could argue that the family-intergrated folks have it right. . .Families do need to disciple their children well, except the FIC folks have defined the family too narrowly. If you read through all of Jesus’ family references and all of Paul’s language about the household of God (oikos), and all of the behaviors of the early church (sharing all things, going house to house) you’ll realize that Jesus and his early followers saw the church as a family, one household that replaced the Jewish family as sons of God, not merely sons of Abraham.
    That conceptual metaphor of the oikos informs all of Paul’s language and is the reason his most common address word is “brethren.” The reason he calls Timothy “my son.” But we’ve lost the mental picture and the principles. If we are hoping to get young people into the Organization at an earlier age, we’ll fail. But If the church becomes a family, a biblical oikos, then adult attitudes and behaviors change and young people are expected to be a part of normal life. That said, in the book, I reframe the church from our current perceptions of it as a school for Christians, or a performance or a club to “an intentionally adoptive family that passes its heritage through the generations.”
    But that can only happen when adults stop seeing young people as animals, aliens and closed spaces. (see the book to unpack that.) Until that happens, adults will be afraid of young people.a youth pastor will simply grow embittered at the adults who will not welcome their youth into the adult church. And most parents will feel overwhelmed and shamed at their failure to disciple their children perfectly.
    Deeper still, we need a new perception of the nature of the Gospel before we’ll really engage with one another as family.

    Big Picture for me: The Church needs it collective mind renewed to something that more closely reflects the mind of Christ. That’s my life mission. Seeing it happen! And it’s great fun, esp. in those aging congregations that think they have nothing to offer young people.

    Scott Wilcher

    • revtimbrown

      Hi Scott, thanks so much for your comments. If I hear you clearly it sounds like you’re saying the whole family of God needs to own this endeavor. There’s more, naturally, but that sounds like a very important theme. Do you have practical suggestions for how to help those who are willing but can’t seem to connect with the youth through the gauntlet of mp3s, age segregated locations and general lack of connection?

      • scottwilcher

        Tim, I have a whole section of the book dedicated to practical ideas to connect the generations, but I press hard in the book that until adults have a significant mindset shift regarding young people, the Gospel and adult roles in the lives of young people, their efforts and attitudes will not change. Just getting a good idea for what to do is not enough. There has to be a turning of hearts first. (See Malachi 4 etc.) I think we think wrong. We think as our culture has trained us to think: Young people are animals—”You’d need a bullwhip to corral those rug rats”
        Or they are aliens: “Why do they behave, talk, dress like that?”
        Or they are closed spaces: “She’s got her little circle, ring, tribe, knot of friends. I can’t get in there.”
        But I think God sees them very differently.
        Here is a video that will explain it a bit more:

  5. Thank you for inviting me to comment. I have been a pastor for ten years, and I now attend an FIC. I came to the conclusion that FIC is the most Biblical model without any help from FIC proponents. In fact, I though I had invented something no one else knew about, and found that I was not alone after doing further research. I think it really all comes down to the sufficiency of scripture, and our desire to glorify God. A syllogism may help everyone follow my line of thinking:

    1. God his given a sufficient and authoritative source prescribing how He should be worshiped.
    2. That source is the Holy Scriptures, and the scriptures alone. (2 Pet. 1:3-4; 1 Tim 3:15; 2 Tim. 3:16-17)
    3. If man worships God in a manner prescribed by scripture, he forms that worship in the image of God.
    4. If man worships God in a manner outside of scripture it is of his own invention.
    5. If man worships according to his own invention, he forms that worship in the image of man. (Matthew 15:3,8,9; 2 Kings 16:10-18)
    6. Worshiping God in the image of man is unacceptable to Christians .
    7. The scripture specifically prescribes men leading their families, and for wives and children to be subject to them in everything, including worship ((Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:18-19; Tit 2:3-5; 1 Pet 3:1-7, 1 Cor 11:7-9).
    8. The scripture specifically prescribes men to teach the scriptures in such a way that their children and grandchildren will fear the Lord. (Deut. 6:2; Lk.1:50).
    9. The scriptures specifically prescribe when and how men should teach their children the scriptures, including in multi generational sacred gatherings,(so as to fulfill #8)(Deut. 16:9-14; Josh. 8:34-35; Ezra 10:1; 2 Chr.20:13; Nehemiah 12:43; Joel 2:15-16; Luke 12:42-47; Col 4:14; Acts 20:7; Eph. 6:1-4).
    10. The scriptures do not at any time prescribe age segregated worship gatherings.
    11. Therefore, multi-generational gatherings are the intention of God in our worship, and age-segregated worship gatherings are formed in the image of man and are unacceptable to Christians.

    The real question one must ask is not, “What works best,” but, “How can we more perfectly glorify God in our Church”?

  6. Laura Bozeman

    Hi Tim,
    Great discussion going on here! Just a few thoughts:
    1. Fathers are frequently absent from the family unit (and that all started during the industrial revolution). We need to continue to grow men into Leaders of their homes.
    2. Mothers are too busy and cannot effectively balance all the balls
    3. Children need a rock solid spiritual male
    4. Sports/activities/busy-ness have consumed every family member
    5. Families appear on Sundays, sometimes together, sometimes kids stay home while parents attend & vice versa. Bottom line is that kids are down in the youth wing; no one knows them by name (few exceptions). Teens are very isolated (I think that is what Wilcher says).
    6. Service projects should be family focused
    7. I wonder what a family-oriented Sunday school class would look like i.e. parents and teens? Christian catechism for families??
    9. So many Christians do not hold a Biblical worldview….again, family oriented catechism?
    10. Dinners for 8 that include children/teens etc.

  7. sally Jo

    So many thoughts…
    1. I too believe that the home is the primary place of discipleship.
    2. I believe that youth ministry should be a supplement to the efforts of the family
    3. I believe that now more than ever families need the assistance of the church as they parent in the current culture.
    4. I believe that it is healthy for all ministries to change, grow, morph in their systems and structures
    5. While changes in systems and structure are occurring i don’t believe it to be right to make claims that the “the old way” was destructive, a failure, was built on sand, neglected obedience, devastated the landscape, rejected the word of God, had a detrimental impact, beared no fruit, had no sense of the bigger picture, destroyed the younger generation, fragmented the family, divided the church, set aside the word of God… Goodness Gracious talk about “DIVIDED” We all need to step carefully…
    6. Back to your questions Pastor Brown. I think churches need to define what “an integrated church body” would look like. Because this looks different to everyone one, our end goal should be established. Yes, I believe God desires for all generations to worship together, and I want an integrated body of believers but I’m not sure we all visualize the same thing, as to what that would look like!
    7. Yes, i believe integration should start now. Little steps always feel better than big huge changes.
    8. Change must start with Families. This is about families neglecting God’s command to teach and train children in the home. This notion that youth ministry had a mantra that said to parents “hands off let us professionals handle this!” Is absurd and hurtful.

  8. Hi Tim,

    I’m the EPC Student & College Ministries Coordinator and love that you are offering this discussion. I agree with your thoughts above and would add that I am investigating an approach that was recommended to me during the SM Standing Committee at GA. The approach in a nutshell is finding ways for existing ministries (i.e. Childrens, Youth, College, Adult, etc) to add a dimension to their existing ministry that would equip folks to take home what is being taught in the various ministries. For instance, a youth pastor would have as part of his “job discription” teaching/discipling teens AND equipping parents of those teens on the home front.

    I am still in the infant stages of learning what this looks like in terms of EPC-SM and how we go about offering Parent Equipping as part of what we train and provide to our youth workers around the EPC. Many of our youth workers are volunteers so “adding to their plate” is something I don’t take lightly; however, done correctly I believe it is important, even essential, that we discover how God is leading and dialogue with each other in that light.

    I know you prefer to not have links taking folks to other sites; however, part of my search has me repeatedly bumping into the ministry “Faith at Home” and Pastor Mark Holman. I would love to get input from anyone who has used any of their resources. Here’s a video desription of their approach (which is simlar to what I described above) – I’d love your input Tim!

  9. Dawn

    Thanks Tim for opening up this discussion!! I remember as a kid growing up in the church and homeschooling that this was always an issue with churches, families, youth groups and what not. Division in the body of Christ was sometimes the result of everyone believing their way was the only way. But I believe balance is the key! Starting in the home with a Christ centered lifestyle and worldview will allow our children to be able to worship in “big church” ( as we use to call it in kids church) and also grow in Christ in youth group or grade divided Sunday School. I think allowing them to experience both will only bring unity as long as the leaders of both promote unity. I also believe we need to teach our kids that going to church to worship our Father is not about us!! Lets get out of the “me” mode and focus on the One who we are going to worship and learn about on a given Sunday or Wednesday night. A ten year old can hear the adult Pastor who speaks on a adult level and get something out of it. It may be bits and pieces but what God intends for him to hear, he/she will hear by the Holy Spirit intervening and opening up their ears. Praise be to HIM!