Lies of Youth Ministry, part 2

The second lie of youth ministry is that it is all about discipleship. This is a lie which starts with bad hermeneutics, continues with training built around selective theology, and is encouraged by inward looking church leaders.

Here’s how this lie plays out. Most youth ministers are wholly focused on building the size of their program. If they work for a church, having a large and busy youth program means that they can justify their salary and spend their time thinking about ways to add more programs to make their programs bigger and busier. If they work for a parachurch it’s even simpler as givers like to see numbers… as in the United States big numbers mean you are significant so “hundreds” sounds so much more significant  than “tens.”

The thinking of both is backwards because we think that if we disciple a lot of people, we will grow. And, if you are in a church context the busier you keep the church kids the more “discipleship” you are seen as doing from the bosses and parents perspective.

In fact, as I was trained, discipleship predicates evangelism. To state the lie more clearly, most youth ministries training programs teach that in order to reach more people we have to focus on training those you have. And some of the training I’ve received suggest 2-3 years of discipleship before you try to reach a single person.

Two quick theological points for this lie.

#1 Check out the parable of the lost sheep. When you do ministry in a community with “lost sheep” (meaning students who haven’t heard the gospel) do you think you should focus your attention on “the 99?” I think youth ministry should be focused primarily on evangelism and reaching the lost and secondarily mentoring the found. A lot of my fellow youth workers like to mention that Jesus only had a small discipleship group of 12. But let’s not forget that he had 12 disciples while reaching, feeding, and performing miracles to the multitudes.

#2 In a single sitting, read Acts 2-4. Go ahead. I’ll wait. So what did you see? I saw that the leaders didn’t wait for 2-3 years while new believers were being discipled. They were compelled by the urgency of the gospel! In fact, they discipled while reaching multitudes. The more institutional the church gets the less people they reach. So while many youth workers build programs, they miss thousands of opportunities to be on the front lines at their schools reaching lost kids day-by-day.

You see, if youth ministry is all about discipleship, it never would have gotten started in the first place! The reason parachurch youth ministry got rolling in the 40s-60s was because the “church” thought Jesus’s salvation was for the church kids.

Youth workers (paid, volunteer, expert, rookies) don’t get caught in the lie of reaching the found and being satisfied with the lost finding you. Coddling the apathetic, baysitting the saved, and entertaining the church’s youth is not why we do youth ministry. We do youth ministry to reach the lost!

And we disciple our church kids best by being Christ-like in our walk with Jesus. Read Acts 2-4 again... it’s a two-fold plan for discipleship, isn’t it?

Church leaders: Wanna see your church grow? Try reaching people without a program. Get out of the office and start serving IN your community instead of serving OUTSIDE of your community.

Part one: The 10% Rule

Part two: It’s about discipleship

Part three: You have to have a youth pastor

By Adam McLane

Kristen and Adam live in Ahwahnee, California.

10 comments

  1. Good post, I like this series! It seems like the issue lies in how church leadership defines discipleship. If “discipleship” is getting people to show up, if it’s attending a Sunday morning class, if it’s a training program, then I think you’re right; there is much more to youth ministry. But if “discipleship” means living out the mission of Jesus by being sent into the world to share the gospel of the kingdom, then it seems like it IS all about discipleship. The problem comes in divorcing evangelism and discipleship.

  2. I don’t entirely disagree. But I think that if there are scales… most youth groups tip 99% towards discipleship and 1% towards evangelism. I would argue that the best discipleship occurs when your disciples help you with your primary task. Pretty sure that’s the model Christ gave… I could be wrong. I’m not trying to give the solutions… just trying to point out the flaw!

  3. I think so. I think you need to go in and tell your boss that in order to really do youth ministry you only plan on coming to the office about a half a day a week… and you think he should do the same. 🙂

    I suggested that to a couple of friends and they made it seem like they needed an office to do ministry! Ha!

  4. you know, the actual greek word for “go” is better translated “as you go…” i’m a firm believer that we need to make service/evangelism as natural as worship in our youth ministries so that as THEY go, they are making disciples, too.

  5. My pastor would be fine with that. He doesn’t really care when I’m in or out of the office, just as long as the ministry is moving forward. Unfortunately, I can’t quite pull that off without being in the office at least a couple days a week. (I was only here for 3 days last week.)

  6. This makes me think of somehow issuing a challenge. What would happen if pastors were locked out of their offices for a month? What if they had to work out of the local coffee shop? Or better yet, had to go find a place to serve their community 8 hours a day?

    It’d be cool to have the power to issue a challenge like that, wouldn’t it?

    I’m not going to lie. Having worked in the church for most of the 2000s… there’s way too much office time, too many programs, and not enough of the good stuff.

  7. I am thankful that I am part of a church that “allows” me to serve the community in various roles and they see it as “part of the job” and not someting that I must do “outside of the job”.

    I just need to do more. But, I love being at the free medical clinic, meals on wheels, child service and more ….

  8. That’s a great poll question, Adam: how many hours a week are “office hours” for youth ministers, and how many hours are spent out of the offices serving, connecting with, and engaging the community?

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