Why Youth Ministry Exists
I am a junior high youth intern training to become a youth minister. 100 years ago my job would not exist, because it was not needed. I have heard the argument from some churches that youth ministry should not exist because it is not biblical. I feel like Jesus was the first youth minister and the first youth group was His disciples. If you don’t believe me, then try reading any of the Gospels and picture the twelve disciples as junior highers today.
I feel like today’s junior highers are tougher to work with than the twelve disciples of Jesus’ time. Working with junior highers can be rewarding, but also very tough at times. They can be easily distracted and some could care less what you have to say.
I would say the single major reason in why they are so difficult to work with is adolescence. This is key; youth ministry exists because of adolescence.
“Adolescence” - the transitional period between puberty and adulthood in human development, extending mainly over the teen years and terminating legally when the age of majority is reached.
The word adolescence was not coined until the early 1900s, when the rise of mandatory education was beginning. Now today we have laws that require all individuals under the age of 18 to attend a public or private school. Back in the day though, it was common for a kid to grow up working on a farm or with his/her dad as a blacksmith, etc…
What is the value in that? Yes, they were not as educated, but their families showed their value to their kids. If you worked on a farm, you needed every hand you could. And because of this, children grew up into adults faster. This is why it was at one point common for people to be married at 14-17 years of age. It has nothing to do with the fact that we live longer today, it is because of the education standards placed. Kids are basically forced to hit the pause button on their life for about 11-12 years.
Working with youth, one common theme that exists is the desire to feel valued.
Now though, instead of families being six or seven, they are one or two kids, because kids are “financial burdens” or to some just plain “burdens.” Families cannot afford to be big. They urge their kids to do good in school so they can get a scholarship to a good university so that they can get a good job and support their family so that their kids can grow up and repeat the same process.
So if you did not see the pattern here, I will explain: today’s education system offers many opportunities for advancement for the individual, but at the expense of the family.
Youth have been de-emphasized from the family. Family’s are placing pressure on the youth for the future, but the youth never enjoy their life currently.
Then you have some strange scenarios, such as at the church I’m at. Bent Tree Bible does not have sunday school. They only have two morning services. Now, the junior highers have a worship service that is different from the main service. Let me repeat: Bent Tree does not have sunday school. So put it all together: the junior highers show up with their family, but the parents go to ‘big church’ while the junior highers go to theirs.
How can we raise spiritually mature youth if they are not even worshiping with their family?
Enter the youth minister.
Back in the day, the family taught the youth everything he/she needed to know to survive, and because the youth was a necessary component for the survival of the family, they grew up quicker. Now though, we have youth who are more educated, but are spending less and less times with their family, placing a greater strain on the youth ministry. Many families view youth ministry as the source of their children’s spiritual life. Many do not. Either way though, when a youth spends less time with their family, the youth minister faces a greater challenge, typically with the maturity.
I led a small group on Wednesday with just five guys, and it was an impossible task to keep them quiet and focused for even one minute. It is so frustrating to try to share the Word of God with individuals who do not know respect.
The church responded to the growing of adolescence with youth ministry, in hoping to provide support for the youth. What many ministries have become though is just an entertainment center. It is very difficult to teach God’s Word to these kids. They don’t care. They don’t want to learn more. They spend all week in school learning way more than they need to, so why would they want to learn more?
This is the youth ministers challenge, especially for junior highers: how do you get the youth involved spiritually? Maturity plays a vital role in spiritual growth, and we have already figured out that these kids lack maturity for the most part. This is a question I attempt to solve daily, praying the Holy Spirit would work through me.
We need to find ways to help the youth grow up spiritually, not score well on the SAT.