Our Philosophy of Youth Ministry
We begin with two foundational premises:
#1 Young people are the responsibility of their parents.
#2 The task of the church is to make disciples.
Based on these two foundational premises, we are committed to the following philosophy of ministry among young people.
The origins of the "Youth Ministry"
The church has only embraced the concept of "youth ministry" as separate from the mainstream of the rest of the congregation since the 1940s. Why did this happen? During WWII men went off to war and women went into the workforce. After the war, though many working women returned to their primary ministry as homemakers, many others remained in the workforce. Since that time, the number of working mothers and broken families continued to increase. Families suffered as a result.
As the family has broken down, institutions, including the church, have sought to take up the slack. They have sought to do what God ordained the family to do.
Has this been successful? The continuing breakdown of families and the subsequent collapse of ethics, especially among young people, seem to indicate that this shifting of the responsibility for young people away from the home and onto institutions, including the church, has not been successful.
"Instead of saying that the church should do more for our young people, try doing more for your family."
What philosophy drives the typical church youth group?
The typical church youth group places great emphasis on getting young people to come to activities. In order to get them to come to activities, excitement and fun become the major drawing points. The idea is that if we can get them to come, then we can interest them in the things of the Lord. The typical result of this kind of ministry is three-fold:
1. The young people who really do want to go forward with the Lord often have to settle for fun instead of spiritual challenge. Frequently the spiritually minded young people are outnumbered by those who have no interest in spiritual things. When this happens, the Christian young people receive a dose of worldliness at church to augment the worldliness they get in the world. One local pastor expressed concern that their youth ministry was dragging church kids into the world more effectively than it was bringing non-Christian kids to the Lord.
2. The majority of young people who come for fun and excitement, do not become interested in the things of the spirit. If there is not enough excitement, these drop out. Those who continue only because of fun eventually graduate out of the youth group into the mainstream of the body. At this point they discover that church is not merely about fun and excitement and more drop out. Those who drop out during this transition into adulthood, do so because they were mislead about Christianity while in their "youth group." Having been fed a watered-down version of Christianity, they are disinterested in the real thing.
3. Of course there are a few of those who come as the result of a fun program who do stick around. Do these few, justify what happens to the young people in the other two categories? If our theology affirms that God will save His own, can we not trust that He will save them with the truth rather than with allurements into fun and excitement? We believe He will.
Should the philosophy of the youth ministry be different than that of the church?
The church growth movement that flourished in the 1980s espoused the idea that the church should try to get "unchurched" (unsaved) people into the church by making church appear fun and exciting. This mentality says, "Once we get them in, we can disciple them.” Did this idea, which amounts to a spiritual "bait and switch," work? Many did come to church as this fad swept the church. Some [few?] did end up staying on, but most faded out. Why? The same reason the youth leave when they discover that the common youth group is not what Christianity is about.
At Grace Bible Church, we have chosen not to adopt the ways of the church growth movement. We believe that the church is not a saving institution, but rather an institution for the saved. We believe (and have seen) that the vast majority of those who come to church for reasons that are not spiritual, do not last. These have "tried Christianity," or so they think, and are even less likely to try the real thing later. The most effective evangelism does not take place as a result of inviting non-Christians to COME to events or programs. It takes place because committed, well-fed disciples of Christ GO, sharing their faith. Then, when people are either saved, or at least have genuine interest in spiritual things, they come to church.
Having adopted this philosophy of ministry as a church, why would we choose a different philosophy for our young people?
What did the church do before there was a "youth group?"
In the days before "youth groups," once children were no longer children, they were integrated into the mainstream of the church family. They worshiped and served alongside of their adult counterparts.
It worked for nineteen and a half centuries. In the last half of the twentieth century we have seen many changes in the family, the church and in the world. They have not all been for the better.
How do young people become mature adults?
They do not become mature adults by hanging around other less mature young people. They become responsible adults by being around responsible adults and by gradually assuming adult responsibilities.
What do we do for our young people at Grace Bible Church?
1. We count them able to hear and understand the preaching of the Word of God along with the adults both on Sunday mornings and on Thursday nights.
2. The main youth function at Grace is a twice-each-month Bible Study usually on the 1st and 3rd Friday evening of each month. This Bible Study is taught by the church’s pastor. Students and parents have fun at these functions, but Bible study, not fun, is the focal point of the evening.
3. We believe that the church is called to make disciples and to encourage mutual accountability. For this reason the youth ministry encourages young people to be in discipleship groups. The optimum discipleship relationship is between parents and their own children.
4. We believe that Christianity calls for service. For this reason the youth ministry plans various service projects from time to time, giving young people the opportunity to be doers and not merely hearers of the Word.
5. We believe that parents, not the church, are responsible and will be held accountable before God to raise their children. For this reason, the youth ministry seeks to encourage parents and points young people to their parents for counsel, rather than to youth workers. Parents are encouraged to attend and participate in youth studies and functions.
It is a matter of respect.
Besides the fact that we believe that the way we do things is biblically and historically acceptable, we have adopted the philosophy of youth ministry we have because we respect the young people in our church enough to believe that they can have a relationship with Jesus Christ that although enjoyable, is not dependent upon glitz.
We do not insist that ours is the only way to do things. But in obedience to Christ, this is the way we do youth ministry at Grace Bible Church.