The 3 Most Misused Verses in Youth Ministry

1. Matthew 18:20 – When two or more are gathered…

This is often used in defense of youth church, or youth groups being a church alternative.

‘Well all you need for church is two or three believers and a cheeky Nandos… boom!’
‘Me and my mate do church in the car listening to Hillsong!’

There’s two whopping problems with this:

  1. God is in lots of places that aren’t church; that’s kinda the deal with omnipresence. God’s presence alone doesn’t make something church.
  2. Church is lots of other things than just gathering (or in the actual context of the verse, correction and discipline). Church should probably include things like worship, teaching, scripture reading, a wider variety of people, sacraments etc. too.

Making a specific group is fine – but using this verse to call your group group ‘church’ is a little bit naughty! Being Christian does not equal being church. #wristslap

2. Jeremiah 29:11 – I have an epic plan for you…

‘God has an amazing (kinda) plan for your life (true if you add an ’s’) which, if you find it (how?), you will never get bored, hurt, needy, depressed, or confused (just no).’

We use this to help us push through hardship in the hope of getting to something better by tapping into God’s secret blueprint for our lives.

The problem though is, in context, this is not what God was offering to the Israelites. He was not promising to sort out their struggles and send them home from exile. In v.7 he says they can prosper right where they are.

This verse is not about some individual future blessing or plan, its about the whole people of God communicating with and depending on Him right slap bang in the middle of suffering and trial. And isn’t that so much better? Teach that instead!

3. 1 Timothy 4:12 – Don’t let anyone look down on you because of your youth…

This is one of those weird greek words that could basically mean anyone under the age of forty. Timothy was about 15-16 when Paul met him on his missionary journey (Acts 16:1), but the letter was written about 14 years later. This makes Tim around 30!

Even though the sentiment is true, there are better examples of actually young people who did amazing things in the Bible – like the disciples.

2 replies
  1. Matt Sinar
    Matt Sinar says:

    Hey Tim,

    I’m not sure that third one is a misuse of the verse at all. I think you’re right, that the majority of people wouldn’t know that the greek word used often refers to a very wide range of ages (I didn’t realise quite the extent of it myself). However, applying it to teenagers really doesn’t constitute a misuse of the verse. If you expand the context of the verse quoted, it goes on to say, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, on love, in faith and in purity.” Encouraging the young people we work with to be inspired by this verse is really important. One of the reasons I love working with young people is that they don’t just accept what adults tell them without question, and often aren’t afraid to call adults out on our mistakes (and especially our hypocrisies!). So for teenagers to hear that they can set an example to adults – that they have the potential to be leaders, in a world that seeks to see them as learners – I think is exactly what Paul intends when he writes that verse. It’s a subversive message that, in my experience, connects with young people who see some of the adults in church simply ‘going through the motions’ of faith – going to church out of a sense of duty, or habit, or “that’s what I’ve always done”, and rather than have them turn away thinking, “these people say one thing and do another, so there’s clearly no truth in what they preach”, they are inspired to put things into practice themselves and show us how it’s really done.

    I do agree with you though that we need to be very careful to take verses in context. Another that I’d add to your list is 1 Corinthians 6:19 – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit…” which is used to talk about things like smoking, drugs, alcohol, tattoos, piercings, etc, when the original context is very clearly talking about sexual purity. It’s an easy shift to make, because seeing your body as a temple of the Holy Spirit does indeed inform our attitudes towards these things in the same way as it informs our attitudes towards sexual purity, but I think we need to be careful when we just take these verses and apply them to other issues.

    Thanks for keeping up the blog Tim, I read it regularly and often find it helpful in my thinking.

    • youthworkhacks
      youthworkhacks says:

      Hi bud. Thanks for commenting, I always enjoy your engagement with the posts!

      You’re probably right too – there is still a healthy principle we can use in that passage. The misuse really comes in when we teach that Timothy *was* a teenager and then read the verse accordingly. There are better verses for that, and we do have to remain faithful to the text, otherwise we will miss the real thrust of that section.


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