If you’ve seen parts 1 & 2 you’ll know that I’m on a study week looking through the most resent, top scoring dissertations from probably the most academic, Bible-driven Bible College in the UK. Today I’m highlighting and summarizing the important argument in favour of Youth Ministry from the Bible in:
‘A Biblical Mandate For Youth Ministry’, by Andrew Cook.
This short thesis is broken into three parts:
1st – an opening discussion of adolescence
2nd – an outline of the argument against doing Youth Ministry
3rd – a Biblical defense of and model for Youth Ministry
I will go through each.
Andrew looks at both the sociological and Biblical approaches the adolescence question.
Sociologically Andrew points out, adolescence as a transition from childhood to adulthood has always existed in some form and is often referred to as ‘storm and stress.’ This term, coined by the largely discredited work of G. Stanley Hall has nevertheless been a useful term to describe this often tumultuous time of transition. The massive changes both socially and biologically during adolescence makes this transitional age group a very distinct people.
Although their is much disagreement, Andrew suggests a broad age group surrounding (just before, during and just after) puberty to be our focus.
Biblically, we find few places speaking directly to this transitional time, however historically they do exist. The Jewish education system celebrates times of transition for instance. Further, in passages such as 1 Chronicles 23 and Leviticus 27 we find that the age of 20 is a significant time for adult value and responsibility.
A category of ‘young men’ or ‘young adults’ also exist in places like Deuteronomy 32 and Jeremiah 6 – where such a group is seen as a sub-category of Children. In 1 John 2:12-14, categories include ‘children’, ‘young men’ and ‘fathers.’ ‘Youths’ is another term found many places such as Job 31 and 1 Timothy 4.
The adolescent ‘youth’ or ‘young adult’ stages of development Biblically are seen as time to grow away from youthful sin and temptations (1 Cor. 6; Prov. 5:3, 8; 1 Tim. 5:11; Prov. 1:10-19) and grow into wisdom and maturity (Prov. 1-9; 1 Kings 12:8; 14:30; 1 Pet. 5:5; 1 Tim. 5:1-2).
The Argument Against Youth Ministry
Instead of segregated youth ministry some say that we should look to integrated and inclusive whole family ministry.
Those supporting this argument (Andrew notes particularly the online film, ‘Divided’ by Philip Leclerc) say the crisis of young people leaving the church is largely the fault of what they call the ‘godless, pagan, Darwinian’ invention that is age segregated youth ministry. They note that only age-integrated worship is seen in Scripture where the youth-specific ministry and discipleship is given through parents alone.
They see age segregated youth ministry as undermining corporate worship and undermining parental ministry.
It’s worth saying, that even though the Biblical arguments presented by advocates of this argument are pretty weak they do raise some important challenges about integration and parenting.
The Biblical Basis For Youth Ministry
Andrew starts this section by helpfully saying:
“The argument against youth ministry cannot be supported biblically, but this does not in itself ratify all approaches to adolescent discipleship.
The spiritual poverty of some approaches is obvious: the gospel is not proclaimed, the Bible is not taught, young people are not included in the community of faith, there is little if any spiritual growth, and the only legacy seems likely to be some very high scores at Mario Kart and a few broken church windows.”
Andrew outlines (very basically) three of the most frequently used youth work models in the UK and their drawbacks:
– Incarnational model – prefers sharing stories to preaching the gospel.
– Worship model – encourages faith based on subjective, emotional experience not propositional truth.
– Funnel model – prefers entertainment to Bible study and content.
This is a useful set of thoughts to have in the backs of our minds as we continue.
Andrew finds Biblical examples of ministry happening with adolescents outside the nuclear family but within the church family. For instance in Deuteronomy 29 there is a communal approach to sharing responsibility for each other – specifically the elders for the young people in the whole community. Also, in Nehemiah, Ezra groups people according to their ages in order to teach God’s word (Neh. 8). Further, in Proverbs there is a communal nature to teach wisdom to youths outside the nuclear family unit. Finally, in the New Testament there is a big push towards shared community life and specifically Andrew gives us Titus 2 as an example of the young being taught communally and Luke 2:41-52 where the 12 year old Jesus is sitting with the elders – away from his parents – discussing God’s word.
All this said, there is a prominent push in Andrew’s model to integrate young people into the church and support parents as much as possible – not exclusively (like the proponents against Youth Ministry might say), but heavily.
Andrew therefore goes on to find a prime but not sole responsibility on the parents to disciple young people (Deut. 6; Prov. 1-9; Eph. 6) and some age-specific applications of Biblical truth outside the sole parental structure (Eph. 6; Col. 3). Finally Andrew demonstrates how Church is family just as important as the nuclear family (Mark 3:31-35; Luke 14:26; 1 Tim. 5:1-2) and shows how special space is given to ‘youths’ (1 Cor. 12:21-26).
All this goes to show that youth ministry within a inclusive church family structure is a Biblical model for Youth Ministry. Youth Ministry should never be solely segregated, divided or exclusive – and the parents should not be undermined. However the growth of adolescence is the responsibility of the whole community with a Bible-driven passion for youth discipleship. This vital for the health of the whole church – and vital to the health of successful youth ministries.
Thank you Andrew! Lots of helpful things in here and a wonderful grasp of the Bible’s role in defining what youth ministry actually is.
I would love to see a longer thesis with room given for models of general discipleship, spiritual healing, sanctification and growth and how they would apply to this model – and I’d really value a look at culture differences and how these application might look in today’s unique world. Finally I’d also like to see what role Bible-drive, but culturally specific young people’s mission looks like in this church-integration model. My suspicion is it would struggle somewhat without some more cultural wiggle-room.
Well worth the time in the Word! Cheers.