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Towards a new model of youth ministry

Mike Yaconelli, who pioneered our current model of youth ministry, wrote an article “The Failure of Youth Ministry” in 2003, the year he died. Something he said in it struck me today: “The success of youth ministry in this country is an illusion. Very little youth ministry has a lasting imp…
By Seth Barnes

yaconelli4Mike Yaconelli, who pioneered our current model of youth ministry, wrote an article “The Failure of Youth Ministry” in 2003, the year he died. Something he said in it struck me today:

“The success of youth ministry in this country is an illusion.

Very little youth ministry has a lasting impact on students.

I believe we’re no more effective today reaching young people with the gospel than we’ve ever been. In spite of all the dazzling super stars of youth ministry, the amazing array of YS products, the thousands of youth ministry training events, nothing much has changed.

Faith is difficult.

Discipleship requires a huge investment of time. Most of us don’t have the time. Or we chose not to take the time. Or our current models of ministry don’t allow us the time.

Youth ministry as an experiment has failed. If we want to see the church survive, we need to rethink youth ministry.

What does that mean? I don’t have a clue. But my hunch is that if we want to see young people have a faith that lasts, then we have to completely change the way we do youth ministry in America.”

Well, if you’re a youth pastor, that’s depressing.  The good news is that we have a model:  Jesus Christ.  We’ve just gotten a little far afield from his pattern.  If he invested three years in his disciples (that’s 15,000 hours!) using an intensive model of ministry, that should be our pattern too. 

The average youth minister may get three hours a week invested in a student’s life.  That’s 468 hours over three years.  Not even 3% of Jesus’ model.  Of course we’re going to fail!  The amazing thing is that we’d so easily sell out to a model that has so little hope of success.

The answer is radical: follow Jesus’ pattern.  Remember how skittish the disciples were after he’d died?  They just barely caught on – it took time for them to get it.  Making disciples takes time!  It is relational!  There are no shortcuts!
 
I’ll spell out a specific prescription for youth ministries that want to follow Jesus’ pattern in the next two blogs.

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