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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
By Seth Barnes

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 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.

Comments (7)

  • I am not sure what the real problem is? I will read Yaconeli’s article that you link to.

    You have a solution, discipling in more depth, but toward what end? In Christ’s example with His disciples, the process was not the objective. Process is important but I wonder if the process doesn’t need to be designed around the objective.

    Which gospel are we presenting? Could we be presenting an incomplete ‘Gospel of salvation’ and leaving out the ‘Gospel of Transformation.’ (Brian MCLaren’s new Kindgom thinking???) One problem I see is that we often present a Gospel of sins without dealing with the Gospel of sin and the right to control our lives. In our middle class society we have too much to loose when we give up our lives. We do not showcase clearly to non-ministerial people what you gain in power and authority to transform this world by discipling institutions and even nations as well as individuals.

    But it is about more than world relief, poverty and social justice. Christ transformed Western Europe and maybe America but we are no longer a primary force for transformation except as we react to a present created by others.

    Bob Bufford’s Leadership Network was training Pastors to ‘explore the future.’ That may be appropriate for Pastors who provide the support function. However, we believe that our youth should understand God’s desire for them to ‘create the future’and be encouraged to participate. Bill Gates and Michael Dell, as teenagers, transformed our world. Teens have an example of what could be accomplished.

    Is the Great Commission the driving force or end? Or should it be the complementary function of the “Original Commission” to “…multiple, fill, subdue and rule…” in Genesis 1? Is it just about eternal life or about life?

    We have also lost Martin Luther’s Biblical “work ethic.” It has little meaning for teens as well as adults. We don’t explain God’s original commission to “them.”

    If you get teens or anyone else in the appropriate relationship to both Christ and the Father, understand the purpose of mankind to create the future by subuding and ruling, then many of the other issues take care of themselves.

    What are the problems or are these still symptoms?

    1. Teens don’t understand God’s purpose for mankind.
    2. Teens don’t understand the the FALL was about “control of my life.”
    3. Teens are not presented with a relationship with the Father that leads to power and authority to transform their world.
    4. Teens aren’t challenged to embrace the power and authority granted to a child of God through “intercessory prayer” and the deeds associated with an OVERCOMER described in Revelation chapters 1-3.

    Thoughts from a businessman.

  • Bill,

    I agree with the theology – Original Commission, kingdom, etc. I’m a kingdom guy. And I’m with you on the Lordship issue. Amen and amen!

    But I struggle with the fact that a changed perspective, i.e. more and better information will not do the trick. We have to move from information to formation. Or better put, an information-focus.

  • Good observation. It’s flawed on a number of levels. It’s consumeristic, it’s demographically segmented, it’s led by pastors (one of the 5 Eph. 4 gifts), it meets just once a week, and it has a synagogue-centric orientation in its focus on buildings. I’ll check out Baucham and let me encourage you to read Viola’s “Rethinking the Wineskin.”

  • After working with youth for years the Lord brought Voddie Baucham and his ministry to my face. One of many problems with youth ministry is what I found on this page… I do not see the word “parent” anywhere listed here. This is what Debra means here with her allusion to Voddie and Ephesians. A two-sided coin has been created. On one side the professionalization of “Youth Ministry” has allowed parents to give over the training of their very own children to someone else. On the other side of the coin, the church’s enabling has created a generation of parents who have not been taught or even told it is their responsibility to “train up your child…” We cannot expect the current model of “ministry” to succeed when it goes against the biblical model of Deut. 6 and Psalm 78 – parents teach these things to your children.

  • I don’t know the answer to the problem, but I do know that it has to start at home with parents. We can’t expect success when parents leaves it to someone else to reach out for their kids. Perseverance might be the solution, retreats with no social activity. Better to have 5 good christians than 20 that fake n like social activity.

  • Voddie Baucham, an apologist and pastor from Texas, has some very thought provoking ideas about this subject. It would be well worth your time to check out his website and articles on this topic. The short synopsis of his position is that our current model of segregating churches by age is fundamentally flawed as it conflicts with the biblical model as spelled out in Ephesians. Check it out!

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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