There are thousands of youth groups across America and, don’t get me wrong by the title of this post, I think youth group is great. The act of young people coming together to worship and learn about God is amazing. I support, but I’ve noticed a pattern…a trend if you will…that is inhibiting the original purpose of a youth group which is to fellowship and grow in the Lord as a group.
What is the problem?
The Gospel is becoming normative, it’s something we know of but don’t really…know.
The Bible is no longer being taught as the awe-striking book that it is. Our youth are no longer being immersed in deep, sound theology. We give them a watered-down lesson on redemption and send them on their way, expecting them to somehow “figure it out” on their own. Some churches still teach sound biblical theology, but sadly many don’t. For a lot of teens, youth group is just a place to go and have fun, a place where apathy is welcome and hard, truth-filled lessons are not addressed.
You may notice that churches teaching their congregation and youth the “prosperity” gospel are growing faster than churches teaching the “hard stuff.” The stuff that matters, the stuff that is going to equip their flock to go out into the world prepared to offer the life-changing Gospel and armored against the sinful culture that will try to lead them away from Christ.
Ron Sinder flagged this issue in his book, “The Scandal of Evangelical Conscious: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?“ In his book, he lays out the image of what a radically transformed Christian looks like compared to a believer who is feed “prosperity”, listing the behavioral traits that the more doctrinally rigorous group tend to show.
They (the radically transformed Christians) are nine times more likely than all the others to avoid “adult-only” material on the Internet. They are four times more likely than other Christians to boycott objectionable companies and products and twice as likely to choose not to watch a movie specifically because of its bad content. They are three times more likely than other adults not to use tobacco products and twice as likely to volunteer time to help needy people.
Forty-nine percent of all born-again Christians with a biblical worldview have volunteered more than an hour in the previous week to an organization serving the poor, whereas only 29 percent of born-again Christians without a biblical worldview and only 22 percent of non-born-again Christians had done so. (Scandal, p. 128)
He concludes that youth pastors and pastors themselves should listen and take notice of this with great seriousness.
[The] findings on the different behavior of Christians with a biblical worldview underline the importance of theology. Biblical orthodoxy does matter. One important way to end the scandal of contemporary Christian behavior is to work and pray fervently for the growth of orthodox theological belief in our churches. (Scandal, pp. 129-130)
We as a church must face the sad truth.
It’s the 21st century, an age where Kindle Bibles and Bible apps are of abundance. An age where “biblical normalcy” should not be an issue, but it is. A study conducted by Lifeway Research found that only 45 percent of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40 percent of the people attending read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 1 in 5 churchgoers say they never read the Bible—essentially the same number who read it every day. Think about that. Now think about the young people who are getting a watered-down version of biblical truth and pair it with that sad statistic. It’s no wonder our youth are so easily swayed away from the Gospel! If they are spending little to no time in the Bible, they are not going to be equipped for what lies outside their churches doors.
The idea of the Bible and what it teaches, is normal to our young people and they have a shaky understanding of what the Word of God says, but are not applying it to their daily life because they are not being taught why and how the Bible correlates with modern day issues such as LGBTQ, pornography, dating, online issues, etc.
The question now is how do we, as a unified church, fight against this pattern?
Combating a negative trend.
We have addressed why the Bible is becoming “normal”, now we will dive into how we can change that.
One of the major mistakes youth ministries make is that they groom their teens to become program consumers and not long-term disciples of the Word. By program consumers, I mean teens that only come because they get to do something fun. Having fun is not the issue, but it becomes an issue when “fun” is all that they come for.
A good youth ministry focuses on discipling their youth and teaching them to become world changers.
Another habit of strong youth group is their use of prayer. Yes, prayer. Youth leaders need to be praying with and for their students on a regular basis in order to really get to know them and understand what their needs are and what they are struggling with. Prayer is a great tool for going beyond shallowness, but it will take time so do not lose faith! Invest in your students and reap the benefit of your investment (See Ephesians 6:18).
A prayerful youth group is a stronger youth group.
I’ve been to a youth group whose main focus seemed to be the Old Testament, and I learned absolutely nothing that I could apply to my life or anything that combated the lies the world was telling me. Teaching from the Old Testament is not the issue, many valuable lessons can be learned from that part of Scripture. I’m just using my experience as an example for practical theology.
Teaching our youth theology that goes over their heads is not, I repeat, not going to help them. Use sound theology, but incorporate it in such a way that your teens are not zoning out and wishing that their youth pastor would speak English.
Deep theology won’t help your youth if they can’t understand it and will result in their lack of interest and your increased frustration.
Implementing these strategies in your youth group will ensure that you are leading and equipping your young people for the real world. Granted, it’s not easy, but the payoff is worth the work.