Posted by: reformbama | May 16, 2009

Wrong And Right Ways For Youth Ministries

The following message was delivered at the 2003 Shepherds’ Conference, A ministry of Grace Community Church 818.909.5530. © 2003 All Rights Reserved. A CD, MP3, or tape cassette copy of this session (# 1053) can be obtained by going to
The Next Generation
A Biblical Look at Student Ministries
Copyright 2003 by
Dr. Rick L. Holland Associate Pastor, College and Student Ministries

Prayer: “Father, what a wonder and a joy it is to think about the next generation, to focus on them, to train and equip them, to show them who you are and what you’re like. Lord, rally our hearts around the importance of student ministries, the importance of these precious souls that you’ve placed in our churches. Give us grace and courage and vision and conviction and wisdom to be able to shepherd these people to your honor and your glory. In Jesus name, Amen.”
Well, I’m thankful that those of you who have come, have come. Are there any senior pastors in the room? One.. .all right! Thank you, especially for coming. It is always amazing to me how few senior pastors end up showing up at our youth seminars. So you’re the one lone hero, and I appreciate that. Two, I’m sorry there’s two heroes.. .three heroes. Now that it’s a “hero” people are raising their hands. We’ve got guys who aren’t senior pastors, “Oh, yeah, that’s me…”
I’ve been in youth ministry for 22 years, and can I vent just a second for the three of you?
Youth ministry is typically not looked at as legitimate in the church. It is not looked at as important in the church. It is not looked at as real ministry. It’s not looked at with a dignity or significance, and that’s a shame, but if I can shift gears and talk to those of us who are in youth ministry a little bit—a lot of that is our fault. We’ve kind of succumbed to the “Hey, Hi, Ho” Youth Pastor. You know what a “Hey, Hi, Ho” Youth Pastor is? “Hey…, Hi…, Ho…!” That’s about as deep as they get. As deep as a birdbath, is most youth ministries. They think that if you can wear your boxers high, and your pants hanging off your tail, and everyone can see it, and you can act like the students, and you know the latest lingo, and you have an N64 or a Playstation 3, 4 or 7 and you’ve got it all wired, and you’ve got an X-Box, and you can have students at your house and you know how to order pizza, and you know how to go to the football game, and you know where the campus is, and you know definitely what movies to see and what not to see, then you’re a good youth pastor. And I feel for you guys, and I hope that you share my sentiment. It’s a sad legacy and it’s a sad reputation that we’ve inherited, that we’ve learned. Sometimes we’ve earned it.

It’s time that the church stood up and took seriously what this seminar is about—the next generation. There’s a myth that’s out there. It’s a lie. It’s from Satan. It’s from hell, and it goes like this: “Youth are the future of the church.” The problem with that is that it says that youth are nothing in the church right now, and it’s our job as men and as even women, shepherding the men and women in our ministries to stop and say, “No, they’re not the future, they are the church right now.”
And if you just think back. .I am so convicted when I read history—I’m kind of a history buff–and you read Jonathan Edwards going to college, you know, nailing down his theology when he’s fifteen years old. Calvin and Luther understanding and knowing four or five languages by the time they’re twelve or thirteen. We’ll talk about this a little later, but Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, doing what? Standing up to the then-known king of the world, based on their biblical convictions from Leviticus chapter 11, and they were probably junior-highers when they did that.
What are we doing with our students? What are we doing with the people who are dealing with our students? How can we move from where we are to where we need to be?
Well, what I want to do, and this is probably a little different than you may have been expecting, and if you were here last year, I hope this might encourage you. I want to talk a little bit about the notes. All of the stuff is on the CD. I tried to make sure that you had more that you would ever want on the CD, so we didn’t have to cover all that, and then I just want to kind of bleed on you a little bit and just share my heart for the direction and the vision for youth ministry, and just, if I can, encourage us all and have us rally around the battle cry of training the next generation, and having that be not the vision of the youth ministry, but the vision of the church, the vision of the deacons and the elders and the leaders.
Well, some noteworthy observations, I think you may have these there:
1. Less than ten percent of the junior high students in churches today will still be involved with the church by their senior year of college. That is a horrific, but true statistic. Think about your
junior high ministry. If you have ten of them, look at the fact that only one statistically will still be
involved in the church by the time they are a senior in college.
2. Crime and sexual promiscuity among teenagers is the highest in history. Recent surveys reveal that there’s no significant differences in attitude or behavior between teens inside and teens outside
the church.
3. Yet more material on youth ministry has been published in the last decade than in the previous fifty years combined. Something’s wrong with that. I won’t take the time to go into which book this is, but let’s just say that it’s the best selling book on youth ministry in the last few decades and it talks about, very rightly so, it says, this guy says that, “Youth will rise and fall to the level of expectations of the leaders.” It’s a very good statement, only to find later in the appendix, it didn’t even make the book, it didn’t even make the first appendix, it didn’t make the second appendix, it was in the third appendix on how to get students into the Bible, during which this author says, that the best way to get the students in the Bible is to introduce them to the One Minute Bible! Now if students rise and fall to our level of expectation, and our level of expectation is one minute a day, and that’s the leading selling book on youth ministry, where are we? Where are we going? Where have we been?
4. The average tenure of a youth pastor is less than 18 months.
5. The percentage of teens who come from a broken home is the highest in history, 55 percent

6. Generally the least theologically trained staff member of a church is the youth pastor. That is absolutely criminal in my mind. You’ve got the most influential group in the entire church, the softest to the Lord, you have the people who have their minds ready to be molded into whatever, and we give them the least theologically trained guy. You know a hot shot kid out of Bible college who had two Bible courses, is ready to be youth pastor, we say, “Go get ’em, tiger!” He goes after it, and his God will be their God, his error will be their error. I’m not taking shots at our senior pastors, but so many times our pastors or our elders just kind of give us the youth ministry and look the other way.
7. The parents subscribe to curbology. You know what curbology is? They drive to the curb of the church, they let off their student, and they hope that you’re going to fix them by the time you get them back. One of the bravest moments of my life, that I’ve regretted some since then, but I had a parent, two parents actually, sit in my office downstairs and were telling me, you know, that their student had been coming for “x number of months,” nothing was happening, what’s my problem? What are you doing? You have a band. How can you be doing this? And they were going through all this stuff that this student was going through, and I was listening, listening, listening, forty-five minutes I couldn’t
even get a word in. And it was real obvious because I could get a word in what was wrong with the student, by the way. And finally the father, you know, the Vegas Nerve had fired, the veins were bulging, and he stands up with his finger in my face, across my desk and said, “What are you going to do to help our student?” To which I probably sinfully responded to, “It took you sixteen years to screw him up, it’s going to take me a little longer than a few months to fix him.”
It’s a little truer than we’d like for it to be, isn’t it? Parents just say, “Hey, here’s my kid, fix him, make him godly, make him holy, bring him back to us as a good guy.” And yet the youth pastor typically is the least trained on the staff. Why is that? And we wonder why the church is so weak. At the time when they’re most teachable, what are we giving them? “Kum-ba-ya” and pizza. It’s always pizza. I like pizza, don’t get me wrong, especially a Papa John’s with the garlic sauce.
8.    General perception of youth ministry is that it’s no more than glorified babysitting. Typically it goes like this, “Oh, if we can just keep them in the church till they’re in college. If we can just keep them around, then somehow, some way then they’ll get it in college. That’s how Satan works, isn’t it? Satan just says, “Aw, if I can just keep them around the world till they’re in college, then I can start influencing them.” Well, when does he start? Nine months before their parents are born just about, right? Satan is the most successful youth pastor alive today. He knows how to shepherd. He knows how to influence. He knows how to woo. He knows how to comfort. He knows how to make
them feel what they want to feel. He knows what they want. He knows how to give it to them. And we’re just standing by saying, “Oh, if we could just get them to stay until they’re in college, maybe we can have an influence.” Yet—mark this, highlight it, underline it, star it, whatever you do, over eighty percent of people who give their lives to Christ—eighty percent of people who become Christians—come to Christ before age 25. You know what that’s called? Youth ministry! Eighty percent of the church is saved during the youth ministry age. If that’s true, shouldn’t the focus of the
church have a little sharper distinction on what it’s doing with students?
Well let me just briefly go over some contemporary trends in youth ministry. I don’t want to spend too much time on this, but twenty years in youth ministry has given me something, and if nothing else it’s the experience of finding a bunch of junk.
First of all is pragmatism. Pragmatism. Wrong goals create the wrong methods, and success in this kind of ministry is defined by numbers, good activities and involvement. This is the church growth movement at the youth level. Can I tell you this? The church growth movement was a youth program. Bill Hybels was a youth pastor and took that whole model to Willow Creek, and that’s where the whole thing came from. Whatever we need to do to get the kids to come, that’s what we need to do. It’s eventology. It’s all built around an event that draws numbers and is ultimately defined, is ultimately rendered successful or a failure based on the numbers, on the success of it. If I can give you.. .I don’t want to be the hero of any of my stories, and I want to make God the hero of this, but I went back to Detroit to be a youth pastor back in the mid-90 ‘s for a couple of years to help a friend of mine out who was back there, and they had just gone through a really struggling time where the youth pastor had to be asked to leave. And so I walk in, you know, I’ve been at Grace Church, I’ve traveled around the world giving youth ministry conferences, and I think that I am first round draft pick, here we go. And I got in there and there were seventy kids. That’s a pretty good high school ministry, and I started doing what I thought should be done, and about two weeks later there were forty kids. And I kept doing, and then there were thirty kids, and then there were twenty kids, and we got down to twelve. And I remember at one point I went home, it was freezing as it always is in Detroit, and I said, “Kim”~the first round draft pick mentality was gone very fast—I said, “Kim, I’m a complete failure. What am I doing wrong? What do I need to do to make this thing work?” And my wife, who is.. .she’s the finest Christian I know. She’s the most godly human I’ve ever met on the planet. My wife’s so perceptive. She knows the Lord, she knows ministry, she knows theology and she knows me. She said, “So I guess what you’re saying is that if you don’t have those numbers or if you don’t keep those kids, that God’s not in it and you’re a failure, right?” “I wasn’t going to say it like that, honey.” And then she says this, she said, “What you’ve been doing is the man I thought I married. If you change now, I didn’t know who I married.”
So we just kept doing it. You know what we did, we got together Sundays and Wednesdays, we
sang a few songs and then I
preached for about forty-five or fifty minutes. Then we had fifteen. A few months later we had thirty. About a year later we were back up to seventy, back to even water level. And two and a half years later we had 300. They weren’t there because of me. I think what happened was they were there before for all the wrong reasons and when those reasons were gone, there was no reason to be there. But then the people who were coming were coming because they wanted to worship, they wanted to learn, they wanted discipleship, they wanted to grow, a staff was being trained. I think that sometimes we’re so terrified to lose students who really aren’t attached, that we’ll do anything to keep everybody coming. You know most of these students ,   don’t like Jesus, but we want them to like us. That’s a problem. Pragmatism.
2.    Then there’s psychology. Wrong diagnoses leads to wrong actions. More emphasis in this model is put on understanding the teen than understanding God. hi this model, sin is not the problem, being a teenager is the problem. You know, if you read most things on teenagers, this is what they say, “They struggle with acceptance.” Okay. “They struggle with self-esteem and appreciating who they are.” Okay. “They struggle with ADD and that means they have low attention span, they have all…,” and as you go down the list, I was reading it all going, “Yeah, that’s me, that’s me, that’s me, that’s me.” I mean I have ADDDDDDH is what I have then. They don’t need to be psychologized. I’m going to confess something. I know less about students now than I did when I started in terms of who they are in the culture, but, I feel like I know more about who they are in their depravity and who they can be in Christ than I did when I started.

Youth only have three problems, okay. I can say this with absolute authority because it was God’s assessment. First John 2:14-16, what did He say? “All that’s in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life.” They either have one or two or three of those problems. Any counseling that we ever do with any youth comes down to one of those three problems. You say, “What about their self-esteem?” Well, a person who’s struggling from self-pity and self-esteem is really struggling from pride, and the pride is they’re not frustrated that they don’t like themselves enough, they’re frustrated that other people don’t like them as much as they like themselves. That’s what the low self-esteem is. Kids don’t have low self-esteem. No one has low self-esteem. I can say that with biblical authority. What does Ephesians say? “No man hateth his flesh, but nurtures and cherishes it.” Right? The problem is when people don’t appreciate them to the degree that they appreciate themselves, then it looks like low self-esteem. There’s no such thing. But if we grant that and then we start building them up and making them feel good about themselves, we’re just pushing them further and further from the gospel, which is the gospel of—what did John say? Self-denial.

3. Then there’s mysticism. Spirituality and maturity are defined in this by experience rather than by rationality. You say, “What do you mean by that?” Second Peter chapter one, verses two and three, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the true knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus Christ, seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness through the true knowledge of Him.” Christianity is rational, not experiential. Do we experience things in the Christian life? Oh, absolutely! I mean when they sang “Before the Throne” last night, everything,
every pore I had had goose pimples on it. I experience things. I have the wonder of God. That’s wonderful. But the charismatic movement, largely born out of youth ministries as well, by the way, because that’s who’s most influenced by it, teaches people that it’s mystical, it’s emotional, it’s what you experience.

4. Fourthly, parachurchism. Campus ministries have replaced the church as the primary place of spiritual identity. It’s FCA, it’s Student Venture, it’s Campus Crusade, it’s Inter-Varsity, it’s on and on and on. And I get asked all the time as a college pastor, “What do you think about Campus Crusade or FCA or whatever,” and the answer is always the same: They’re only as deep and only as bad and only as good and only as problematic and only as wonderful as the leader. But that’s a problem in and of itself. There’s no consistency because there’s no doctrinal statement. Jesus said, “I will build my Campus Crusade.” What did He say? “My Church.” Now I think that in many ways, God has raised up these, or allowed these campus ministries, these parachurch organizations to exist because the church is sitting on its “duffuss” doing nothing about students. So I’m not here to throw rocks at them. I mean I just wish that those people, if they would take all their passion and all their energy for youth in a parachurch organization and plant themselves in a church and do the same thing, the kingdom of God would be better served.
5.Then there’s Ecumenism. In ecumenism doctrine is seen as divisive and to be avoided for the purpose of working together. Let’s get all the youth together and go do this from fifteen different churches, or let’s get all the youth together to go to this one camp. We stopped going to camps about fifteen years ago. Let me qualify that. We stopped going to camps that other people ran. And the reason we did that is because we kept getting burned. You go to these camps, there’s a speaker you don’t know, he’s going off on this or on that and you’re going “ahhhh”.. .and you have to debrief your students after every meeting and tell them what’s what. So we just said, “Forget that. We’re doing our own camp.” And if you’re thinking, “We only have you know, half a dozen people in our youth ministry,” better to go away for a weekend and do your own thing than to expose them to error or to problems that you’re going to have to unpack and debrief them on. You know, I don’t want to take  any shots at the camps around here, but there are two or three big camps in southern California that we just had to say, “We can’t do this any more.” It was causing more confusion than clarity.

Question: Are you going to name those for us?

Answer: I will when the tape’s not going, is that fair? You never know where these tapes are going to land. Just know you’re  mixing with a lot of other churches who don’t have the same standards that you do. You know, you tell them, “Hey, I want you guys in bed by ten.” And everybody says, “No, we’re  going to start the pillow fight at ten.” And you’re saying, “Hey, dude, I want you in your room by eleven,” and yet this dudette that doesn’t have to be in till twelve, and they have struck up this friendship” at the camp. I’m a control freak in youth ministry, I’m just going to admit it right now. I’m an absolute control freak, because if you don’t control the environment, if you don’t control the ministry, if you don’t control the students, someone else will.

6.    Accommodation.Students define and direct the philosophy of ministry. Fearing the consequences of doing ministry biblicaly, fun and entertainment become both the goal and the means of youth ministry. Just accommodate. What can we do that’ll make them have fun so we can keep them. Oh, no, the church down the street is doing more fun things, so we have to do more fun things to compete with them.

7.    Then there’s postponement. A survivalist mentality to “keep” the students coming until real influence is possible. In postponement, by the way, junior high ministry is usually put on the back burner. Any junior high pastors in here? Praise God for you. I’m going to say something unqualified. I have been a junior high pastor, a high school pastor, a college pastor, an associate pastor here at Grace Church. I’ve seen the inner workings of John’s life in the senior pastorate. I think the most significant ministry in the church is junior high ministry. Let me tell you why.
They come in as children, they leave as adults, and it happens in about a twenty-four month span called junior high. The cement is wet. Puberty happens. Girls lose their germs. Or boys, depending on which sex you’re talking about. We can’t postpone it. You know a lot of churches spend a lot of effort on children’s ministry and I praise God for that. I think Grace Church has the finest children’s ministry in the country, if not the world. My kids are a part of it. I love what we’re doing. A lot of churches see that as significant and they see the adult as significant, but the youth, they’re just kind of out there—we’re not really sure what they’re doing—they’re doing something, and it involves pizza, we know that. And there’s just no elder oversight and control of what’s happening. We’re very careful always to have elders in all of our youth ministries, coming to all our camps, coming to all our meetings. We want oversight, accountability and help, because what usually happens is you get all the young bucks just out of high school or just in college who want to turn around and minister to the youth out of the right motives and the right heart, but they don’t have the maturity and so, you know, you have the slide shows with Beatles music and on and on.

8.    Then there’s integration. And by that I mean making the church as much like the world as possible. If we can make the church like the world, we’ll be okay. We have to ask ourselves, “Are we trying to moralize the unconverted, or convert the immoral?” That’s the question. Are we really trying to moralize the unconverted, or convert the immoral? Youth ministry is not about behavior modification. It’s not about changing them. It’s about seeing their heart changed. Look, psychology and Mormonism can change your behavior. I can change my dog’s behavior. That doesn’t change the heart. And the only thing that changes the heart is the gospel, and the only place the gospel is presented is in thorough and consistent and consecutive biblical exposition. Are you ready for this? Let me steal my own thunder. Junior high and senior high pastors ought to be the forefront expository preachers in the whole church. Do you wonder why they get to high school or college and they go, “Big church is boring”? That’s because they’ve had “Hey, Hi, Ho,” you know, “Dolly Madison” sermons.
I had a guy tell me one time, he says, “You know, I always put the Bible verse on a Power Point because the students don’t bring their Bible and I don’t want to make them feel uncomfortable. Can I just share something? I want every student who doesn’t have a Bible to feel out of place in our ministry, because that’s what we do. Can I tell you something? This may shock some of you guys. Church is about God. That’s a surprise to a lot of people in youth ministry. Church is about God. God is revealed in the scriptures. It’s not just about the beach day and Magic Mountain and a Dodger game and afterglows and fifth quarters and on and on and on. You say, “Are you against activities?” Absolutely not. We do the funnest, bestest, goodest activities at Grace Church of anything I know. We just have a blast. Just ask Eric Bancroft later about Megabox wars and The Great Race. And in college ministry we have.. .we call it Dinner and a Movie, where we spend about six months making a video, we all get together and have dinner and watch it and it’s hilarious and.. .we have a lot of fun in our ministry, but fun is in the context of spiritual priority. Spiritual growth doesn’t take place in the context of fun, it’s just the opposite.

The Myth of Adolescence
Where does most of this come from? Let me just highlight the myth of adolescence. You know the age with which youth ministry deals with is commonly known as adolescence, and our society has been identified as unique in history by calling people between age twelve and age twenty adolescents. Let me give you the history of that, okay?
In 1904, G. Stanley Hall—this is all on your CD, by the way—G. Stanley Hall published a book called.. .and guys, if you publish a book, please, please don’t do this, okay? Here’s his book, Adolescence: It’s Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sociology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education. How do you put that on the spine of… anyway. 1904. This is the first known treatise on adolescence. 1904. The first place to identify that age. In this book, by the way, Hall argues that the stages in a child’s development parallel in mankind’s evolutionary development in history. The thesis of his book and the idea of adolescence is that the period between thirteen and eighteen is a crisis and stormy period of a young person’s life. Hall concluded that these years almost always include extreme inclinations for a person to be very good or very bad.
Has anyone outgrown adolescence? Has anyone in your church outgrown adolescence according to that definition? By the way, it was his book and these expectations that were the basis for segregating school children by age for educational purposes. It was at this point, 1904, that adolescence was—keyword—invented.
Think about the history of Judaism for a minute though. Since the days in the Pentateuch, the Jews celebrated the passing from childhood to adulthood in the Bar Mitzvah (Son of the Commandments ceremony, hi other words, the Jews have held for centuries, biblically, that at around age twelve, thirteen or so, which is no accident that that’s right around puberty, that a person should be fully accepted in the religious community. By the way, you find Jesus going through a similar ceremony or service in Luke chapter 2, verses 41 to 47. That’s when he began to show His authority.
Well my thesis is the teens to whom we minister are not adolescents. They are adults. They’re young adults, okay, but they are adults nonetheless. Physically, emotionally, volitionally they have the capabilities commensurate to adulthood, yet of all places in the world, who retards their spiritual and emotional growth more than any other institution? The church. The church. I want to show you a passage that should rock your world. First Samuel, chapter 17. First Samuel 17, the story of David and Goliath. In First Samuel 17, look at the context here. You know the story. All of Jesse’s sons are there. Everyone’s chickening out, going over to fight Goliath. He’s coming out and he’s challenged God, he’s challenged the Philistine. This is not “Dave and the Giant Pickle,” this is the real thing. Those of you who don’t know what that is—don’t have kids [Veggi Tales], so… Well, where should we pick it up? Let’s just grab verse 26 for a minute. “David spoke to the men who were standing by him saying, ‘What will be done for this man who kills this Philistine and takes the reproach from Israel? For who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should taunt the armies of the living God?'” This is a young little teenage brat, in everyone else’s mind, is saying, “Who’s going to challenge God?” Well, they start talking about it and saying, “Uhhhhh.”
Let’s pick it up in verse 28, “Now Eliab, his oldest brother heard that he spoke to the men, and Eliab’s anger burned against David and he said, ‘Why have you come down here, and with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your insolence and the wickedness of your heart. You’ve come down in order to see a battle.'” Just like after school when there’s a fight, everyone shows up, that’s what he thought David had done. “But David said, ‘What have I done now? Was it not just a question?’ Then he turned away from him to another and said the same thing, and the people answered him the same.” David’s just going to everyone and kind of grabbing them by the tunic and saying, “Who is this guy? What is he doing? He’s taunting God.” They’re going, “Get away, little boy, run away.”
Then in verse 31, “When the words which David spoke were heard, they were told to Saul. Saul, who’s scared out of his mind, says, ‘Uh, let me see the junior higher. Let me see this guy.’ So he sends for him. David says to Saul,”—verse 32—'”Let no man’s heart fail on account of him. I, your servant, will go out and fight this Philistine.'”
The next verse to me is one of the most remarkable, insightful, “ah-ha’s” in all of the Bible. Notice the unbelievable, unmistakable, undisguised conflict in verse 33. “Then Saul said to David, ‘You are not able to go out and fight against this Philistine and fight with him because you are only a youth while he’s been a warrior from his youth.” Do you see a problem there? The Philistines had a pretty big idea about what they should do with their young people—put them in the battle. And Saul said, you know, “Well, that’s theirs, but we believe in adolescence. You’re not old enough. You’re not big enough. You’re not wise enough.” So David goes out and he takes that stone and he just—this is one of the great underdog stories of the Bible.
My kids have “Dave and the Giant Pickle,” and after they watched it a few times, I watched it with them and I thought, “That’s enough.” And so we read this whole narrative and my little son Johnny, he’s four years old, and he says, “Dad, he killed him all the way dead, didn’t he?” I said, “Yeah, he did.” He says, “He chopped his head off with a sword, didn’t he?” I said, “Yes, he did.” I have a sword in my office. It’s an unsharpened sword. We came in the next Sunday morning and I was out making copies—Johnny was in my office—and I could hear—it makes a certain sound—a “shing” when it comes off, and he pulled—and he comes out in the office and he’s almost in tears, and John says.. .it never dawned on me that he didn’t think Goliaths were still around today.   He says, “Dad,”—he’s almost in tears and he’s dead serious and he says, “If Goliath comes in this office, I will chop his head off.” “I’m on your team, that’s where I am.” So I put him on my shoulder, we ran around the office in my suit, it was great.
The Old Testament is graphic. It’s not “Dave and the Giant Pickle,” it’s David who cut his head off and held it up to the armies and said, “This is the power of God in a young man.”
Well, by creating this mythical state known as adolescence, a teenager is in constant flux between childhood and adulthood, since he’s neither fully accepted as either. Is he a child? Well, no. Is he adult? Well, no. What is he? Adolescent. He’s a teenager. He’s weird. I think it’s a significant part of the problems in our society, contributes greatly to peer pressure, gangs, drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, on and on, but also generates anger at parents and a general anti-establishment attitude because they want to grow up and we don’t let them. The problem is in some context the teen is patronized as a child, but in other he’s expected to act like an adult. And we wonder why they’re so screwed up. We’re doing it to them.
The tragedy is this is most propagated in youth ministry. Trying to keep our feet on both sides of children’s ministry and adult ministry without saying, “This is who we are. This is what we’re going to do.”
You know, a couple of problems with that… problems with believing in adolescence.
First is an adherence to the idea of adolescence. It promotes a low view of teens. Let me give you a list of what God thinks of teenagers, can I? Daniel. It’s pretty easy to figure out. We know in the three Babylonian captivity waves take place, the three waves of the captivity. We know that when he stood before Darius, was condemned, the lions den. We know what date that was. We back that up, look between, there’s Daniel is between thirteen and fifteen years old, in Daniel chapter one, when he stands up to the then-known king of the world and says, “I’m not eating your food, I don’t care what you do to me.” His friends were the same age when they say, “Put us to death before we violate our God.” Now, where did that come from in these junior highers? They were junior highers! Think of the junior highers in your church. Could they say, “We’re going to the fiery furnace before we deny our God?” If the answer is, “No,” then the question is, “Why? Why?” Well the problem lies in two places: parenting and churching. Isaiah and Jeremiah both began prophesying and as a prophetic ministry as teenagers. Joseph, Hezekiah, Ruth, Mary and Joseph—Mary and Joseph are my favorites. They’re going down to register for the census. When did you go register for the census? After your first bar mitzvah. That puts them where? Thirteen or fifteen. Read Mary’s Magnificat in Luke chapter two and see what kind of theology this junior higher had in her brain. Where did she get it? Someone talked to her about it. The synagogue and the home had an influence in her life. If God put such great stock in teens, why don’t we? Why don’t we? Oh, because we believe in adult ministry. We believe the educational system.. .this is the time in their life to be educated. It is. The Puritans
called this catechism. You know where the idea of Sunday School came from? We’re going to teach you to read by teaching you to read the Bible. So Sunday was a school for learning and you learned by reading the Bible.
Well, also, it promotes a low view of God. Colossians 1:28-29 are my life verses. “And we proclaim Him, admonishing”—listen—”every man and teaching”—what—”every man that we might present”—who—”every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” Let me ask you this: Do students qualify in the category of “every man?” Or is it like “every man except the students,” we’re going to leave them out. To underestimate students’ spiritual capabilities and capacities with regard to loving and serving Christ is to underestimate God.
So what do we do? Well, you have a lot of stuff on your CD you can look at. Let me just say this. Can I just give you a quick list that’s not in your notes? Just try to systemize a few things.
What should we do with students? What should we do with students? And we’ll try to get through this and maybe talk a little bit and have some questions.

1. First of all, foremost, we need to preach to students.

We need to preach to students. Now this is a seminar or lecture to youth ministry leaders. There’s a whole different seminar to parents, which I would encourage you to go and create and give to your parents about their role and responsibility. I love how we go to our parents meetings and look at the parents and smiling and saying, “I just want to remind you that the spiritual responsibility for your children is yours, not mine. Let’s close in prayer.” It is, isn’t it? I am the supplement. They’re to be the meal. However, when they do their job right and they save kids, then you have people from unbelieving families coming into the church. I’m not the supplement, but I am the whole meal spiritually then. So discerning that is a part of the wonder of being involved in youth ministry.
They need to be preached to. What do you preach to students about? What do you teach kids? Let me give you a few things.
1. First of all, the truth of the Bible—you could even say the facts of the Bible. The truth of the Bible. Most students are not interested in the Bible. You know why? Because they’ve never been taught the Bible, they’ve just been taught about the Bible. The Bible is the most interesting book in the world, and it’s about the most interesting subject in the world—God. Sometimes students are bored with church and bored with God because their teachers in church are bored with God and bored with the Bible themselves. You know we’ve got to look back to ourselves at some level. You know, we get up in Sunday School or in Discipleship or Wednesday night and we say, “Take your Bibles and turn to First Chronicles.” which is a great book to teach students, by the way. “Alright, we’re going to look at the kings and.. .God came and delivered them. Isn’t that great? God came and delivered them.” And then you get preachers who overstate the obvious, “Jesus walked to Jerusalem. Isn’t that amazing? Jesus, the Lord Himself. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. He walked. That means He used his feet. He walked. He went from one place to Jerusalem. That’s His destination. He actually walked to Jerusalem.” You said nothing that you couldn’t read in ten seconds. Don’t overstate the obvious is a preaching point in general, but never to students.
But could it be that the passion with which we have about God—you want to influence students, be excited about something. Be excited about something. I think I told some of you guys last year, the first time I went to the Grand Canyon I was eighteen years old, traveling across the country, Interstate 40, went up to Flagstaff, went to the Grand Canyon. And if you’ve been to the south rim, you drive up and you’re in this forest, you do the check station, you pay whatever money it is and then you go and you park. And you kind of know it’s out there, but you don’t really see it. It’s the kind of thing you walk up to and you just walk up to and it’s there. And I remember walking up and just losing my breath. Just going.. .1 was overwhelmed. So we hiked around that for a while, I came back that night, and in my hotel room I called my mom and my dad and I said, “I’ve got to tell you about the Grand Canyon. You’re not going to believe it was so, it was so, it was deep, a river buried, I just aaaaaa.” I just couldn’t get it out, and they kept saying, “Slow down, slow down.” I was so overwhelmed by the bigness of the Grand Canyon, and yet we go [slow monotone manner:], “God is very wonderful. Majestic. Holy, holy, holy.” And then we pound on the kids for not being excited about God? That’s your fault. You present God in a boring way, you have presented anti-christ, not the God of the Bible. Now don’t manufacture, don’t go to acting lessons—how can I move my hands so they’ll think I’m excited? If we’re excited about God, they will be, and it has nothing to do with how loud you get but how intense your own devotion to Jesus Christ is. They will be moved and motivated by someone who’s moved and motivated. So we have to teach them that, especially biblical truth. What’s the truth about the Bible? What does it say?
2. Secondly, we need to teach them the authority of the Bible. Everyone has a standard and it’s themselves. Students need to be taught that there is a standard that they need to be embracing and it’s the scriptures. And you say, “Well, what about all the Evidences that Demand a Verdict, versions one, two, three, four, five, six and seventeen? Should I get all that?” That’s helpful stuff. No student was ever converted because of all the evidence that demands a verdict. They were converted because the Lord Jesus Christ, through His Spirit, quickened their heart and opened their eyes, made the scales fall off, and made a foolish heart wise and made a stony heart soft. That’s why it is. So, I mean I’m
all for talking about biblical evidences, but the best thing we can do is teach them the scriptures expositionally. You say, “Which verse?” The next one. “What about after that?” The next one.
3. Thirdly, they need to be taught the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible. Psalm 50:21, the Lord says, “You thought I was just like you.” Students always create and invent their idea of God, and so do adults as well. These young adults do that. Teach First Chronicles 29:10-13—I was able to do that in the Master’s College chapel a couple of weeks ago—on the greatness of God. David just runs out of language. We’ve so adulterated and raped our language of greatness, superlatives and comparatives that we have no place to go when we talk about God. We go have a Krispy Kreme donut, then say, “That was awesome!” And if it’s warm, it’s pretty close. You know, “That movie was phenomenal!” “That was the greatest,” talking about a skateboard stunt. Only God is awesome and when we take all of the extreme language and use it on any and everything else, when we talk about a great God, we’ve got nowhere to go, we’ve got nothing to use. All of the tools of our language are dull from use on other things. So let’s teach them a great and wonderful God. Read First Chronicles 29:10-13 sometime. David exhausts his language on the greatness of God. So they
need to be taught the God of the Bible. Can I give you some specifics under that? That was the general.

1. Specifically, we need to teach students the gospel. Kids aren’t getting saved, I’m convinced, because we’re not teaching them the gospel. Here’s how the typical gospel goes, “Man, God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Would you like to be saved? Do you want to go to hell? No? Good. Well then you want to go to heaven? Yeah? Okay, then you’re in. Pray this prayer. Look at this tract. Sign this card. Walk this aisle. Go to the camp. Throw your pinecone in the fire. You want to give God your time, throw your watch in the fire. You want to be a good student, stick your hand in the fire, get the watch out.” We go on and on and on about, you know, all the.. .they need to be taught the gospel. Do a test. Sit down [with] your top five students next week and say, “Tell me what the gospel is. What is the gospel? How does a person go to heaven? What do they have to believe? What do they have to do?” See what they say. Hopefully, they’ll be able to tell you and then you can say, “Well, who are you telling that to?” But if they can’t, then start by teaching them the gospel. What John was talking about the other morning from Luke 9 and Matthew 16—What is the gospel? You deny yourself, and take up your cross and you follow Him. Three words about the gospel, if I can give you three. Sin, substitution, submission. That’s a great outline. I would love to tell you that it’s mine, but I stole it from John Mac Arthur. Sin, substitution, submission. They need to understand their sin, that they’re wicked, depraved, immoral and will only get worse. That there’s a substitute who died for them, the Lord Jesus Christ, the atonement. And that they must submit to the lordship of Christ, giving all you know of yourself to all you know of Him. That’s the gospel. So they need to be taught the gospel.
2.    Secondly, they need to be taught wisdom literature. You say, “Why wisdom literature?” Because wisdom literature was written for the purpose of pedagogy—of teaching young people. You say, “Where did you get that?” Read the first nine chapters of Proverbs. It says, “I’m telling my son, my son, my son.” The next seminar I’m doing is from Proverbs 5 on purity, where a father’s instructing his son on how to be sexually pure. Where is that happening these days in the church? Oh, that’s for sex education in the high school. You don’t want to go there. Ecclesiastes 12:1, what
does that say? “Remember your creator”—when—”in the days of your youth.” And then he goes on—I wish we had time to unpack that—he says, “Before the evil days come and you get old,” and he talks about losing your eyesight, losing your teeth, losing your hearing, losing the ability to walk, and you get old. But the parallel is the longer you go in life, the more crusty you get toward the gospel. Is that fair to say? There’s also a principle in Romans 1. There’s a process there. You know, they’re denying God, they’re suppressing the truth, and three times in the text it says, “God gave them over.. .God gave them over.. .God gave them over.” There’s a progression where God will give you over. I’m not saying God can’t save a thief on the cross at the very end of his life, but I am saying that God has shown Himself in the history of redemption to move the hearts of young people because they don’t have the crust of the world on them so much as the hearts of older people. Teach them wisdom literature. Teach them Psalms and Proverbs and Ecclesiastes and Job. Teach them the Song of Solomon. You say, “Really?” Yeah, really. Really. Listen, men, if you don’t teach your kids about sex, someone else will, and they’ll teach them earlier than you think.
3. Thirdly, teach them basic doctrine. Teach them basic doctrine. Let them know what’s real and what’s counterfeit. Who is Jesus? What is theology?

4. Then lastly, teach them spiritual disciplines. We’re so hard on our kids. I feel so bad for them. We say, “Read more. Pray more.” They go home, they sit down with their Bible. This is a big book, guys. Where do you start? Where do you stop? Should you start at the beginning? Well that’s okay. Well then what happens when you get to Numbers? They need help there. So let’s not just throw a Bible at them and tell them that and tell them to pray more. Do they know how to pray? The only question we have recorded the disciples asking Jesus is what? “Lord, teach us to pray.” Prayer is hard
and they need to be taught how. They need to be prayed with. Meditation, memorization, on and on and on. By the way, it’s not about the spiritual disciplines in and of themselves. You can just listen, but in Psalm 119—this is the way I memorized this passage when I was in high school. Verse nine, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to thy word.” And then verse eleven, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart that I may not sin against thee.” You know what that’s called? That’s called cross-referencing heresy. It is. We read nine, we read eleven and we skipped ten, which is the whole purpose of the thing. If you just do those two, you’ll be a legalist. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to thy word.” And then verse eleven, “I treasure thy word in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” That’s all about legalism and sin and it means nothing without verse ten. “With all my heart I sought thee. Do not let me wander from thy commandments.” Kids don’t need to be taught how to behave, they need to be taught who to love, then behavior comes in the wake of that. And we’ve so defaulted in youth ministry by telling them to stop drinking, get off drugs, do this, don’t do that. We’re trying to moralize them. They’ll be moral people in hell, right? They need the truth. They need God. So they need to be taught spiritual disciplines that will lead them to God, not make them better. That’s the vision.
Real quickly, how do you do that? I’ve already told you one thing—by preaching. By preaching. Romans 10:13-15, “How will they hear unless a preacher is sent?” They need to be exposed to exposition. Have your senior pastor come in and do a two or three week series on this, “How to listen to me.” John did that in junior high a few years ago. He came on Wednesday night and he did a two week message on, “How to listen to my sermons.” It was phenomenal. It took the barrier away between them and him. It was funny, he says—don’t answer this because I don’t want you to get it wrong in front of everybody—he said, “How many points should every sermon have?” Three. No. Five. No. As many as you want. No. He says, “Every sermon has one main point.” He says, “Here’s your job: this week you’re all detectives and by the end of my sermon I want you to be able to write out one point I’m trying to get across. And next week Rick’s going to sit down with you and talk to you about these things with you.” Man, it just revolutionized our junior highers. I mean John was their buddy. “We’re detectives with John now. We’re going to figure out what he’s saying.” And they’re all going up afterwards, “Look, is this right? Is this right?” John’s like, “Keep trying.” Not too long after that we had a junior higher came up to me and absolutely serious as he could be, he says, “I think God is calling me to be a missionary to Greece.” And I went, “Wow! Why do you think that?” He says, “Well, I want to be a missionary.” I was impressed with that. He says, “And I know it’s to people in Greece.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Because it’s important to our pastor.” He says, “He always gives us the Greek word for something. So I figure that, you know, if Greek people are there, they need to know those words.” So I’m like, “Let’s get warmed up for Greece.” I mean, that’s great. What do you say? So we had a great time about Bible canonization and stuff.
2. Secondly, by interactive exhortation. That’s discipleship. Interactive exhortation. It’s not just one way, it’s multi ways-it’s two-dimensional. Discipleship. There’s more on discipleship on the CD.
3. And by example, thirdly. By example. It’s always dangerous when there’s a contradiction in a youth leader’s life between his message and his life. Youth ministry is for the most mature, not for the newest.
4. And then fourthly, teach them by personal study. Teach them how to do hermeneutics. Teach them the literal, historical, grammatical, contextual approach to scripture and tell them how to study the Bible themselves.
Well, next year, Lord willing, we’re going to have three or four sessions on youth ministry and really take it up to a new notch, almost have a youth track going all the way through the conference so I hope you’ll be able to come back for that, but we got a few minutes if you want to have some comments or questions. I didn’t tell you how to do youth ministry because I don’t think I should or can. I’m not going to tell you how to do your method. Take a good philosophy of youth ministry and let it work out in your context any way you want.

Question: What are some good resources you’d recommend?

Some good resources on youth ministry? There’s not a lot. I would say this, study as much theology as you can and your youth ministry will be fine. And I mean that. One of the best books I ever read on youth ministry was the “The Attributes of God” by A. W. Pink, because I began developing a big-God complex and so did my students. I would also readjust general philosophy of ministry books. You know what’s a good book is, “The Master’s Plan for the Church” which John has done. Take all that and make it your youth ministry and you’ll be fine. I don’t know of any books that’s this is THE youth ministry book you have to read.


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