I read a blog recently that was observing that denominational churches in particular, seem to have a problem with perspective where it comes to youth groups and youth leadership. They observed that the average age in many denominational churches is in the 50s and yet for some reason there is often little focus on training our youth. In fact, the position of youth minister is often considered merely a step toward eventual elevation to a senior pastorate.
The last, in itself is problematic for more than one reason. First, it makes it seem as if working with our young people is not very important, when the reverse is true. Ignore the youth and children and you will soon find yourself in a rapidly aging, dying church. Every year our denomination closes churches who dwindled out of existence. I think often that a church has reached the point of no return if there are no families participating in it. I remember years ago visiting a small church in a nearby town, who just loved hearing from us young folks. But nearly everyone there seemed to have white hair and a few years later it closed. If a young family visited there, I’m sure they would not have come back! Admittedly, the ethnic makeup of the area had changed drastically, and perhaps that was part of the problem. At some point, one would think they could have reached out to their new hispanic neighbors and welcomed them in. But it somehow they missed the transition and suddenly found themselves out of touch with their community and lacking the energy to change. Apparently their own children had simply moved on.
So, it is important to offer childcare, children’s ministry and youth ministries on the very practical level of survival,
not to mention, we want our children to know the Lord. It’s all well and good to say that parents should teach faith to their kids, but we most certainly need help. Especially once your kids are in their teens, they need to hear it from someone besides their parents. And for heaven’s sake, why on earth are kids being disuaded from pursuing careers in ministry? The man who very ably led our youth group when I was young tells the story of how he told his pastor he wanted to become a minister and the pastor said “you’ll get over it.” So he went on and only graduated from seminary after he retired! Obviously, since he has been in ministry in various capacities all his life, he never did get over it. And according to the blog I read, that sort of thing is still happening. Perhaps we need to do a better job of recognizing the gifts of the Spirit and supporting them in our kids.
Some years back, when we were between youth ministers, one of our own twenty somethings stepped forward and said “I believe I am gifted for youth ministry.” She led the youth ably for a number of years. When she left, we did not seem to have anyone in house who was able to step in and continue the ministry. So, we expanded our search nationwide and eventually ended up with two terrific candidates. I should point out here, however, that neither of these were from our denomination. It seems they have their heads in the sand on this issue. Our colleges and seminaries do not even offer an emphasis in youth ministry. So to find someone who is specifically gifted and trained to be able to communicate the gospel to our youth, we had to go outside of denominational channels. It wasn’t a major problem for us, but you have to wonder why the denomination has not made it a priority.
But I started thinking about how to get youth ministry going in the first place. It should be something that would be offered as a matter of course, kind of like a build it and they will come attitude. Of course, that’s going to work if you have families in your church already. The parents are going to demand it. I’m pretty sure that was in operation when I was a youth. Baby boomer parents had lots of kids and said we need youth groups and it was so. Good ones even attracted other kids who maybe had not grown up in the church, which of course is desirable. But I think something else was operating as well. The charismatic movement was happening in the late 60s and early 70s. I think we had a major revival that brought a lot of people into the churches and we need to be praying for it to happen again. The church as a whole grows when the Spirit moves it. When that happens, it is no longer a matter of cajoling people to read their bibles, pray and attend church. They do it on their own and demand classes and youth groups and ministry opportunities.
Let the Spirit move, and our churches will fill up again with those thirsty for the Word! Where do you think all those ministers came from who are now in their 50s and 60s? They came out of the revival of the 1970s. We need leaders who are called and gifted to preach and to teach to the new generation coming up and the one to follow them. Pray for revival.