Evangelical thoughts about Youth Ministry, somewhat useful for Lutherans.

Found the following post on churchleaders.com. While it’s not a Lutheran site, and there’s some things very wrong with it, the overall point is notable for Lutheran parents. A quote from the article:

The 20-somethings who are serving, leading, and driving the ministries at our church were kids whose parents made them go to church. They are kids whose parents punished them and held them accountable when they were rebellious. They are kids whose parents read the Bible around the dinner table every night. And they are kids whose parents were tough but who ultimately operated from a framework of grace that held up the cross of Jesus as the basis for peace with God and forgiveness toward one another.

While reading this, there are some undercurrents which need correction to be useful in Lutheran circles.  First, the emphasis on conversion (rooted in Arminianism) should be replaced with an emphasis on Baptism and the Life that God gives to His baptized.  This means an emphasis on the means of grace and also worship that delivers those means.  The #2 spends a lot of time talking about equipping and everyone a minister stuff, but as Lutherans we speak better in terms of catechizing and then within the context of vocation (which for some of our youth may someday involve being ministers).  The #3 certainly has a point as the role of the Gospel in the daily life will allow our Lutheran teachings to become real to those kids.  The faith is meant for every day, and parents are the keys to teaching the children about that.

A good thing to learn from this article is that the old evangelical way of doing things is failing as well, and that we need not dive into those old patterns of evangelicalism in order to help our youth – the answers are right there in our Lutheran beliefs.  In the end, Lutheranism has the solutions for the problems, if we would just be Lutherans (stop drinking from the streams of American Evangelicalism).

Some thoughts to go along with this article for us to ponder:

  • Are we catechizing our youth to seek out entertainment, causing them to eventually leave church and follow after that which we taught them?
  • What balance can be struck between the various components of youth ministry?
  • Also – how much has the Church taken parental authority away from them, have we usurped that which God gave to them (of course there was no major parental outcry, they were willing to do it)?

I will take this opportunity to praise Higher Things for their work over the past decade+ to provide solid youth resources in the raising up of our children.


Here is the article:

3 Common Traits of Youth Who Don’t Leave the Church

“What do we do about our kids?” The group of parents sat together in my office, wiping their eyes. I’m a high school pastor, but for once, they weren’t talking about 16-year-olds drinking and partying. Each had a story to tell about a “good Christian” child, raised in their home and in our church, who had walked away from the faith during the college years. These children had come through our church’s youth program, gone on short-term mission trips, and served in several different ministries during their teenage years. Now they didn’t want anything to do with it anymore. And, somehow, these mothers’ ideas for our church to send college students “care packages” during their freshman year to help them feel connected to the church didn’t strike me as a solution with quite enough depth.

The daunting statistics about churchgoing youth keep rolling in. Panic ensues. What are we doing wrong in our churches? In our youth ministries?

It’s hard to sort through the various reports and find the real story. And there is no one easy solution for bringing all of those “lost” kids back into the church, other than continuing to pray for them and speaking the gospel into their lives. However, we can all look at the 20-somethings in our churches who are engaged and involved in ministry. What is it that sets apart the kids who stay in the church? Here are just a few observations I have made about such kids, with a few applications for those of us serving in youth ministry.

1. They are converted.

The Apostle Paul, interestingly enough, doesn’t use phrases like “nominal Christian” or “pretty good kid.” The Bible doesn’t seem to mess around with platitudes like: “Yeah, it’s a shame he did that, but he’s got a good heart.” When we listen to the witness of Scripture, particularly on the topic of conversion, we find that there is very little wiggle room. Listen to these words: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17) We youth pastors need to get back to understanding salvation as what it really is: a miracle that comes from the glorious power of God through the working of the Holy Spirit.

We need to stop talking about “good kids.” We need to stop being pleased with attendance at youth group and fun retreats. We need to start getting on our knees and praying that the Holy Spirit will do miraculous saving work in the hearts of our students as the Word of God speaks to them. In short, we need to get back to a focus on conversion. How many of us are preaching to “unconverted evangelicals”? Youth pastors, we need to preach, teach, and talk—all the while praying fervently for the miraculous work of regeneration to occur in the hearts and souls of our students by the power of the Holy Spirit! When that happens—when the “old goes” and the “new comes”—it will not be iffy. We will not be dealing with a group of “nominal Christians.” We will be ready to teach, disciple, and equip a generation of future church leaders—“new creations”!—who are hungry to know and speak God’s Word. It is converted students who go on to love Jesus and serve the church.

2. They have been equipped, not entertained.

Recently, we had “man day” with some of the guys in our youth group. We began with an hour of basketball at the local park, moved to an intense game of 16” (“Chicago Style”) softball, and finished the afternoon by gorging ourselves on meaty pizzas and 2-liters of soda. I am not against fun (or gross, depending on your opinion of the afternoon I just described) things in youth ministry. But youth pastors especially need to keep repeating the words of Ephesians 4:11-12 to themselves: “[Christ] gave…the teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Christ gives us—teachers—to the church, not for entertainment, encouragement, examples, or even friendship primarily. He gives us to the church to “equip” the saints to do gospel ministry in order that the church of Christ may be built up.

If I have not equipped the students in my ministry to share the gospel, disciple a younger believer, and lead a Bible study, then I have not fulfilled my calling to them, no matter how good my sermons have been. We pray for conversion; that is all we can do, for it is entirely a gracious gift of God. But after conversion, it is our Christ-given duty to help fan into flame a faith that serves, leads, teaches, and grows. If our students leave high school without Bible-reading habits, Bible-study skills, and strong examples of discipleship and prayer, we have lost them. We have entertained, not equipped them…and it may indeed be time to panic!

Forget your youth programs for a second. Are we sending out from our ministries the kind of students who will show up to college in a different state, join a church, and begin doing the work of gospel ministry there without ever being asked? Are we equipping them to that end, or are we merely giving them a good time while they’re with us? We don’t need youth group junkies; we need to be growing churchmen and churchwomen who are equipped to teach, lead, and serve. Put your youth ministry strategies aside as you look at that 16-year-old young man and ask: “How can I spend four years with this kid, helping him become the best church deacon and sixth-grade Sunday school class teacher he can be, ten years down the road?”

3. Their parents preached the gospel to them.

As a youth pastor, I can’t do all this. All this equipping that I’m talking about is utterly beyond my limited capabilities. It is impossible for me to bring conversion, of course, but it is also impossible for me to have an equipping ministry that sends out vibrant churchmen and churchwomen if my ministry is not being reinforced tenfold in the students’ homes. The common thread that binds together almost every ministry-minded 20-something that I know is abundantly clear: a home where the gospel was not peripheral but absolutely central. The 20-somethings who are serving, leading, and driving the ministries at our church were kids whose parents made them go to church. They are kids whose parents punished them and held them accountable when they were rebellious. They are kids whose parents read the Bible around the dinner table every night. And they are kids whose parents were tough but who ultimately operated from a framework of grace that held up the cross of Jesus as the basis for peace with God and forgiveness toward one another.

This is not a formula! Kids from wonderful gospel-centered homes leave the church; people from messed-up family backgrounds find eternal life in Jesus and have beautiful marriages and families. But it’s also not a crapshoot. In general, children who are led in their faith during their growing-up years by parents who love Jesus vibrantly, serve their church actively, and saturate their home with the gospel completely, grow up to love Jesus and the church. The words of Proverbs 22:6 do not constitute a formula that is true 100 percent of the time, but they do provide us with a principle that comes from the gracious plan of God, the God who delights to see his gracious Word passed from generation to generation: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

Youth pastors, pray with all your might for true conversion; that is God’s work. Equip the saints for the work of the ministry; that is your work. Parents, preach the gospel and live the gospel for your children; our work depends on you.


To read the article on churchleaders.com, click here.

And finally, to give you a bit of a teaser, after Easter you will be happy to hear we will have an excellent writer for “Steadfast Youth”.

About Pastor Joshua Scheer

Pastor Joshua Scheer is the Senior Pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He is also the Editor-in-chief of Brothers of John the Steadfast. He oversees all of the work done by Steadfast Lutherans. He is a regular host of Concord Matters on KFUO. Pastor Scheer and his lovely wife Holly (who writes and manages the Katie Luther Sisters) have four children and enjoy living in Wyoming.


Evangelical thoughts about Youth Ministry, somewhat useful for Lutherans. — 15 Comments

  1. Well, I went to church because my neighbors invited me and gave me a ride. My parents did not teach me. Now, my youth group was not entertainment driven. It was Bible study on Sundays and Wednesdays. We had some fellowship time, but it wasn’t lots of entertainment. We helped out with that kind of stuff for the little kids. That was at a Baptist church and it seemed to me people were very interested in helping us learn the word of God and very much believed in salvation by faith. So, while they were Baptists and that is a different way of understanding and they have some errors, it was not a goofy entertainment style junky Rob Bell kind of weird universalism. And it was not social gospel/social justice nonsense that focuses more on this world than on Christ’s atoning sacrifice. Saving people from poverty did not trump preaching eternal salvation.

    My point is that they didn’t just waste our time, they taught us the Bible and they taught the Law and the Gospel as distinct because I knew it well before I ever came to a Lutheran church. And honestly the baptist church I attended taught it better than the ELCA church that I married into. That is just the truth. So the preaching the word of God to youth is sufficient, even if doesn’t come from parents. It worked for me. Of course all Christian parents should be teaching their children.

  2. In all honesty does some of this possibly stem from the very fact we have “Youth Ministry”? Why should any of the habits or practices we encourage for youth be any different from those for adults? I’ve always found it curious that we segment the church in this way, as though there is “ministry” and then there is “YOUTH ministry” (or older adult ministry or any other, take your pick). By the very fact we single them out does that not immediately imply that we somehow think God’s Word is different for them or needs to be presented to them differently? It also erodes the family structure (IMHO) by implying that these youth need extra special attention that somehow good Christian parenting can’t provide. Support the family, encourage fathers to be spiritual heads of households, encourage mothers to be good mothers, and then why do we even need youth ministry? It’s really just a social club.

  3. @Rev. McCall #3
    You are correct, I have been reading up on the whole “family integrated church” thing lately. Vision Forum has a bunch of stuff on that. We as Lutherans do have the advantage of not dividing up our Divine Services yet (although some have).

    A good bunch of thought could be had on ways to wean churches off of the age-segregated model…

  4. “Support the family, encourage fathers to be spiritual heads of households, encourage mothers to be good mothers, and then why do we even need youth ministry? It’s really just a social club.”

    Yes, however, there are youth like I was whose parents were not going to do it. So, the church did it. A family invited me. I attended services and Bible studies, believed and was baptised as a teen. Yes, it was social. And I was grateful to have Christian friends. It was not shallow nor was it entertainment.

  5. I’m not doubting that youth ministry can be deep and meaningful. I’m more so saying there really doesn’t need to be a need to divide a church by age groups at all and rather than focus on seeing the answer to the problem as being the church doing more, it should be seen as the answer being the family doing more. Using your example I would say that in essence the family that invited you did more for you than the actual church program by them becoming the Christian family nucleus you did not have. All the programs in the world put on by a church mean nothing if the family does not teach their own children. I used a statistic for Father’s Day a few years back from a cross-denominational study of youth and church attendance. The survey found that regardless of the mothers efforts, regardless of the churches efforts or programs, if a FATHER did not encourage church attendance and make it a priority over 90% of young men and (I believe over 70% of young girls) would leave the church once they left their parents home. Now certainly there can be exceptions, but I think society proves this statistic right. The answer to youth involvement lies within the family, not within the programs or specialized ministries of a church.

  6. @Rev. McCall #3

    Church based social club isn’t always bad.  In my city the alternative is often street gangs.  70% of the families in our parochial school have no church membership. 

  7. I think we need to answer an initial question. What is the purpose of a “Youth Ministry”? If it is to keep kids off the streets, then it is simply a social club; it’s just a different alternative to the movie theater or bowling. I was a part of one of those and led one for over 8 years. If “Youth Ministry” is designed to deepen kids faith, then why do we need to segregate it out at all by age? Should youth be doing something that older adults shouldn’t be doing? Or is this just us caught up in the CG magic that says that the Gospel doesn’t work on kids and that they need an extra special way of presenting it to them for God’s Word to “truly” work? I would even argue that confirmation has become somewhat of a joke. The things kids learn in confirmation should already be things they know from having learned them at home! I’m sure everybody knows who it says should be teaching the Small Catechism to their families (and guess what, it’s not the pastor!) We schluff off educating our kids about church onto the church. We don’t make it a priority as parents and then we wonder why our kids don’t get it. We say, “It must be the churches fault! We need more programs and a youth pastor!”
    Helen I hate to argue with you, but the reason kids go to church shouldn’t be because they are needed there, but because they need what is offered there. Mentoring and such is great, but if the underlying message is “You should go to church because you are needed” instead of “You should go to church because you need what is offered there REGARDLESS or not if you get to be a mentor or have a social place to hang out.” then you’ll never win that battle. Because the minute you don’t “feel” needed then you feel you don’t need church. Look at your own example. As soon as kids didn’t feel needed by a new pastor they stopped coming. Church is the one place you are wanted and needed and it is Christ who wants you there! He wants you there because you need the forgiveness He has to offer! We need to put our hurt feelings and bruised egos aside and admit, as poor miserable sinners, that even if nobody seems to want me I still need to go. This is the huge underlying, fundamental problem with church and church shopping and youth programs and you name it from the church. It’s all about ME the individual. “I didn’t feel welcome. I didn’t have friends my age there. I didn’t like the music. I didn’t get to sit in my pew.” SO WHAT! That’s really why you went to church?! My parents and grandparents thankfully beat it into my head that even if none of my friends went to church I was still going because church wasn’t a place to go for social hour, it was a place to receive the forgiveness of sins. That, IMHO, is the message we truly need to be getting across as parents to our children.

  8. To back up what Pr Scheer mentioned, this is what makes “Higher Things” stand head and shoulders above the national youth gathering. They teach the high school kids to be a part of the same divine service as everybody else! You are part of the same body of Christ! This liturgy, this Gospel, it is for you and relevant to you too! It’s always the harder task to confront the Old Adam with the law and teach and correct him. It is way easier to cater to the Old Adam and just make a program or Youth Gathering that feeds our sinful emotions and desires.

  9. @Rev. McCall #10
    \Interesting thread. So, here’s a couple thoughts. I prefer the phrase “ministry to youth” rather than “youth ministry”. Why? It’s the same ministry being done for and to youth that is being done for and to anyone else. Depending on the congregational context, this can take all kinds of forms, provided that the Word is taught rightly and the Sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command int he Divine service.

    I was a little taken aback by the criticism of the DCE. We know that the DCE is an auxiliary office, one of the helping ovcation. How a congregation distributes the responsibilities to a DCE can often differ based on the context, provided that the Pastor is seen in the light of Augsburg XIV. Otherwise, there’s a lot of gray area and opportunity in which to rejoice as we believe, teach, and confess the pure Christian faith with our kids of all ages.

  10. I couldn’t agree more, Rev. McCall. I have said ever since I was a youth myself that kids are not included because we think they will not “enjoy” themselves in our adult learning. BUT we have no problem taking kids to adult baseball games, adult movies and adult concerts without worrying about whether they enjoy themselves. Maybe a poor example but you get the idea. Our youth know how to entertain themselves just fine. What they do not know how to do is become productive, God-fearing members of society if we refuse to grow up ourselves first of all, and secondly teach them and prepare them for the world. And this is not to get the them to conform to the world but to have the courage to stand up to the evil in the world and maybe make a big difference in how the culture thinks and acts. We sure do need an army of stout hearted Christian men and especially pastors to be bold from the pulpit and help us all to get our acts together…..youth and adult alike. Too many pastors are so into numbers in the pews that they don’t seem to act like they care what is happening with that “number” in dress, speech or attitude just so long as the bulletin reflects growth. Oh yes we may grow in numbers, but are we growing in spirit and truth? @Rev. McCall #3

  11. @David Rosenkoetter #11
    I didn’t criticize the DCE program, but I can see several ways in which it can be detrimental. (Full disclosure, my wife has a Lay Ministry degree, same thing as DCE it’s just that CUW wanted to be different. She is however employed as a full-time mother of four and not by any church 🙂 )
    Some problems:
    1. What does a DCE do? We haven’t defined this role or that of deaconess. It’s just sort of a catch all position that varies from church to church. We need to clearly define what is and isn’t acceptable for a DCE to do as part of their employment.

    2. Way too many churches use a DCE to function as a junior pastor. The DCE teaches confirmation, the DCE makes decisions on materials to use for youth Bible Studies, and I’ve even seen DCE’s who preside over weddings! Those are all things the pastor should do.

    3. The DCE has simply replaced volunteers within the church. Why have people from the church be involved when we can pay someone to do it? IMHO this is not good. I am blessed at my church to have an elder who teaches the Sr. High Youth Sunday Bible Class. I guess I would rather encourage my members to be involved in the church as part of their overall stewardship rather than simply hire the work out.

    Again, these are my opinions, they are not all encompassing of every DCE everywhere, so take them for what they are, the ramblings of a pastor!

  12. @Rev. McCall #10
    To back up what Pr Scheer mentioned, this is what makes “Higher Things” stand head and shoulders above the national youth gathering.

    We can certainly agree on this point. I have been fortunate to be a day visitor at HT and it is truly a Lutheran program with lots to learn. [BUT they have fun, too!]

  13. The LC-MS did a study some years ago on youth activity
    during their high school years in their local parish.
    The finding: Lutheran high school are active in their
    Lutheran parish in direct ratio to the activity of their parents.

    If their parents are attending weekly worship services,
    then their high school children will also attend.

    If their parents attend Sunday Adult Bible Class, then
    their high school children will attend High School Bible Class.

    If their parents actively serve in the life of the parish on
    the various boards, choir, etc., then their high school
    children will be active also in the life of the church.

    So committed Lutheran parents will produce committed Lutheran
    high school youth.

  14. @Pastor Dave Likeness
    Exactly! And my point all along was just that, you don’t need a bunch of social programs to replace good parenting, you just need good parenting! Thanks Pr. Dave!

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