It is a question that every parent, congregation, and pastor faces. It is a question that strikes fear into the hearts of many. But it shouldn’t. Youth are not some alien life form whose mysteries require an advanced degree in sociology or biology to unlock.
The advice, information, and teaching that I have been asked to give here on BJS come from:
- The experience of being a youth (not too long ago) and working with them;
- Spending time (a lot!) thinking about and discussing how the church can support families in raising their children in the fear of the Lord
- Most importantly, the Word of God
I won’t pretend that I have all the answers, but I have some.
For starters, there are a few things that have to be straight in our heads about youth. First, they don’t pop out of pods and they aren’t created in vats. The fundamental unit of society is the family, not the individual. Individuals are important. Individuals are unique. However, all of this is secondary to the fact that individuals come into being within a family. Individuals grow and mature, and they can be spoken of in terms of age groups. But again, this is all secondary to where they are placed to primarily grow and mature, in a family. This is God’s Order of Creation. He made us male and female. The world may section youth off into artificial categories and sub-groups, but unless we too are trying to isolate and manipulate them or sell them something, we should not do this. So “youth ministry” ought not smell like the world. Yet of course, as one would with any Christian, it should take into account the particularity of the individuals and their setting.
Secondly, flowing from the above, the parents and the pastor need to know their role. The parents are parents, the pastor is pastor, and this doesn’t change when teenagers enter the scene. Everyone concerned should have a no-fly list when it comes to thoughts about what is going. Included in that list should be: Cool, hip, relevant, band, friend, buddy, guru, teen-specific…you get the picture. You don’t need to know all about teen “culture”, the latest trends, or how to rap with the kids. If you actually are cool and use that, you’ll lose, because you are building upon something other than Jesus. If you aren’t cool, but try to be, you’ll lose, because you will smell fake. So again, ministry to youth, while having distinctive challenges and focus, is never to be dissimilar to the ministry to all the baptized children of God in the congregation. Being a “teenager” is not of the essence of who youth are. They were made male and female. God made them through a man and a woman. They will grow from babies to blossom into young men and women. That’s who they are. God made them that way. And they in turn will have families of their own. If the congregation’s ministry to their youth is not supporting and encouraging the familial structure, God’s Order of Creation, then it is off base.
Thirdly, the Word of God is the Word of God. The Gospel does not need to be, as I once heard, “repackaged for the hip-hop generation.” God doesn’t need to be repackaged. He came in the flesh, and has given us His Word. Certainly we must listen to the particular struggles and challenges, sometimes even suggestions, of the youth. But never forget that what they need, whether they know it or not, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What they need is already defined by God’s Word. Some know what they need. Some are wrong about what they need. Many don’t have a clue or are confused. But parents, pastors, and the congregation as a whole are to teach them God’s Word in its purity, as is their duty.
I was afforded a great opportunity when the churches of Lincoln, IL, Zion and Faith decided to work together in regards to their youth. I plan to discuss the merits and details of a youth group in the future, but for an effective introduction to this column, I believe the following section of a letter I wrote when I first got to Lincoln would be appropriate:
The goal of the Youth Group is to provide a consistent place for the youth to grow in the one true faith and share in Christian fellowship so that they become mature Christian men and women. From my previous work with youth, I have found that there is no golden bullet, no secret trick or gimmick that makes a Youth Group successful. A Youth Group, like most other things in life, takes lots and lots of work and commitment. I will be dedicated to the goals of our Youth Group; however, I cannot make it work. I will need the continued support and commitment of the parents and the congregations. Parents are the primary teachers of the faith in their child’s life. The Youth Group can support you, but never replace you. I look forward to working with you. I would like to share a list of some of the most important principles that shape a faithful Youth Group.
Biblical Truth– Our only rule and norm of our faith is the Holy Scriptures. The Lutheran Church purely confesses this faith in the Lutheran Confessions. Our Youth Group is faithful to Biblical teaching; for this teaching is of Christ who brings true life.
Christian Formation– Our Youth Group is here to form mature Christians. Our Youth Group will seek to prepare them for marriage, life away from home, life as an adult, and how to die in the hope of the resurrection.
Youth Focused– Teenage years are difficult for any youth, as we all know well. Our Youth Group is one way for our congregations to make them a priority. However, youth are to be supported by all members of their congregation, especially by your prayers.
Parent and Pastor Led– God ordained parents and pastors to shepherd the youth of a congregation, for the sake and in the best interests of the youth. This is not to say that youth leadership will not be developed; the youth of our Youth Group will grow through being involved in Service Projects, Bible Study, and other events. We must remember not to leave the youth to shepherd themselves, but rather look at our duty as a joy, knowing they will soon be caring much more for themselves.
Consistency– A youth who is becoming a young adult needs consistency. His world is changing and soon he will leave “the nest”. A Youth Group provides a place which teaches the youth that the faith of the church, and her Lord, does not change from town to town or age to age, but is constant and never failing. Fads and trends come and go; we will teach and learn the faith of our fathers.
I look forward to writing more about Steadfast Youth and continuing the discussion.
Pastor David Ramirez
Associate Editors Note: With this post we welcome Pastor Ramirez to BJS and look forward to more from him.
Pastor Ramirez is assistant pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln, IL. A significant part of his time is devoted to ministry to the youth of the two LCMS churches in Lincoln, Zion and Faith, which have a joint youth group. He is a 2008 graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary-Fort Wayne. In 2009, after staying another year at CTS as the Historical Theology Department’s graduate assistant, he was called to Zion and ordained into the office of the holy ministry. He has been married for 5 years and has four children.