“Why We Have No Youth Ministry At Calvary Road Baptist Church”
First Timothy 4.12
1. I would think that one of the first things a visitor would notice about our Church is that, unlike most other Churches, we do not have a youth ministry. But if youth ministries are as important as some people make them out to be, why is it that I have never been asked by a visitor whether we had a youth ministry or not, much less why we don’t have one? And none of you folks have ever asked me why we don’t have one anymore.
2. Other Churches place a major emphasis on their youth ministries. And I suspect that they estimate them to be of critical importance in reaching an entire generation for Christ. I have no quarrel with them, even though I believe without exception that those Churches would be better off without “youth ministries.”
3. I have even heard youth directors stand up in front of hundreds of pastors, pleading with them to unshackle their youth pastors so they wouldn’t be hindered from reaching a generation for Christ. But I remain unimpressed with the impact of such a thing as “youth ministry” doing anything for the cause of Christ.
4. Bible colleges teach courses of study that lead to actual diplomas in “youth ministry.” I have no quarrel with them, even though I believe without exception that they would be better off without such courses of study. Men who are preparing for the Gospel ministry are better off learning Greek and Hebrew and how to study God’s Word. They are better off being taught how to pray and guide sinners to Christ.
5. But instead they are taught how to play kid’s games, how to put together really cool sleep overs, and how to speak as childishly as the childish teens they will someday try to manipulate into attending Church. And we wonder why most Church’s kids are going down the toilet.
6. A number of years ago I was chatting with a Church planter. He asked me if we had any substantial number of adults in our Church who had been reached by our “youth ministry.” I told him “No,” even though we had the best “youth ministry” in the area at one time. Then I asked him if he had. He also said “No.” That Church planter was Harold C. Beigle, the founder of this Church. It has not been his experience, or mine, that “youth ministry” translates into additions to a Church.
7. That conversation of about four years ago accelerated a process of thinking and praying and studying already at work in my mind that resulted in me bringing the high school students of our Church into the auditorium during the Sunday School hour and on Wednesday nights, and almost thoroughly integrating young people into every aspect of my ministry.
8. I also reflected back on my own experiences when I attended Sunday School on a very few occasions as a child, the experiences of other pastors when they were in youth groups as teenagers, things I remember from my best friend’s youth group back in high school, and things I have observed over the course of my pastoral ministry.
9. Finally, I have reflected back on things I have learned in the years since I became aware of decisionism and what I have learned about how Churches in other countries that are relatively unaffected by decisionism minister to their people.
10. All of these things have figured in my reexamination of our Church’s ministry and my decision to end our Church’s “youth ministry,” and to encourage other pastors to do the same. But nothing has weighed so significantly on me as what I find in the Bible. Beloved, I want to be a Bible pastor, and I want this to be a Bible Church. So, the Bible must take precedence over the most cherished traditions, if those cherished traditions are unscriptural.
11. I have many reasons for doing what I did. I will relate eight of those reasons to you this evening:
1A. Reason #1, THE VERY IDEA OF “YOUTH MINISTRY” IS FOREIGN TO SCRIPTURE
1B. Turn to First Timothy 4.12: “Let no man despise thy youth.”
1C. I am embarrassed to have to tell you that some youth pastors actually use this statement, written by Paul to Timothy, as justification for their ministries, as though Paul had intended that Timothy not ever allow anyone to despise the Church’s young people.
2C. But this statement speaks to Timothy’s age and conduct, and speaks nothing to any congregation’s teens, as both the People’s New Testament Commentary and the Teacher’s Commentary clearly show.
3C. Let me read to you the comments contained in those commentaries on this verse. People’s New Testament Commentary: “The remainder of the chapter is personal. Timothy was much younger than Paul, much younger than most of the presbyters, but he must have been fully thirty-five years old.”
4C. Teacher’s Commentary: “Thy youth. Timothy was between 36 and 40; young for a presbyter.” So, this statement has nothing to do with young people.
2B. A strong case can be made for the ministry of music in a Church, since such ministers of music were both highly visible and extremely prominent in Jerusalem’s Temple worship from the time of David. But there is nothing even remotely applicable to “youth ministry” as a biblically sanctioned Gospel ministry calling.
3B. On the contrary, throughout Church history, especially in the first few centuries after Christ and since the Protestant Reformation, we see pastors engaging in ministry to the young, as well they should. Why in the world should any congregation allow someone who is extremely young, or someone with a limited knowledge of God’s Word, or someone with little experience and no Biblical expertise in child rearing, minister to a teen during the most critical time of his life? Yet that’s what most Churches do when they give their teens over to a youth pastor. No good.
2A. Reason #2, “YOUTH MINISTRY” IS A DEVELOPMENT OF DECISIONISM
1B. Luther ministered to the young himself. Jonathan Edwards ministered to the young himself. In Boston, Cotton Mather ministered to the young himself. Bunyan ministered to the young himself. Spurgeon ministered to the young himself. Asahel Nettleton ministered to the young himself. James Janeway ministered to the young himself. Where did anyone get the idea that a pastor wasn’t suited to minister to the child as well as to the parent, or that a man’s age was a negative factor in dealing with young people?
2B. The rise of specialized “youth ministry” emphasis parallels closely the influence of decisionism as it spread throughout the United States. And following on Finney’s impact in spreading decisionism was the influence of a man named Horace Bushnell, who wrote Christian Nurture.
3B. Bushnell took the baton, so to speak, from Finney and ran much farther down the course with it, making tragic application to the young. He denied that children are born depraved. He asserted that the young should not be treated as individuals, but should be dealt with in groups. Further, he contended that children should not be taught doctrine, but that they should be taught feelings, as though right doctrine is divorced from right feelings.
4B. I could go on in the development of this, but for lack of time. My point is that there arose a great heresy in the 19th century, in the 1800s, which altered most people’s perception of what conversion is, altered most people’s perception of how sinners should be evangelized. And along with it, and running parallel to it, was the development of a Scripturally unauthorized approach to ministry that was based upon the presumption that young people are different than adults, when in fact they are not different at all, except as immature specimens of the race.
5B. One passage before moving on. Please turn to Deuteronomy 21:
18 If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them:
19 Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place;
20 And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.
21 And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
22 And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree:
1C. We know that this passage is dealing with a young person and not an adult because his parents are insisting on his obedience, his parents are able to chastise him, and he is small enough for them to lay hold on him to bring to trial. So, this is no 18 year old fellow being pictured. Rather, we should imagine a 10 year old, or perhaps a 12 year old.
2C. But though he is a child he is subject to execution by stoning for dishonoring his parents. Thus, though a child is under the functional hierarchy of parental authority to be properly raised by his mom and dad, he must pay an adult penalty for serious sin. And our conclusion from this?
3C. Children are not essentially different from adults, and should not be treated as though they are essentially different. When it comes to capital crimes, God treats children the same as adults, because they are the same. So, don’t let a snotty nose or a whine fool you.
4C. Yet “youth ministry” is predicated on the assumption that children are essentially different from adults, rather than being the adults-in-the-making they obviously and Scripturally are. Therefore, I contend that the basis upon which “youth ministry” is built is wrong.
3A. Reason #3, “YOUTH MINISTRY” IS A DIVISIVE INFLUENCE IN THE CHURCH
1B. Would you like to know who is one of the most likely people to lead a Church split, according to a study of many pastors who had suffered a Church split? The youth leader. And this is not at all surprising, since an artificial loyalty is generated by making the teens a separate and distinct group in the Church, creating temptations to split that are stronger than the temptations the rest of the congregation ordinarily faces.
2B. And this just makes sense when you look at what Churches do with youth groups, and when you factor in people’s sinful nature. Take a segment of the congregation and segregate them from the rest, according to their age, and you have thus succeeded in dividing your congregation.
3B. I would suggest to you that when you divide your people in that way, even the most devoted youth director can’t help but teach those teens differently than the pastor would. After all, he’s a different person. And this guarantees that something divisive has been introduced into the congregation. And whose fault is that? It’s the pastor’s fault.
4B. I have never been close to having a youth leader lead a split, but Calvary Baptist Church, down on Peck Road, had a youth leader split some years ago, according to the pastor who was there at the time. Theresa Guerrero was there at that time.
5B. And since Churches shouldn’t intentionally do anything that hurts Church unity, Ephesians 4.3, I maintain that “youth ministries” aren’t worth the potential harm that can be done. You get the wrong people involved in “youth ministry” and they can take advantage of the physical and social separation that’s been created to cause an even greater division in the congregation.
4A. Reason #4, “YOUTH MINISTRY” DISCOURAGES MATURITY AMONG THE YOUNG
1B. I am not at all impressed at the level of maturity that I see in most “youth ministries.” And I am convinced that the very nature of a youth oriented ministry predisposes those involved in that ministry to behave in an immature manner.
2B. Let me illustrate immaturity: When a boy wants to become a man he hangs around men, he listens to and watches the men he is with, and he learns manliness from those men. But that same kid, when he wants to be childish and act like a kid and not like a man, will remove himself from the company of men, will oftentimes walk over to some hidden place where he cannot be observed by men, and there he remains in his relative childishness.
3B. With too many youth leaders an effort is made to be like the kids in an attempt to reach out to the kids, rather than demanding that the kids measure up to an adult level of maturity. But kids don’t need for an adult to stoop to their level of immaturity. They need to be encouraged and expected to stretch to accommodate the adult’s level of maturity. And this they will do when they are with adults.
4B. And it’s the same with girls. When girls spend time in the company of women they emulate those women and grow up faster, behave in a more adult fashion, and rid themselves of the silliness that young women are so prone to. As well, girls learn from women how to relate to those of the opposite sex, rather than being the childish flirts that so many immature girls are before growing up.
5B. And what about these petty little dramas that play out between immature boys and girls? These silly skits are acted out wherever there are boys and girls (Notice I am not saying men and women), but they are especially problematic within youth groups. But with men and women it’s usually different. First of all, men don’t react to the flirtations of girls the way boys do. And women don’t resort to silly flirtations like girls do. So when boys and girls start acting more like men and women, then the roller coaster emotional displays that are usually seen in youth groups occur far less frequently. And it’s all a function of maturity. “Youth ministry” discourages advances in maturity by isolating teens from needed contact with the Church’s adults.
5A. Reason #5, “YOUTH MINISTRY” INTERFERES WITH PARENT-CHILD RELATIONSHIPS
1B. I am afraid that many Churches these days function as quasi socialist institutions. I say this because so many youth pastors run their youth groups in such a way that the job of parenting is usurped by the youth pastor, effectively taking over the job of parenting for mom and dad. And moms and dads are only too glad to let it happen to get a troublesome teen out of their hair.
2B. But who are teens usually turned over to when this happens? A young fellow who has a limited success in the experience in marriage or child rearing. All we know about the guy is that he likes hanging around teens instead of real grown ups, which is a problematic symptom in most other contexts. And what does this guy substitute for real parenting? Activities. Fun. Junk food.
3B. But go back and look at all the teens who grew up under that type of “youth ministry” and you will find two or three things true of most all of them: First, few if any of the teens got converted. Second, few if any of the teens ever became productive and functioning members of the Church. Third, few if any of the teens ever became mature examples of Christianity as adults. This Church is 27 years old. What do we have to show for almost 25 years of “youth ministry?” Not very many for all that time and effort. The time, the effort, and the expense might better have been directed elsewhere with better results.
4B. And one reason for this is that when a “youth ministry” is going full tilt problems that exist between parents and their kids are oftentimes swept under a rug of activities, under a rug of fun and friends. But when the teen years come to an end, and when adulthood looms over the horizon, the prominent teens in the youth group show themselves for what they really are, usually spinning off into the world as fornicators and worldlings.
5B. And the parents aren’t effectively discipled because they never felt the full weight of responsibility for their own kids. They were hoping against hope that their kid’s involvement in the youth group would make everything turn out all right. To be sure, Galatians 4.2 does authorize tutors and governors to be used in training children. But “youth ministries” tend to result in parents abdicating their responsibilities as parents more than using tutors and governors to help them fulfill their assigned tasks as parents. It’s pure socialism, letting someone do for you what you should do for yourself. But it’s not the parent’s fault, if that’s the right word to use. Parents are betrayed by pastors who are decisionists. And I was one of them.
6A. Reason #6, “YOUTH MINISTRY” CULTIVATES TEENS TO BE MANIPULATED
1B. I have seen and heard some of the most successful youth pastors in the United States. But I have never seen a youth pastor who was not manipulative in his ministry to young people. Young people think they are sly and cunning. But the fact of the matter is that they are gullible and naive and easy prey for charlatans and fiends. Why do you think the charismatic movement and the various youth cults are so successful in recruiting them?
2B. All decisionists are manipulative, substituting feelings for facts, and refusing to be still long enough to see whether or not God is working in a teen’s life. The youth pastor feels the compulsion to wring tears and emotion from his teens, coercing them to the old fashioned altar again and again, instead of equipping them to deal with their temptations and their sins.
3B. So you end up with a group of teens who are used to being on emotional roller coasters. And if they aren’t allowed to ride to the top of the emotional roller coaster in an exciting and fun filled service, complete with jokes and pranks, and including contests and frivolity, they think they have been robbed and they won’t come back unless they have to.
4B. But what they have missed out on from their exposure to that approach to “ministry” is a life that is built on facts instead of feelings, seeing a so-called “Christianity” that is structured on emotions controlling the individual instead of the individual controlling his emotions. No wonder you end up with teens who do things that the Bible says are wrong, but who think it’s okay because it “feels” so right.
5B. Having been manipulated by the youth director, because he doesn’t know enough Bible to apply God’s Word, and because he is pressured by the pastor to produce immediate and visible results, the teens end up being adults who are easily manipulated because, #1, they are not converted, and, #2, they do not know God’s Word.
7A. Reason #7, “YOUTH MINISTRY” INTERFERES WITH THE PASTOR’S MINISTRY
1B. If anyone gets between the pastor and who he is supposed to pastor then an improper interference has occurred. But this is precisely what happens when a Church has a “youth ministry.” “But pastor, large Churches have to have a youth pastor.” They do? Spurgeon pastored a Church running 6,000 people every Sunday, yet he did not have a youth pastor. No one else had a youth pastor, either.
2B. My friends, we have to completely rethink our approach to ministry if we think that in this hi tech age we need more pastors for a congregation than was needed before the invention of the light bulb, because technology increases efficiency, it does not decrease it. Thus, logic would dictate that fewer pastors are needed today than in the old days, because of automobiles, because of telephones, because of computers and the Internet extending each pastor’s reach and impact.
3B. Imagine what a teenager must go through in a typical Church our size. When he enters high school he is moved into the youth group and gets his own youth pastor, who dotes on him and pampers him and jokes with him and calls him all the time. That supposed man of God is associated mostly with fun and interesting activities for four years. Then the graduation from high school results, eventually, in his leaving the youth group, which must feel to the teenager like a divorce. His heart and his younger friends have, in a sense, been ripped from him, as well as the youth leader. Yet it must be so. You can’t successfully mingle kids with young adults if the kids still act like kids and the young adults want to remain kid-like.
4B. No wonder a teen wigs out and doesn’t much want to come to Church anymore. From 13 to 17 years of age he’s been shunted off to a young man to “minister” to him, but now his spiritual needs are to suddenly be tended to by a man an entire generation older, a man he doesn’t think he can relate to very well, a man he thinks has nothing in common with him, and a man who he has to share with the entire Church.
5B. And in decisionist Churches the pastor doesn’t have anything in common with the teens. He never deals with them, normally. He certainly doesn’t listen to them when they speak of their sins and their need to come to Christ. So, as the pastor gets older he gets more and more distant from that most critical age group in his Church, those who are late teens to early 20s.
6B. But in our Church it isn’t that way at all. In our Church, and before decisionism, pastors realized that the most fruitful fields of endeavor were those teen kids and young adults. This is the group that has historically been most receptive to the Gospel. And this is the group whose lives are the most complex and difficult to deal with, thereby disqualifying some young youth pastor who has not the wisdom of experience, and of years, and of study.
7B. I know these young people. I like these young people. I am responsible for these young people. And no one in this Church is as able to guide them to Christ or is as committed to their long term spiritual welfare as I am. And I am not what they are left with after they lose their beloved “youth pastor.” They get a real pastor their whole life. One who listens because he cares for each of them.
8A. Reason #8, “YOUTH MINISTRY” INTERFERES WITH CHURCH EVANGELISM
1B. If the unsaved teens and young adults are too important as prospects for conversion to be left to some wet-behind-the-ears kid youth director, or even a mature youth director whose future is somewhere else, then what about those same people when they get converted?
2B. I am the under shepherd of this Church, therefore I will guide those young ones to Christ. I am the under shepherd of this Church, therefore I will listen to those young sinners and give them directions necessary for their conversion. No one else in any Church has the combination of calling and concern that the pastor does. The parents are without God’s call. The youth pastor, who will end up serving somewhere else in all likelihood, is without the comparative concern.
3B. As well, what about after that young person comes to Christ? Young people, my hope and desire, God willing, is to be your pastor until you reach middle age with children the age you are right now. I have a stake in your spiritual success that is greater than you can presently imagine. So, I am not about to allow you to wallow in childish immaturity when I know, and have seen in recent years, what can happen to a young man or young woman who is not ruined by a “youth ministry.”
4B. And now, as we stand on the brink of yet another phase of our Church’s growth and progress, it remains to be seen what an impact you will have on our Church’s ability to evangelize the lost . . . who happen to be your peers. You have not been manipulated, so it is less likely that you will be manipulative. You have not been falsely converted, so it is likely that you will be a great asset in securing the genuine conversion of your peers. And you can spot a decisionist preacher a mile away, so you are less likely to be led astray than these adults who have grown accustomed to decisionist ministries and may harbor wishful thoughts that there is some good in them.
1. There are many reasons why I no longer advocate a “youth ministry.” It’s because I have seen the very best, and I know they simply don’t work. The best, most sincere, most dedicated of youth pastors will produce the same effect as some of the worst, because the problem isn’t with the man, but with the entire method.
2. That’s why I would never hold anything against any youth director. It’s not really his fault he’s in an unscriptural ministry that’s the result of a 19th century heresy being introduced to Christendom. Most youth directors are not much more than kids, themselves. It’s the pastor who is responsible for the mess, just like I am responsible for the messes of two youth ministries at two different Churches.
3. I’ve chosen to take the moral high ground tonight, rather than dwell on the sordid details of so many youth groups and their wicked activities. And I’ve done that because the high ground reasons for no longer having a youth ministry here are more than good enough to satisfy anyone with a modicum of Bible knowledge and experience.
4. We do not have a youth ministry. And it’s not because we don’t have anyone qualified. The most dynamic Christians in the world would be unable, in my opinion, to avoid the snares and traps that are ready to snag any effort to run a so-called “youth ministry” like we see in Churches today.
5. So, the problem with “youth ministry” is not youth ministers. Never has been. The problem is that “youth ministry,” as a separate and distinct ministry from ministry to adults, assumes things that are simply not true:
a) Assumes youth ministry to be scriptural, when it is not,
b) Assumes it to be a development of orthodox Christianity, when it’s actually a development of decisionism,
c) Assumes it to be beneficial, when it’s actually divisive in a congregation,
d) Assumes that it helps teens, when it actually stunts their maturity and hinders their evangelism,
e) Assumes that it helps teens, when it actually interferes with the proper development and growth of parent-child relationships,
f) Assumes that it helps them spiritually, when it actually makes them susceptible to manipulation,
g) Assumes that it helps a pastor’s ministry, when it actually interferes and impedes his work,
h) And assumes that it helps reach the lost, when actually it impedes reaching the lost.
6. These are a few of the reasons why we do not have a youth ministry here any longer.
People’s New Testament Commentary & Teacher’s Commentary, (Bronson, MI: Online Publishing, Inc., 2002), firstname.lastname@example.org
Horace Bushnell, Christian Nurture, (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, 1994)
Ibid, pages 23 & 27.
Ibid, page 29ff.
Ibid, page 51.
Roy Branson, Church Split, (Bristol, TN: Landmark Publications, 1992 ), page 250.