A PERSPECTIVE FOR YOUTH MINISTRY (Pt. 3)

by Kurt Witzig

This is the last article in a three part series regarding a perspective for youth ministry. In the previous two articles, I noted the prominence of youth ministry in many of todayís churches and then sought to trace the history of youth ministry to understand how this came to be. I also noted the many trends and fads evident in todayís modern youth ministry fostering an atmosphere of spiritual shallowness. The chief contributing cause of this shallowness is the absence of clear, sound, doctrinal Bible teaching; an absence that unfortunately is rampant in todayís youth ministries. This lack of biblical teaching and emphasis can be largely attributed to the ecumenical nature of youth ministry, a presence that forces real issues under the table. To see this, sign on to any youth ministry forum or listserv on the Internet and observe the outcry when any significant or doctrinal issue is raised.1 The only way to accomplish unity and agreement is to not discuss anything in depth, resulting in what is in reality an artificial unity.

In this article I will explain the methods and perspective of youth ministry at the Duluth Bible Church (DBC) first by observing the biblical mandate for youth ministry and then by explaining our philosophy for youth ministry.

THE BIBLICAL MANDATE FOR

YOUTH MINISTRY

It is important to note that there is not one single reference to "youth ministry" in all the pages of Scripture. This means that there is no specific biblical mandate for youth ministry. The only blueprint found in the New Testament is the one for the local church. The Scriptures have much to say regarding the establishment of the local church, the leadership of the church, the structure of the church, the teaching emphasis of the church, the discipline exercised by the church, and so on. You will find no age divisions, segregation patterns, or separate ministries described in the biblical accounts of the local church. Instead, you find a tremendous emphasis placed upon the teaching of the Word of God. Pastors are exhorted to "preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine." Believers are instructed to "desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby." This is to be true of all believers in a local church whether young or old. All believers are to enjoy fellowship together in the church. This is the only biblical mandate found.

THE NEED FOR A PHILOSOPHY OF MINISTRY

Since there is not a biblical mandate for youth ministry, would it be fair to then conclude that there is no place for youth ministry? This indeed is the conclusion of some.2 One of the problems with this conclusion is that there also is no specific biblical mandate for a nursery, for a Sunday school, for ushers, for a singles group, for menís or womenís retreats, for a kitchen ministry, for a tape or video ministry, for a college-age group, and so forth. Are then all of these ministries, groups, and functions biblically questionable or even illegitimate? How do we go about determining which functions/ministries are legitimate and which ones are not? Since the Bible is silent on all of these groups, we need to devise a system to help reason through and determine the justification for these functions/ministries. This is where a philosophy of ministry can be very helpful.

A philosophy of ministry is a statement seeking to explain what the purpose of the ministry is. It should be based upon biblical principles and it should answer key questions such as: "How does this ministry fit into the local church (itís leaders, itís families, itís other ministries)?" "Why should we have this ministry?" "What are its goals and objectives?" "What needs does this ministry seek to meet?" "Who should be the leaders of this ministry and why?" "What types of activities will this ministry engage in and why?" "How can we measure effectiveness/success for this ministry?" A clear and concise philosophy answers these questions and states the purpose and direction for the ministry. A clear philosophy of ministry should be examined to ensure consistency and harmony with known biblical principles and truths.

THE PERSPECTIVE OF YOUTH MINISTRY AT DULUTH BIBLE CHURCH

The youth ministry at DBC functions under the spiritual leadership of our church. While we reject an ecumenical approach to youth ministry, we believe there is biblical freedom for this kind of ministry under the biblical authority of the local church. The purpose of this ministry is to meet the following objectives:

HOW CAN THIS BE DONE?

  1. By placing the main emphasis of the ministry on the teaching of the Word of God. Every single event or activity includes a time in the Scriptures. As the Bible is taught, it is accompanied with strong and specific applications.
  2. By being as a staff, available, involved, and committed to this ministry and to it's teenagers. We are willing, as unto the Lord, to commit ourselves and our resources (time, cars, money, prayers) to these kids and their spiritual development.
  3. Successful and effective youth ministry necessitates that one incarnates themselves among the youth with compassion and grace while emphasizing the Word of God. It demands an understanding of the culture to which one wishes to preach the gospel and faithfully and dynamically teach spiritual truths. It often includes involvement in given life situations, in all their fullness and complexity, so the truth of God can penetrate all the bright spots and dark corners of life.

  4. By establishing, through much personal contact, positive friendly relationships with the youth. As a result of these relationships, become available (as needed) to help them through all the various issues of life by listening to them, counseling them, advising them, praying with them, and specifically steering them to the Lord.
  5. By providing ministry opportunities for them to be involved with so as to cultivate a ministry mentality within them.
  6. By providing evangelism opportunities for them to take part in.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF YOUTH MINISTRY APPLIED AT DULUTH BIBLE CHURCH

Over the years, we have found three key areas to be of vital importance in helping to carry out our philosophy of youth ministry.

Teaching the Word of God

Teaching the Word of God is the clear emphasis of our youth ministry. Practically, this is carried out in various formats. The teenagers have a separate bible class during our church services on Wednesday Nights. The topics of study alternate between being doctrinal in nature (book study, Great Words of the Christian Faith, Grace, etc) and practical in nature (Popularity, Dating, Decisions, etc). These classes are held on Wednesday nights so they are free to attend the main church service on Sunday morning. The youth are first and foremost a part of DBC, not a group as unto themselves. They also participate with the whole church during our Family Fellowship Night on the first Wednesday of the month.

Another approach for Bible teaching is at our Friday Night get-togethers. Every Friday we meet in homes for a mixture of fun, games, conversation, singing, sharing, prayer, and a Bible Study. These evenings can be either formal or informal in their teaching approach. Various topics are covered and often there will be a time of questions and answers. There are usually 60 or more teens each week.

Another venue we use for teaching the Word is our "Saturation Weekends". These occur three times a year and are, in a sense, Bible conferences for teens. We begin Friday evening and conclude Saturday evening. During this time the teens will receive 7 to 8 hours of teaching from the Word of God on a given subject. Past subjects have included eternal security, creation vs. evolution, spirituality, by grace overviews of the Old and New Testaments, personal evangelism, relationships, personal Bible study, Proverbs, etc. The class time is offset with gym activities and games. Attendance at these is consistently between 80 to 100+ kids. They are choosing to attend these concentrated times of Bible study proving that young people indeed do have an appetite for the Word of God!

Other opportunities for teaching the Word occur at our annual Bible camps, annual retreats, and at our Daily Vacation Bible School. The teenage class has been the largest class (attendance in the 70ís) of our DVBS the last few years.

The style of teaching is something we have learned to be of great importance. Over the years we have found it very helpful to have one main teacher. This allows for better personal contact and better understanding of where principles can be applied. Another important aspect to style of teaching is to teach the Word with authority and to make strong and specific applications. Remember, the Word of God is the only thing we can offer that the world does not have. This Word is living, it is supernatural, and it is quick and powerful. So by all means do not hesitate to preach the word with authority and conviction and with great frequency! It is truth alone that will satisfy the answers, needs, and desires that we all have. Emily Dickenson once wrote "narcotics cannot still the tooth that nibbles at the soul". This is so true and we, as Christians, can go much further by realizing that the Godís timeless truths alone can and will satisfy that nibbling tooth. It should be of no surprise to see teenagers respond positively to the Lord via His Word.

When teaching teenagers I seek, by Godís grace and power, to make strong personal applications in specific areas relevant to teenagers. This includes such areas dances, prom, dating, music, popularity, sports, friendships, peer pressure, relationships, cheating, submission to parents and authority, etc. The objective in this is to prompt them to think more and more principally in their lives. There is no value in doing or not doing certain things merely for the sake of doing or not doing them. But there is significant value in learning how to think issues through biblically and principally. I am constantly exhorting and encouraging kids to evaluate their decisions, to pray about their choices, and to honestly seek the Lordís will with a desire to include Him in all the details of their life. It is indeed a thrill to see teenagers move from asking "why can't I do such and such" to "why should I do such and such" and "what is the Lordís will for me in this situation"? This kind of thinking can indeed topple over some pedestals with contemporary idols upon themĖthe worldís view towards sports, dating, academics, entertainment, etc. These can be difficult areas where the issue is not immorality or sin but rather one of priorities and occupation. Sometimes this kind of teaching is met with opposition, especially from those who are not used to hearing it or by those who would rather not hear it. However, we have seen the Lord use it in many cases and we are glad for that.

Lots of Personal Contact

A second area we have found to be of great benefit is to have ample opportunities for the staff to have personal contact with the kids. One way we have facilitated this is by having Friday night get-togethers every week in our homes. As I mentioned earlier, these are evenings spent visiting, playing games, getting rowdy, eating snacks, and then a having a time of singing, Bible study, and prayer. It is really encouraging to see all these kids, many sitting on the floor for over two hours, participating in the structured part of the evening! By doing this every Friday night (weíve had well over 200 such evenings and counting) the kids have become good friends with each other (important since many do not go to the same schools), and we as a staff have had opportunity to develop relationships with them as well. This kind of regular contact with the young people has gone a long way toward meeting the objectives of the youth ministry.

Another means of personal contact comes by way of our various road trips. Many of the teens volunteer to participate in a music ministry team which ministers through music specials at our various church plants. The hours spent in cars has provided excellent times of quality conversation. We also are involved in several evangelistic endeavors in other areas as well as being involved in evangelistic programs at several County Fairs. These trips with purpose provide excellent opportunities for the kids to labor together for the sake of the gospel as well as ideal opportunities to mold friendships. I consider it a privilege to count some of my dearest friends to be current and former young people.

A Faithful Staff

The third area of great benefit is to have a faithful staff called by the Lord. The staff involved with the young peoples ministry at DBC have been used greatly by the Lord in providing counsel, example, mentoring, and encouragement to our youth. T heir consistent commitment to the Friday Nights, the various road trips, camps, and other events has been of great value. One cannot really be effective in reaching young people if they do not sense from you this kind of involvement. Although our staff has sacrificed many hours of family time for the sake of the young people, by Godís grace there has been tremendous impact. Without people being called of the Lord in this way and then consistently committing their time and resources, the objectives of the ministry could never be adequately met.

In conclusion, an effective philosophy of youth ministry begins with God and His Word. A working philosophy of ministry is helpful in answering key questions about the why and how of youth ministry. Strong Bible teaching mixed with valuable personal contact and a faithful staff has proven for us to be a good model for our youth ministry. Teenagers are certainly not too young to absorb and apply spiritual truths so we do not hesitate to give them the Word of God! By Godís amazing grace, we have seen many teenagers get saved and many more get grounded in the Lord. We used to hope that Christian teenagers would merely "survive" their teen-age years without a major spiritual blow-out but since have learned to aim for real spiritual growth and fruitfulness. This indeed is the Lordís goal, the homeís goal, and our goal. Again by Godís grace, the vast majority of our graduated teens the past few years are still an integral part of our church with many of them serving in one capacity or another. This is a good barometer of success. Ę

Footnotes:

  1. An example of this is the following posting on the bulletin board offered by youthspecialities.com on Nov. 17, 1997:
  2. To: "Youth Specialties" <youthministry-l@gospelcom.net>

    Subject: Yth Min: Rapture - That's Then... What's Our Walk Like Now?

    I have always felt that even entering into what appears to be an argument over a religious matter is wrong. Jesus said, "Let us not have a religious argument," to the woman at the well because the conversation was turning to doctrinal beliefs. When the rapture occurs is such a topic. Let us not focus on what will comeÖ

    And note the errant quote of Jesus to the women at the well. Yes, He graciously avoided delving into the spurious claim the woman made in John 4:20 ("Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship"), but He never said "let us not have a religious argument". Instead, as part of His response to her He said "Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews." Jesus clearly states that her beliefs were wrong.

  3. For example, this is the conclusion of Christopher Schlect in his booklet "Critique of Modern Youth Ministry" published by Canon Press, Moscow ID. On page 14 he calls into question the legitimacy of a "youth minister" and on pages 16 and 21 he states that true youth ministry takes place within the home, under the direction of a strong father, and not in an organized church ministry. There also is a subsection (p. 17) giving advice to parents on how to pull away from an energetic youth ministry. This booklet is enjoying circulation amongst certain believers in many churches. To them, proper youth ministry is limited to the home under the direction of the father. If the church wants to do something regarding kids needs they should minister to the fathers: "Churches should not focus on the abandoned children, but rather on the fathers (p. 17)." This viewpoint apparently stems from an environment made up solely of traditional families and where there must be little to no successful evangelism. Because as a product of an evangelistic emphasis at Duluth Bible Church, there are over a dozen teens who regularly attend our church and whose families do not, and nearly half of our young peoples families do not fit the traditional mold. Thus, there are numerous households that cannot meet the criteria set forth by this movement. Yet there are very real spiritual needs amongst these young people. What shall we do about this? According to Schlect: "young people who come to Christ by a means other than godly parenting are exceptional cases. Nonetheless, these exceptional cases do exist, and we thank God for them (p. 20)." But nothing is ever said regarding what should be done to minister to their very real needs! And what kind of church sees such kids as "exceptional"? At DBC, they are a minority but certainly not rare. Either you choose to meet these very real needs or you isolate yourself from this uncomfortable and inconvenient culture. The choice seems obvious. And furthermore, is it even a safe assumption that in strong traditional households there is no need for outside influence and support regarding the teens in that home?

 

 

Kurt Witzig has been the Youth Director at Duluth Bible Church since May of 1996 and is a graduate of the Grace Institute of Biblical Studies.

 

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