One Size Doesn’t Fit
When I survey the state of youth ministry, it seems shallow, confused, and perplexed. There is no doubt that we’re in the midst of a revolution. The Church, contextually, must think through realistic and measurable steps in order to develop and build lasting, impactful, and sustainable youth ministry.
The survival of youth ministry is not found in programs but in sound biblical teaching and proclamation of Scripture.
Setting the Church up for success in youth ministry will be a rigorous learning experience. The uniqueness of each congregation—shaped by location, population, and culture—suggests that one size does not fit all. Over the past 20 years, youth-centered programs have become the standard model of nearly every church’s youth ministry. But from church to church, these programs must be anything but standard.
Every youth leader has their own priorities, skills, ideas, and strategies, and it’s not always clear what “works” and what doesn’t. Cookie-cutter approaches to youth ministry have proven to fail teens and leave them lackluster in their beliefs and unprepared to defend their faith. Teens are attempting to learn faithfulness in a rapidly-changing, post-Christian culture where they are rethinking the institutional Church as a place to help them arbitrate life.
Programs and Paradigms
Just what, exactly, is youth ministry for? What is considered healthy youth ministry? What is successful youth ministry? Is youth ministry relevant? These questions linger in the hearts of many congregations and youth leaders and can’t be answered easily—nor can they be ignored. I surmise that the problem is not necessarily youth ministry in its current programmatic model. Instead, the problem seems to be leaders not modeling a faith that leaves youth yearning to grow as followers of Christ.
Teens desire depth and tangible relationships that push them to be more like Christ. If youth ministry is to outlast this devastating culture, there must be a shift in the focus and aim of youth ministry. This is where sound theological education plays a critical role in the direction and shape of youth ministry and youth leaders. Theological institutions must avoid thinking in terms of replicable programs, but rather they must build strategy around evangelism, discipleship, and Scripture. Teens tend to respond well to strategic opportunities that get them involved and active in their faith. The survival of youth ministry is not found in programs but in sound biblical teaching and proclamation of Scripture.
Rev. Dr. Nathaniel Brooks is currently the Youth & Young Adult Pastor at Mt. Pleasant Baptist Church in Herndon, Virginia, and is a 2014 graduate of the Certificate in Youth & Theology program from the Institute for Youth Ministry at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is a sought-after ministry practitioner with a passion for youth ministry, urban ministry, race, theology, and leadership.