In his book “The Great Giveaway,” David Fitch demonstrates that the modern church ‘gave away’ her mission by becoming more focused on the number of conversions it produces than on the sanctification produced in its faithful congregants. In other words, the modern church focuses its efforts on the preaching of the gospel—which is good—but does not adequately equip those who respond to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
I agree with this perspective, as far as the public perception of the church. By and large, the church of Jesus Christ is characterized by the public by the mega-churches, who are most likely guilty of this giveaway. But, the average church in the US is 80 members. These smaller churches tend to be far more focused on discipleship and, if anything, neglecting outreach, for some reason or another.
Where the small church culture tends to fall short is in youth ministry. There are two reasons I believe this. First, many churches appear to devalue their youth, sensing that they are not unable, but unwilling to serve Jesus Christ in the church. Second, the youth group is simply too small to warrant much attention.
I’ve mentioned the disturbing statistic that 70% of teens will fall away from the church body when they graduate high school and only 10% will ever come back in their lifetime. I believe this statistic suffices as evidence of my previous observations of youth ministry in the modern church. Bridget from Virginia has identified this in her boyfriend:
I have a boyfriend that has grew up in church and has accepted the Lord when he was little but didn’t know if he meant it and now is struggling and worrying about if he’s going to heaven or hell. He believes in God but I just need tips and help on what things to say and do!
The boyfriend grew up in the church. He has no doubt sat through countless Sunday School classes, many Sunday sermons, many youth group meetings; yet he does not know if he is going to heaven or hell?
This young man needs to be discipled. He needs to know what the scripture has to say about heaven and hell. He appears to believe that God exists, yet he does not know what to do about it. He needs to know what salvation is and how to get it. I’m sure that he knows it’s by faith or belief, but what is biblical faith and belief?
Our youth groups should be first and foremost places of discipleship. We take the professing teens and we disciple them with the fundamental truths of God’s word. That way when trials come, they do not fall away as so many of our teens do, but they run to Jesus to find the way out. In Philippians 4.12-13, the apostle Paul tells us that he has leaned the secret to surviving life’s trials and that secret is the strength of Jesus Christ. Teaching Paul’s secret should be our first and foremost goal with our teens (Ultimate Frisbee, second).
My advice to Bridget (and to any youth worker whose teens are struggling in this same way) is this:
- Discipleship: She should teach her boyfriend the truth of the gospel and how to live by faith.
- Reproach: I suspect he is struggling with sin. As a teacher, you can never be the source of the sin of your people. For Bridget, she has to be careful not to entice her boyfriend to sin.
- Prayer: Don’t just pray for him, but with him. Bridget should pray for her boyfriend, out loud and in his presence and ask him to pray as he is comfortable as well. All the struggles that are shared with you can be shared with God. He can take it.
- Patience and Encouragement: Genuine life change happens slowly. Be patient and encouraging in all things.
- Accountability: Bridget needs to hold her boyfriend accountable to his frustrations and if there is an issue of sin, to this as well.
One last area of concern: Bridget can and should perform all these actions with her boyfriend, but he should have a male role model doing it as well. As youth leaders, if we have a teen of the opposite sex, it is great for us to do these things for them, but we ought to take a passive role and pass it off to a mature believer of the same sex, for reasons of reproach—at least whenever possible.
My hope in sharing these thoughts is that we can become youth workers who have a heart for true discipleship. The success of your ministry is gauged by the sanctification of your group, not by numbers. My prayer is that you we will all become youth workers who desire to see our teens sanctified and remain in the church as they graduate, that they would grow further into mature disciples and workers for the kingdom of God.