What is Youth Ministry?

11 01 2012

Yesterday I began teaching a Youth Ministry class for DCE and other students.  When beginning to teach on such a topic, my nature is to take a step back from the start and consider just what it is that we call “Youth Ministry.”

There have been various incarnations or models of ministry over the years.  Some youth ministry models have been all about Christian education, some would seem to be more about entertainment, still others emphasize mission and service.  None of this gets down to the core and explains what we believe youth ministry to be all about.

I want to briefly propose the following as at least my own working understanding of youth ministry.

Youth Ministry is about connections.  First youth ministry is foundationally about our connection to Christ.  Notice that this connection is truly bedrock for all believers.  Christ comes to all of us, youth included, in our brokenness and need and calls us to Him.  Christ calls youth out of the struggles and despair that they endure into a right relationship with the Triune God.  We cannot approach the Father without the Son, yet we are beckoned into a connected relationship nonetheless.

In order to nurture this connection to Christ, youth ministry is to be about Christian education.  Catechesis is not optional for quality youth ministry.  Youth must be taught the fundamentals of our faith.  I believe further that this teaching must be done in an atmosphere of openness and safety.  Youth must have a place in which they are able to ask critical questions.  They must be able to have a place where it is safe to question the sacred in order that the grow to understand, appreciate, and accept it.

Youth Ministry is also about connection to others.  As disciples in Christ, we have a need to connect to one another for support as well as to be challenged.  Much is said about discipleship today in the church, though I am not always certain that a clear definition of discipleship is consistently employed.  As I understand discipleship, we are talking about a process.  Through baptism we are made disciples or followers of Christ.  This declaration of our justification and right standing before God does not mean that we are now fully equipped as disciples, just that we are declared to be such.  Christ’s original disciples responded to His call to follow His and simply obediently followed.  They did not have any qualifications to be call disciple.  They were simply invited and followed.  Through baptism we are invited.  The process of discipleship moves us into action, following our Lord.

Discipleship as a process involves guidance from one person to another in order to help appropriate the content of Christ’s teachings from Scripture into ones faith life.  The teacher in this arrangement guides the youth to see connections between the content of our faith and our life as a follower of Christ.  Discipleship means walking with another person, helping them to gain a clear perspective on life and develop wisdom and character.  This is a critical feature of youth ministry as adolescents find themselves and a crossroads of maturity.

Finally youth ministry is to be about a connection to the larger world around us.  As disciples we ought to seek to proclaim Christ to the nations as well as serve those in need.  Youth ministry thus should engage in both mission and service.  In mission work the primary goal is communication of the Gospel and the making of new disciples.  Mission work can be both international and local.  Service likewise can be done both internationally and locally, but is distinct from mission work in that the stated purpose is the act of service and not spreading of the Gospel.  Naturally one would never withhold the Gospel, it is simply that the primary purpose would be different for service as opposed to missions.

Must more can be said, and this topic will likely be revisited and revised, but for now chew on these thoughts and see what you think of this attempt at a working definition of youth ministry.

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