Josh Cousineau published a post on the Gospel Coalition website this morning entitled “The Only Foundation for Youth Ministry” that’s getting some traction. That’s a good thing. I thought it was a pretty strong article. BUT, reading the comments on these type of posts can be frustrating. I even linked it up on my Facebook and had a good back-and-forth with one of my biggest youth ministry mentors over whether or not it was actually a good article or not.
So if you haven’t read it, use the link above and read it first, then continue reading…
Be Consistent in Critiques
I usually can’t stand these types of articles because I believe they take cheap shots against Youth Ministry that they don’t take against other areas of church-ministry. What pitfall within the field of YM is not found elsewhere in the church: an over-reliance on “relevance”, replacing biblical teaching/preaching with good moralistic advice, or an unhealthy desire to draw a large crowd through fun/events/flashiness? Isn’t that something that every church wrestles through? If your pastor/church doesn’t wrestle with those things, then maybe they aren’t passionate about seeing God’s Word transform real people’s lives? (yes, I really mean that… but that’s a subject for another post)
Maybe it’s just because I am a youth pastor, but it seems that whenever Youth Ministry is brought up on sites like The Gospel Coalition or Desiring God or other similar sites (both of which I read very regularly and highly respect, which is probably why it’s so frustrating to me) it seems there’s very little recognition that maybe… just maybe… Youth Ministry isn’t all about fun. Youth Ministry is just as diverse as church-ministry, yet it often gets a very unfair stereotype. If there’s a pizza party, Maybe there’s a reason for it that is good and healthy and redemptive? It seems to me that Youth Ministry gets graded with a different scorecard than other ministries in the church, and I’m tired of it. Honestly, I wrestle over whether or not I should even read the posts about Youth Ministry on those sites anymore because I find them so cartoonish and unfair.
Who Intentionally Builds on Fun?!
So here’s the thing – Again, I liked the article mentioned above, and I agree that this critique of fun-centered youth ministry greatly distorts biblical ministry. At the same time, my youth leaders and I hosted an event for the teens in my church last week that we called “The Night of Awesomeness, part deux.” It was fun (awesome, even… though obviously in the non-theological sense). Teenagers came whom we haven’t seen in quite a while, and a number of students brought friends for the first time. One of the friends sought me out at the end to shake my hand to thank me for letting him come. Is that a terrible, unbiblical thing? Do you really think he expect to come to youth group next week and have it be the same as something we’re obviously tongue-in-cheek calling “The Night of Awesomeness?” I could imagine someone reading this article and thinking about the “Night of Awesomeness” and thinking, “Wow, I wish Pastor Mike would read this article, his ministry is all about the fun and needs more Jesus!”
Yes, there are youth ministries who seem to build what they do on a foundation of fun – but I absolutely guarantee you they don’t see it that way. I bet they would have well thought out biblical and theological reasons for doing things that way. I have never met another youth worker who isn’t passionate about seeing teenagers develop into spiritually mature young men and women.
We’re Always Contextualizing
Tim Keller insightfully writes, “to over-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of their culture, but to under-contextualize to a new generation means you can make an idol out of the culture you come from. So there’s no avoiding it.”
We’re always contextualizing (presenting our message in a way that is both understandable and meaningful to our audience). If we aren’t contextualizing, then we’re reading straight from the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic original languages of the Bible… if you’re using the King James Version, you’re still contextualizing. We are always contextualizing.
We Don’t Live in Foundations, We Live in Homes Build on Solid Foundations
The gold in Cousineau’s article is this – We need constant reminders that our foundation is Jesus Christ. The problem with foundations is that they crack when they’re weak and unmaintained. If your ministry isn’t firmly built on the Gospel and if your commitment to the Gospel begins to be underemphasized as you contextualize, then that foundation is in danger of being replaced by something else. THAT’S why I posted it on Facebook for my other Youth Ministry friends to read – as a reminder to maintain our foundations.
Jesus Christ is your foundation, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t build walls and a roof, paint the walls, buy some furniture (perhaps even some couches and a pool table!). We don’t live in foundations, we live in homes build on solid foundations. The foundation shapes what the home looks like and imposes limits and boundaries on what kind of house can be safely built on it. But foundations also allow great freedom for the home-owners to paint and decorate and entertain.
Fellow Youth Ministers – be encouraged! We are doing an important work, let us not grow weary or discouraged. Keep your hand on the plow, investing in students for the sake of the Gospel. Be faithful to the foundation of Jesus Christ, being careful to neither over-contextualize nor under-contextualize.
Concerned Church Members – pray for youth youth pastor and the team of youth workers in your church. Bless them, encourage them, invest in them. Buy your youth pastor breakfast and ask questions in order to understand (not in order to rebut and convince them that they’re unbiblical and shallow). Finally, remember that you’re called to youth ministry too, even if you’re not a parent – learn the names of a few students in your church and begin praying faithfully for them.