OUR PHILOSOPHY OF YOUTH MINISTRY

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife -- 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.   
1 Corinthians 7:32-35 


Since the beginning of history, up until approximately 100 years ago, teenagers were regarded in all world cultures not as children in their final phase of childhood, but as adults in their early years of adulthood. In our fellowship we have returned to the historical view of teens, so treat them not as children needing fun, games, and entertainment, but as adults with a very important calling to ministry on their lives. 

The Scriptures teach that God has for each of us a unique purpose and calling based on our age and station in life. Older widows have a different calling than younger widows, and women have different callings than men. God has different expectations for adults than He does children. And single adults (including teens) have different callings than married adults. 

In Paul's first letter to the Church at Corinth God reveals His plan for the lives of teenagers. In 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 He tells single Christians they have two options in their season of life: 
    1. Marry (which is not reasonable for most teens today) or ...
    2. Use the single years to devote time to ministering for the Lord. 
God does not view the teen years as we do in modern America, ie: the last years of childhood and the final years of fun and self-fulfillment. To God the teen years are the "warrior" years -- those years when they do not have the distractions of wives and children to care for -- the years when they are most available for ministry. 

If the Church were a sports team, the teens would be the first stringers. To send them off into youth groups where their youthful desires for play, entertainment, and self gratification are fed, is to rob the Church of it best players. It also disregards 2 Timothy 2:22 where Paul tells the young man Timothy to flee the desires associated with immaturity. 

In our fellowship we have found that when teens are treated with the respect and significance due young adults, and are channeled toward ministry and not the self-absorption of immaturity, they rise to the occasion and spiritually flourish. We have also found that when the young church members with the most faith, energy, and zeal are released into service, the Church as well as the teens are blessed! 

Since the teens have been brought into their places of responsibility within our fellowship we have increased our effectiveness tremendously. Presently, our teens function in every position of service possible. They are ushers, audio technicians, and video cameramen. They serve as Sunday School teachers, nursery workers, and special event committee members. They spearhead our pro life outreach and evangelism, as well as make up the bulk of the work crews for barn-raisings and moving days. They set up and take down our facility each Sunday and volunteer in the church office during the week. They minister on the worship team as singers and as musicians. Our service-minded teenage young ladies are in the homes of overwhelmed mommies each week, helping them with their children. 

After watching what happens when teens are treated like the valuable servants they are, we have become convinced that they are the modern Church's untapped resource. When properly directed they live out what God spoke through Paul to young Timothy: 

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity." 1 Tim 4:12 

WHEN DO CHILDREN BECOME ADULTS?

A. Throughout history the predominance of world cultures have regarded teenagers as adults.

1. Up until the twentieth century, puberty is what marked the onset of adulthood in most world cultures

2. This view was reflected in the minimum age for marriage:

· Talmud: Onset of puberty

· Roman law: women - age 12  men -- age 14

· English law: 1000 years ago -- women - age 12  men -- age 14

· American common law 200 years ago: women - age 12  men -- age 14

· American law at the turn of the century: women - age 12  men -- age 14

3. Even in recent America adolescents entered adult roles and received adult responsibilities

· John Quincy Adams - 1781: Held an ambassadorial post in Russia -- age 14 

· Laura Ingalls Wilder - 1882: Taught school – age 15

· David Farragut - 1813: Commanded a captured British vessel -- age 12

· Apprenticeships:  Began careers -- ages 10-12

· School attendance laws -- 1850-1900:        Compulsory attendance -- Ages 8-14

B. Physiologically, adolescents are adults

· According to doctors, medication dosage is the same as adults at age 12

· Buffet prices reflect that restaurant owners recognize the adult eating habits of 12 year olds

 · Most parents observe that adult body odor, bad breath, etc, begin around age 12

C. Intellectually, adolescents are adults

· The mind's capability for abstract thinking is reached on the average by 11-12

· School authorities allow courses requiring abstract reasoning, such as algebra, at age 14

· The apostle Paul noted that one difference between childhood and adulthood lay in the realm of the language, thinking, and reasoning

1 Cor 13:11  When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.

D. Biblically, adolescents were regarded as adults:

· According to ancient Hebrew custom, at age 12 (average age of the onset of puberty) boys were recognized as beginning manhood.

· The spies who interacted with Rahab were teens [na'ar] (Josh 6:23)
   na'ar
, nah'-ar; a boy, from the age of infancy to adolescence; ie: babe, boy, child, damsel, lad, servant, young man

· David’s small army consisted of teens [na'ar] (1 Sam 25:5) 

· Teens [na'ar] did the fighting for Abner and Joab (2 Sam 2:14)

· Teens [na'ar] sat at the city gate with the other men of the city (Job 29:7)

· Eli’s sons, who assisted him in the priesthood, were teens [na'ar] (1 Sam 2:17)

· Joshua, one of the teenage Jericho spies, served Moses as an aid throughout his youth (Num 11:28) 

· Like in Israel, in the early church it was the teens [neos] who served as assistants to leaders (Acts 5:6)
    neos, neh'-os; "new", i.e. youthful or fresh

E. In history, even in America, teenagers were considered to be adults up until the 20th century

· The idea that teens were still children was popularized by psychologist and author, Granville Stanley Hall when he published and popularized his theories in 1904.

· Basing his ideas on Darwin’s evolutionary model, Hall proposed that humans developed and matured in similar stages. He suggested, for example, that the toddler years were the “Pre-savage” years, and he decided that the teen years were not the first years of adulthood, as had always been held, but were in fact the final stage of childhood, which he labeled the “Neanderthal” years.

· He was the inventor of the childhood phase we call "adolescence," and emphasized that young adults needed to be treated more like children.

· His ideas grew in popularity and were adopted by John Dewey, the architect of the American education system. Dewey was inspired to extend childhood education, creating what became known as “high school”

By God’s design, children enter young adulthood, not when they are mentally or emotionally mature, not at America’s arbitrary ages of 18 or 21, but when their bodies reach puberty. Modern American young people, because of poor training, may lack the maturity congruent to their adult status. However, by design, they have the potential for an earlier maturity and are actually no less adults than those officially recognized by society’s laws.

 

OUR VIEW OF YOUTH GROUPS

A FEW FOUNDATIONAL THOUGHTS THAT SHAPE OUR VIEW OF YOUTH GROUPS

đ Teens are the warriors of any local fellowship (1 Cor 7:32-35; 1 Tim 4:12)

đ They are most available for ministry, since they lack wives and children.

đ They can be looked to as chief servants in the fellowship. 

đ We will not provide activities which group the young adult warriors together for play or entertainment, or which reinforce to them that they have an identity separate from the rest of the adult community.

đ When we gather the teens together it is as young adults for the purpose of ministry and outreach.
 

HOW DO FUN-BASED YOUTH GROUPS AFFECT THE PROCESS OF MATURITY?

Teenagers gather separately from other adults for activities

It promotes age segregation with its side effects

đ Reinforces a youth subculture identity -- they are treated as if they were still children

đ Removes them from the benefits of having adults as their peers

đ Creates an identity with unique needs

đ Creates an immature peer group -- slowing up maturing process

Breaks down family cohesiveness and identity

Multiple activities minimize family time

Creates passive "pew-warmers" rather than active warriors for Christ

Creates competition and disharmony between ages

Activities and Entertainment

Feeds the "play" mentality, promoting self indulgence and immaturity.

Fosters the "youthful desires" teens should be fleeing -- 2 Tim 2:22

Glorifies some of what parents want absent in their children's lives.

Emphasis on fun distracts from learning the fear of God.

Hard rock Christian music can stir the flesh

Outreach to unbelievers

Standards are lowered when more than one unbeliever is allowed into the group

Tone of the group is changed for the worse

Fleshly appealing approaches which are used to attract unbelievers, serve to corrupt Christians

Family is not seen as a place of outreach

Socialization of peers

Groups "fools" together causing a negative behavioral and values influence -- Prov 13:20

đ Carnal kids are often most popular, and set the tone of the group.

đ Fosters a "herd" mentality -- pressure to conform hinders maturity

đ Gives great opportunity for sinful behavior.

Creates intense social cliques with accompanying problems.

Friendships become so intense that they can consume teens, robbing their hearts from home.

Hormonally charged boys and girls engage in premature and inappropriate relationships

Boy/girl chemistry in the group distracts many from intense pursuit of God.

Dating relationships flourish which foster lust and other sins

Broken relationships are like mini-divorces, so hamper fellowship and cooperative ministry efforts.

Counseling from Youth Leader

Division between teens and parents may grow because of new loyalties to youth leader

Youth leader may pass on values contradictory to parents'.

Teaching geared for young people

Relieves parents of their training responsibilities, and serves to appease their consciences

Segregating ages is based on worldly ideas, yet God regards human wisdom as "foolishness" (1 Cor 3:19)

 

We recognize that many young people have come to faith in Christ within youth groups. We understand that many Christian young people have grown spiritually because they heard life-changing biblical Truth in a youth group. It is not our belief that God does not work in youth groups. We simply believe that He can accomplish the same ministry and more when teens are elevated to their high calling within the general body of believers. Our experience has shown that what the Church enjoyed throughout history can still be a blessing today.

 

COMMON QUESTIONS ON THE VALUE OF YOUTH MINISTRIES

A. Wouldn't the absence of an entertainment-oriented youth group deprive young people of traditional, fun youth experiences?

Yes, but considering the harm of those experiences, the trade-off is worth it.  Besides, our experience has shown that teens typically find greater satisfaction in serving than in playing.

B. Isn't the wholesome fun provided by youth groups better than what teens find in the world?

The wholesome entertainment found in church activities may seem “safer” than that provided by public schools or other secular institutions, but if the calling of teens is to preoccupy themselves with serving the Lord, the church is in error to create programs which foster preoccupation with fun, entertainment, and self gratification. They must flee the desires associated with immaturity (2 Tim 2:22).

C. Who would minister to the teens who rebel against spiritual instruction from their parents? 

The church’s goal must be to restore proper family roles and relationships, so that the parents can fulfill their responsibility to train their children. It is true that other adults can sometimes reach a teen in rebellion better than the teen’s own parent. In those cases small youth gatherings geared toward discipleship, and divided by sexes might make up for the lack of influence parents have.

D. How else would we meet the unique needs of Christian teens?

Just as we have men’s meetings and women’s meetings to address the unique needs of the sexes, occasional meetings might be valuable which minister to teens in the specific areas of life they face. Meetings separated by sex would be most productive.

E. What other way can church be made enjoyable to rebellious children of church members?

It is understandable that parents who know they have no influence over their teenagers would desire their children to be drawn to church so that they might hear the gospel and be saved. However, is it wise for the church to create activities that appeal to the carnal natures of rebellious teens? Won’t that reinforce the teens’ carnality rather than help them move away from it? Besides, if a church creates activities that appeal to the carnal natures of teenage rebels, evidence shows that those rebels will set the group’s tone and bring corruption to the rest.

F. What would attract unbelieving young people to church?

If parents do their job and raise their children to serve, then those young people will desire to come for the significance they find in serving. Since the biblical purpose of church gatherings is to build up the saints and so that they can go out and evangelize the lost, churches should concern themselves not with drawing in unbelievers, but with equipping the saints to minister and evangelize in their homes and personal lives.

G. What about all those young people who get saved through youth groups, doesn’t that prove how necessary they are?

It is the gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit that brings about salvation. A teen who hears the Truth in a family setting will be saved just as soundly as in a church building. Considering the negative impact of modern youth ministry on believers, does the end justify the means?

H. Shouldn't we accept the culture the way it is and adapt ministry to it?

As Paul suggested in 1 Cor 9:22 we can become all things to all men to gain the more to Christ, but he obviously would not suggest that our evangelism pander to people’s sinful natures. We should not create programs that might appeal to unbelievers, but would be harmful to believers. That crosses a moral line.

I. What other way will public school children find Christian fellowship?

If young people are brought into the adult community at church as adults they will find fellowship just as their parents do. Or when they gather for organized outreach they will find the sweetest fellowship.

J. How would young people meet other Christians for dating?

If parents want their young people involved with recreational dating, fellowship with adults includes relationships with other young people, and they will have many opportunities. However, those who have read the book “Dating: Is it worth the risk?” know how dangerous a custom recreational dating is for pure-minded teens. 

K. How would Christian young people from unbelieving homes be discipled?

They can receive discipling the same way all other new believers at church receive it.

 

IF A CHURCH WANTS ITS YOUTH TO GATHER FOR OUTREACH AND MINISTRY, HOW CAN IT BE DONE SAFELY?

If a church decides it wants to have a group for its young adults it is certainly not violating any biblical mandate. At issue is the purpose or nature of the gatherings. My concerns are fun-based Youth Groups. If the teens in church are the warriors of the fellowship, then it would be natural for them to gather as adults for outreach and ministry.  I suggest that such a group, to be dynamic,  be characterized by the following:

1. It should elevate teens to their young adult status, treating them with the dignity and respect due an adult. Meetings should be publicized for “young adults.”

2. It should cultivate maturity and avoid fostering childishness with an emphasis on play and entertainment. It should have no more emphasis on “fun” and “craziness” than meetings for older adults.

3. It should be outreach oriented – primarily going out to the unbelievers – not bringing them in.

4. It’s emphasis should be training in evangelism.

5. Teens should hold positions of authority and run the meetings, which develops leadership abilities, contributing to maturity.

6. It should have small group discipleship and prayer divided by sexes.

7. It should welcome older adults to be part of all activities.

8. It should be extremely supportive of family life, placing a high priority on parental authority.

9. Since strong family relationships are a byproduct of living in homes in which the gospel is understood and lived out (Mal 4:6), a great emphasis should be placed on helping teens to fully surrender to Christ.

10. The one most qualified to oversee the group is not a hip young person that the young people can relate to, but a seasoned saint who has lived a lot of life – possibly a parent who has raised their children or an older single.