Series Editor, Tim Schmoyer Over the next several weeks we'll explore the responses of a wide variety of youth workers to a series of questions about the current state of youth ministry. Justin Ross is a youth pastor in Whidbey, Washington. Learn more about Justin and his ministry at Let Wonder Replace Worry.
Justin, what do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is struggling with today? Teens today struggle with many issues that have plagued teenagers forever. Issues such as identity, purity, what the future holds, and so on. Something I notice in teens today that differs drastically from 10-12 years ago, when I was in high school, is they are under much more stress that I ever dealt with.
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I was prepping a bible study a couple of weeks ago and the book I was getting some questions from asked something about the difference between being a “carefree” teen and a “responsible” adult. Frankly, I don’t see teens who are carefree. I see them worried, stressed, and expected to be every bit as responsible as adults.
So where does that leave youth ministry? I see this as all the more reason for us to provide activities and time for teens to be able to be teenagers. Also, it is vital we remind them constantly that Jesus needs to have first priority in their life and He holds their future in his hands.
I have kids skipping church and youth group all the time in order to finish homework. Because they have to get a good grade, because they have to get a good grade in the class, because they have to get into a good college, because if they don’t their life will not be worth anything. This is a lie we need to confront head on. I tell teens all the time they need to put God as the top priority in their life, attend worship and bible study and trust in Him that the school work will get done on time.
Lastly, we need students to be global Christians over national Christians. Last weekend, we had a memorial in our church for a young Navy guy who was killed while riding his motorcycle. His family wanted to have a color guard, consisting of some of the guys family who are in ROTC at the high school. Dave, our pastor, explained to them that if that happens in church, the Christian flag would be included and take precedence over the American flag. This is because we are Christians first. We are born in America, but that is not who we are. We are apart of a world-wide family who are all loved equally by our Creator, who longs to save his children. I hope to impress that on my youth group. That being patriots is great and it is true that we live in the greatest country on the planet, but we are Americans second to children of God.
What do you see as some of the main issues youth ministry is responding to effectively?
Loving teens. Anytime I read about how teens are unmotivated, or see on report on TV talking about the terrible things teenagers are doing, or hear someone like Ron Luce tell me that my ministry in failing and only 4% of all teenagers are “bible believing,” I think about the volunteers who give me hours and hours of their time when they could be doing anything, yet they choose to come and love on teenagers. I think about the 3 guys in my town who get paid for 20 hours a week and work at least twice that, I think about the passion and love I see in the eyes of people at the National Youth Workers Convention, and I know that God is up to something great. I am honored and humbled to be apart of it.
In what ways does youth ministry need to change?
As far as youth ministry as a whole, I am not sure. I feel like support ministries, such as YS, CPYU, and many others, change constantly with culture while remaining solidly grounded in Jesus. In my own ministry, I need to change the sense of community my group has. This may sound weird, but they are too close and it is hard for someone new to get inside. They are not rude or cliquish and they do not do this on purpose, but I notice it and am concerned about it.