State of Youth Ministry Through the Eyes of a Senior Pastor

Jacob Eckeberger
January 17th, 2017

Join us for a panel discussion on the State of Youth Ministry Report Thursday, Jan 26th, 12-12:45pm CST.

“There is nothing new under the sun.”

For centuries, the people of God have made intentional investments into young people. Truths were passed down through examples, testimonies and written words so each generation could benefit from others who had personally connected with the Lord. You’re a part of that as a youth worker, having been raised up to live out Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 28 in the flesh.

Remember that, because every time we encounter new research we’re tempted to think we’re facing something that will catch God or his Church off guard. Granted, we’re always at our best when we slow down to understand the times and seek the Lord on what our response should be. The State of Youth Ministry report is an ally in this, providing we don’t get caught up in confusing method with mission.

As a senior pastor and former full-time youth worker, I felt somewhat bilingual with the report.

On one hand, it’s refreshing to see a greater harmony in church leadership over how values like evangelism, discipleship and relationships matter most. On the other hand, I wonder if how senior pastors and youth workers track such things is as harmonious. There may be an expectation from one that “youth ministry means hanging out at the schools every day,” while the other may believe, “youth ministry means investing into a few core kids who can become student leaders and reach their peers.”

We all seem to be on the same page with how students are too busy.

According to parents (who only ranked it at 11%, versus youth workers who said it’s more like 74%), any busyness primarily comes from teenagers working a job versus taking part in an extracurricular. I’d honestly have to disagree, as it feels like the after-school schedule has become obscenely clogged over the last two decades of youth ministry.

Given the incredible emphasis on family ministry in recent years, I was likewise intrigued by the conclusions of parents on youth ministry. There’s an interesting dichotomy with how 93-95% say they’re satisfied with their youth pastor, but only 45% feel they actually know or interact with that person. That gap implies that parents think, “If the kid is happy, then things must be fine.” That would certainly resonate with the 96% who said “safety” is a key expectation.

To flip that, consider the low percentage (23%) of senior pastors who say they want to see more parents get involved with the youth ministry. It implies the end-goal of what we do with students is to be “something else” for families versus a part of what’s happening in homes. My experience is without that anchor of a family member that teens will be consistent with youth group until they get tired of it, as there’s no one at home to walk them through the context of why they should stay involved.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway comes back to evangelism and discipleship with the parents of teens.

This is a low value on the survey (7% senior pastors, 4% among youth pastors), but it’s the pathway to everything. Moses told the Israelites in Deuteronomy 6 that faith being passed from one generation to the next is a home-based thing. There’s also a much wider scope, as he spoke this charge to non-parents in that same moment, too.

For that reason a real simple implication is that communication matters. Turning youth ministry into something everyone can understand requires a lot of simplifying around the prevailing core values. It means making the most of weekend church gatherings, congregation-wide emails and other larger opportunities to share examples, testimonies and written words…

wait, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

You are not alone.

Everything before us tracks back to what God has been doing all throughout human history. When Israel was faithful to this generation-to-generation calling, they remained strong spiritually and missionally. This is our opportunity in this era – just as God raised up people who served as guides and spiritual authority figures to his people in adolescence, so have you been raised up by the same God to do the same to literal adolescents.

Keep in mind, these people weren’t always spiritual giants – they were ordinary men and women who made themselves available for an extraordinary need.  Take comfort in that, for the state of youth ministry is less about if we can figure out the unknown and more about being faithful to what you do know. Study the times, but also study the Scriptures… for you are a part of this great mosaic that spans centuries and every possible demographic.

“There is nothing new under the sun.”

Tony Myles is the Lead Pastor of CONNECTION CHURCH, an authentic movement of God in Medina, Ohio. As a self-described “messy Christ-follower with a passion for the church’s future,” he’s spent over 25 years helping people of all ages take their next steps with Jesus. Tony is an author, conference speaker, volunteer youth worker and ministry veteran who is still learning what it means to follow Jesus. You can follow him on Twitter via @TONYMYLES

Jacob Eckeberger

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.