Theological Understanding for Youth Ministry

Youth Specialties
November 16th, 2014

The following is a linked post from our good friends at YouthWorker.com. We're proud to call Youth Worker Journal the official magazine of YS!

Original photo provided by Marc Wathieu.

Prior to considering myself a youth minister, I always felt those who served teens were different than other ministers, probably because their theology always was being tested and shaped by the practice of working daily with adolescents. For those who actually work with youth, there is no ivory tower (or cubicle!) that will withstand the BS detector of an adolescent.

While I've always revered the authentic lives of youth ministers, many times we live in duplicity of our application of theology to our practice of youth ministry. When it comes to how we think about the role of youth ministry in the church, we often allow tactics, strategies and models to trump our theological understanding of the church.

Whether consciously and/or deliberately, we all act according to our theological mind—or worse—we claim to believe one way and act another. This is why I believe the apostle Paul encouraged us to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Imagine all the new realities early Christians faced. Believers were under a new covenant in the resurrected Christ, experiencing the filling of the Spirit, and Gentiles coming to faith in considerable numbers. Theology was powerfully coming into conflict with practice. Most of the epistles would not have been written if not for this struggle. It should not surprise us that we still wrestle with theology and practice to this day.

At a forum on the Future of Youth Ministry at Southwestern Seminary, I saw the first real need for theologically informed youth ministry. One presenter that day, a biblical literalist (which is quite different than one who believes in the Bible's infallibility), was making the case that youth ministry did not appear in Scripture and thus was a manmade creation that threatened the fabric of the family and faith. I almost laughed during the presentation. The theological framework was less based on Scripture and more a reaction to the current mores of culture (a similar trap liberal theology fell to in responding to modernity). What stunned me further was the crowd, many who were graduate students, who clearly were being won over to this presenter's position.

Was he right?

Was youth ministry harming the family and ultimately the faith of young people?

I began a theological journey to discover my ecclesiology and understanding of the family in the context of the church. If youth ministry was to survive this reactionary, consumer-driven trend by the church to accommodate and cater to the family, we needed a theological understanding about what youth ministry's role is in the church to help teenagers find and follow Jesus.

In an age when we are focusing more on family in church, I began to realize that this emphasis could weaken the position of the church in filling the call of Christ in our world. It's a subtle but insidious drift that weakens the body of Christ and makes the aim of youth ministry harder to discern.

This is a reduction of my work, but a search of Scripture landed on these 10 theological premises:

     1. At creation, the family is identified as a basic unit of a larger unified society to live harmoniously, accomplishing God's purpose on earth. (Gen. 1:28-292:18).

     2. Sin disrupted family relationships, mission and unity (Gen. 3:4-8).

     3. A nation based on a family of origin was birthed from Abraham to be a people covenanted with God for the benefit of all mankind and through which would be born the Messiah or Savior for all mankind. (Gen. 12:1-3Matt. 1:1Rom. 9:6-8).

     4. Families that were part of this ethnic group/nation were given special instructions. Family is secondary to membership in the nation of Israel, not primary (Deut. 6John 8:39-47).

     5. Jesus said His Gospel would separate family and that alignment with Him was considered greater than allegiance to family. (Matt. 8:2210:34-3712:48-50).

Read numbers 6-10 and the rest of the article over at Youth Worker Journal's site HERE

You'll hear more from Mark Matlock as he opens up NYWC Atlanta talking about 5 Reasons The Church Needs Youth Ministry. It's not too late to join us in Atlanta!

Youth Specialties

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