Is youth ministry subtly sabotaging college ministry?

By February 6, 2012Culture

By Chris Brooks

(From Wayfarer Blog editors: This post starts off pretty fiery and says what some might say are some pretty incendiary things. We promise that it’ll be worth the read if you stick with it through the whole post!)

According to a USA Today article a few years back, 70 percent of Protestants between the ages of 18 and 30 drop out of church before age 23.

I also saw a stat a while ago that said 89 percent of youth group kids leave the church after they graduate high school and never come back.

Most church leaders are aware of the staggering statistical evidence that college-aged students and young adults who grew up in the church are evacuating our churches and ministries at alarming rates. But as a college minister, I find the responses to this data in the church at large highly problematic.

They are problematic because, first, the church for the most part paints the “secular” university (such as the University of Alabama, where I minister) as some sort of devilish adversary and depicts professors as intellectual predators from whom we must protect our vulnerable youth.

Second, this crisis is like the national debt. I didn’t create it (most of it, at least), yet I have to pay for it. Quite simply and bluntly, it’s not my fault.

Well, whose fault is it? I’m glad you asked, because I’m happy to answer.

Fault lies with the guy sitting across the table from me in staff meeting. You know who I’m talking about – the happy-go-lucky youth guy whose biggest problems are pimples and prom. He or she is the one who is always with kids at camps or with other ministers at conferences. He or she is the one who produces the coolest Wednesday deal night going down in your town.

I’m talking to you, and I’m calling you out. This is your fault. You think you have a successful ministry, but you don’t. You may think you are making a difference, but according to the numbers, your ministry isn’t making a difference no matter how many were in attendance last week or how many cool (or uncool) the T-shirts you made were.

When the youth bubble bursts and you ship them off to college, I’m the one who inherits your discipleship debt crisis. I am the one who has to set up triage for your students who are lining up in droves to liquidate their thin excuse for faith.

(If you are youth minister, please keep reading. I promise it will come full circle.)

Don’t just take my disgruntled word for it. Barna’s got my back. Here is what one of their studies cites as one of the five myths about young adult church dropouts:

Myth: College experiences are the key factor that causes people to drop out.
Reality: College certainly plays a role in young Christians’ spiritual journeys, but it is not necessarily the ‘faith killer’ many assume. College experiences, particularly in public universities, can be neutral or even adversarial to faith. However, it is too simplistic to blame college for today’s young church dropouts. As evidence, many young Christians dissociate from their church upbringing well before they reach a college environment; in fact, many are emotionally disconnected from church before their 16th birthday.

Told you.

“The problem arises from the inadequacy of preparing young Christians for life beyond youth group,” writes David Kinnaman, co-author of unChristian. He points to research findings showing that, “The university setting does not usually cause the disconnect; it exposes the shallow-faith problem of many young disciples.” (Emphasis added.)

The only logical deduction we can make from that statement is that our current discipleship models (if we even have them) are not working.

Of course, we can’t simply blame youth ministers. The truth is that this faith crisis is not just the fault of one particular ministry age group. (Certainly, parents abdicating their role as the primary disciplers of their kids also plays a role!) Moreover, it will take every age group to get us out of it.

So don’t pass the buck. Instead, here are five quick suggestions:

Take a deep breath. Since the Holy Spirit’s last name literally means breath or wind, breathe deeply of his presence, his peace, and his power. If you see that your age-group ministry is on life support and/or that your church is dead, dying, or decaying like dry bones, remember that same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead lives within you. Seriously. Don’t be scared to channel your inner Ezekiel – Prophesy SON OF MAN! Don’t forget that God is in the historical habit of redeeming and resurrecting. That’s evident in the Bible; now make sure it is evident in your life.

Define the win. If you see your age-group ministry as “successful,” then that presupposes you have a definition of success. Write it out, and then ask yourself three questions: Is it yours? Is it God’s? Can it be sustained and reduplicated without me? If all you’re counting is attendance or conversion hands in the air, that’s just not good enough because it never once seems to be the thing that Jesus is counting. Are you counting disciples or the numbers that make you feel good about yourself?

Burst your own bubble. Take a hard, humble, and honest look at the numbers – not only at the national trends but local patterns and your church’s patterns. What do they say about your effectiveness? Never ignore or justify stagnant spiritual growth. Continue to support one another, but challenge the process. For instance, in my church, we are significantly intergenerational. But is it enough to call a college student staring at the back of someone’s gray head for one hour in worship intergenerational worship?

Stop, look, and listen. Ask the Holy Spirit for eyes to see and ears to hear the hidden rhythms of unique Kingdom impact he wants to release in you and through you. Then do something unheard of these days: Stop comparing yourself to other ministers, other churches, and other ministries. If you are reading this, chances are your next worship gathering will not look like Passion 2012. That does not mean it is not valuable or significant for Kingdom expansion. That does not mean you are not valuable or significant in God’s Kingdom. As one worship leader so honestly put it, “Today I rise above flattery and frowns. I know who and whose I am” (Coincidentally, that minister was at Passion 2012 – thanks Charlie – but you get the point.)

Invite people in. Learn how to invite people strategically and intentionally into your life. Literally. Pretend the front door to your house is the new front door of the church. Open it wide and open it often. There is something mystical and holy about your kitchen when it is crowded with people whom you are discipling and with whom you are on mission. The best people I have seen at this are Mike Breen, Dave Rhodes, and the team at 3DM. They live and teach in ways that you and I can both sustain and exponentially reduplicate.

I am committed to not letting statistics like the one I started this entry with deter or deflate my hope in the gospel and the ministry of reconciliation that has been commissioned to us. Let’s try and reverse the grueling blame game that our adversary loves to get us to sink our teeth into. I like that guys like Rick Lawrence want to challenge the validity of the “70 percent” stat. (He calls it the vampire stat because it just wont die.)

Regardless of the actual percentage, the end result is not what Jesus intended for his bride. But for argument’s sake, let’s just say that 70 percent of young adults are in fact leaving the church. And let’s just assume that the problem is systemic and that, even though we shoulder different amounts of the blame, we all equally share the responsibility to respond.

Could a possible solution to the 70 percent dropout rate be as simple and as true as starting to take the time to disciple the remaining 30 percent with the crystal clear imperative to multiply and divide?

I hope so – because what is more troubling to me than the 70 percent of young adults leaving the church is the fact that 30 percent were content just to stay there without growing or changing.

Chris Brooks is a college minister for The Well, a ministry that reaches students at the University of Alabama. He wants you to know that he likes his church’s youth minister, who approved this message.

brookswayfarer@famemail.com'

About Chris Brooks

42 Comments

  • Well said. Thank you for your blunt honesty and challenge to me as a youth minister and someone who is trying to figure out how to get the ones who have been so inadequately discipled back into the church.

  • lynnjane1@gmail.com' lynn says:

    Provocative post indeed but having read David Kinnaman’s book and reflected deeply in and through my own practice I am utterly convinced that what we see today is a result of the partition and separation of all ages into something that suits “our” society, “our” preferred way of learning and socialising and “our” ecclesiology.
    Both the Old and New Testament describe a way of living life, being “team” and nurturing and discipling the faith of EVERYone in the community, all ages, with less regard for individual need and more emphasis on the relationship with the Lord with one heath, soul and mind together. We are only reaping what we have sown. Our primary motivator for discipling must now turn from “meeting MY need in the context that suits me best” (or my son or daughter’s needs) to a model that is much more outward-facing and (at times) intergenerational, reverting back to the instruction and remembrances of Deuteronomy 6, in all stages of life, and through all kinds of activities.

    Until we get this, I fear for the future of the church. We have taken our eyes off the ball in as far as the picture of the church that we see in Jesus is inclusive, honouring of one another, facing outwards towards the needs of the world around, demonstrating, proclaiming and incarnating from the earliest age onwards within the context of the extended community of faith.

  • cbhdsn@gmail.com' Candice Foldenauer says:

    Yes, this is good and true. I was talking with my husband yesterday about how amazing MCs could be done properly in a youth group setting. I love what you said in the beginning about the church freaking out about secular universities, and the real reason people flounder there is their shallow faith is finally exposed. If we could show youth how to properly interact with the secular world around them in middle and high school, how much greater could their college experiences be? Great thoughts.

  • Could not agree more / I live in the same paradigm everyday – Love the last line as well – “more troubling to me than the 70 percent of young adults leaving the church is the fact that 30 percent were content just to stay there without growing or changing.”

  • Good article, and much needed. Allow me to add to the “statistical paranoia”. According to Dawson McAlister, national youth ministry specialist, 90 percent of kids active in high school youth groups do not go to church by the time they are sophomores in college(?!). In 2001 Youth For Christ in Vancouver conducted a survey which revealed that despite pouring millions of dollars and tens of thousands of hours into the lives of nearly 4,000 kids, less than 2% of them went on to have any ongoing relationship with the church.
    Here’s the problem. First, we need to stop attacking the statistics and attack the underlying issues which have generated (even exaggerated) the statistics. Second, we need to question our “youth ministry” paradigm, top-to-bottom review. Stop defending the indefensible. Third, we need to replace “entertainment” of the masses with genuine biblical discipleship of those who want to know, go and grow. Demand commitment. Teach truth. Require application. For example, what if we took the 47 parables that Jesus taught and turn them into “Kingdom Discipleship Lessons”? How would our discipleship change? Remember, insanity, even in the church, is to continue doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Are you insane?

  • rj.cantrell@gmail.com' RJ Cantrell says:

    I think you may be too quick to dismiss what had before been considered the “accepted wisdom” that colleges inherently challenge the church. It’s certainly where I managed to finally lose the “fire insurance” christianity I’d been barely clinging to for the final few years of fundamentalist christian K-12 school.

    College is often the first time a person is acting as an adult, and leaving the authority of your parents and high-school teachers is the only way you can examine that authority. For me, it caused me to similarly examine the other authority structures in my life, and realize that Yahweh’s rules against shaving (and pork and garments of mixed fibers and women being unclean during their period) were just as pointless to me as my school’s rules against not shaving.

    Secondly, it’s important to realize how sheltered the “church life” can be. If you’re in church services and events during the times that you’re not in church-sponsored school, it’s easy to feel a rumspringa-like whiplash when you’re suddenly exposed to real life, where people do not view every thought and action through a Yahweh lens, even if they believe in him.

    Finally, I have to say education. I saved this for last because it could have just as easily been a mean-spirited one-line punchline, but it wasn’t until I got to college that I was able to learn what evolution actually was, and how fiercely and immorally my school had lied to me on the topic. It’s also where even the most basic philosophy class teaches you what proving an argument entails, and that’s pretty damning for any supernatural claim, not just those that any given religion believes. At the very least, it has to make one into an agnostic christian instead of a gnostic one, if you’re honest.

    I still have nightmares sometimes of my high school showing us the Ray Comfort video claiming that the human-engineered, human-cloned Cavendish banana was proof of God’s existence, in a mandatory chapel-service. These systemic lies were a much bigger impact on me than anything in a youth group. It’s probably also harder for you to speak against, I guess.

    Please note that I’ve only spoken of my experiences, and even though I don’t believe in Yahweh any more than Thor or Zeus or Ra, I don’t mean any insult to you or the work you do — I don’t even know you! In fact, I’m half-agreeing with you in general, but I think that for many, there are deeper problems than youth groups, and the education one gets in college is (for the better, I think!) inescapable.

    Have a nice day, and Roll Tide!

    • chris@thewellua.com' Chris Brooks says:

      RJ – Thanks for your comments and participation. I think a lot of us experienced some the sadness you talked about because we were raised in a Christian posture that was anti-intellectual and that neglected to equip us with permission think, reason, and wonder.

      The “fire insurance” faith is all too familiar to me and many others. I wonder sometimes if the rise of fear and guilt as a primary means of persuasion for quick conversions might be directly related to the difficulty and the personal commitment that long-term discipling requires in order to produce an extended family of faith, hope, and love.

      I look forward to hearing more of your story and perspective.

      RTR

  • mhaines@sixthstreetbaptistchurch.com' Matt Haines says:

    Great post Chris. As one who lived the youth ministry world for a long time, I regret that many of my “successes” were built on the wrong foundations. It is systemic and it oftentimes comes from the greater systems or lack of them in the church as a whole. Youth ministers often measure by the standards you mentioned because that is the standard most often measured and talked about by the senior staff. Now I am hopefully in a role where I can change some of that perception in my church.

  • robert@weare3dm.com' Robert Neely says:

    Here’s another worthwhile comment from a Facebook discussion thread:
    http://www.facebook.com/andy.youssi/posts/225885434168904

  • red.eos.318@gmail.com' D.S. says:

    While the general thought behind this post carries some weighty validity, I have to charge you with highly underplayed consideration of the lack of discipleship that is happening from parents to students. As youth ministers/workers our job is to disciple students… absolutely! But we are not the ones who have been biblically charged to “raise [them] up in the way [they] should go.” I agree that too many ministries, youth and college alike, fall victim to the pressure of attracting students via their ‘cool’ factor. For JH or HS ministries it might mean the appearance of a sports camp of club atmosphere. In college, it all too often resembles a coffee house. Nevertheless, while youth ministers MUST implement effective discipleship into their ministries, the families of the church must likewise step up and become the support that so many youth ministries are missing.

    • chris@thewellua.com' Chris Brooks says:

      Agreed!

      It takes a village to raise a child – I’m just wondering what we do when all we have is children and no village.

      • red.eos.318@gmail.com' D.S. says:

        I agree wholeheartedly! A HUGE obstacle we’re facing in our youth ministry right now is the overwhelming percentage of broken families our kids are coming from! Thus, we as youth workers are given the seemingly impossible task of being at least one of the primary if not the sole spiritual leader in these students’ lives. Not only is that demanding and unfair, but given the frequency of interaction we have with them, I find this fact to be downright discouraging. Aside from the couple of hours we have them on any given Sunday or Wednesday (particularly if/when their parents decide to bring them or the students find a ride), each of our staff and volunteers can only dedicate so many hours of spare time to meet with and disciple only so many students throughout the week/weekend. What happens to the remaining population of our ministry? Additionally, kids are so busy these days with [insert lengthy list of extracurricular involvements], even the opportunities we have to meet with individual students outside of church activities is severely limited.

        Thanks for letting me rant.

  • ozsome@gmail.com' cory says:

    Amen. As a youth pastor who is attempting to combat this form of youth ministry, I not only accept such a blame, but I want to scream it out loud so others can learn and adapt. This generation of HS kids are hungry for it, too! No need to water anything down. Experience discipleship, serve with, not just for students. Create a culture of authenticity and missional, experiential living. This is true ministry to youth… and the fruit is incredible if you do it!

  • ahog12@hotmail.com' Drew Hogan says:

    I really appreciate your post and the challenge that it presents to youth ministers. But I often wonder just how those scary statistics are collected and how accurate they can be. I agree that many things within youth ministries, including mine, have been done wrong, but that can be said about every ministry in every church. I agree with the post above by D.S., here, we’re overlooking the truth that the primary responsibility for discipleship rests on the shoulders of the family, particularly the fathers. The issue that we are facing today is that our youth ministries (as well as all other ministries) are filled with kids who have no spiritual leadership at home whatsoever. It is a great task to be the only spiritual influence in a teens life for only 1-2 hours a week and actually train a disciple. (And yes I see that as a great challenge for the church to reach out to parents). If we consider the statistics to be accurate, then the 30% that stay in church after HS graduation are very likely the 30% who were brought to church by parents who have taken their role in discipleship seriously. I guess my point is that though your concerns are true, and we all need to bear this burden together, let’s not throw youth ministry under the bus with such bitterness and disdain without looking in the mirror at all of our church ministries. There may be a pastor who can’t get young adults to commit to worship on Sunday nights writing a blog that says “I’m talking to you, and I’m calling you out. This is your fault. You think you have a successful ministry, but you don’t.” 😉

    • chris@thewellua.com' Chris Brooks says:

      Good thoughts – see my reply below. I was not intending to throw youth ministry under the bus, but rather inviting all of us to get on the bus.

      • ahog12@hotmail.com' Drew Hogan says:

        I guess it’s hard not to take the first half of your post that way if you’re passionate about reaching and discipling students through youth ministry. It also makes it difficult to interpret your true thoughts since we’re not face to face, and I don’t know you personally. In truth, we all know that there are issues, and we all need to attack them head on, together. I appreciate your efforts to further disciple students, and I trust that you’re doing well. (it was one of my former students who is now in your ministry who sent me this post) And I hope that we can be a source of encouragement to each other in the future.

      • endure412@gmail.com' Jake S. says:

        Unfortunately, sometimes there’s a disconnect between what we intend and what we communicate. Don’t try to backpedal by claiming good intentions. You chose very strong, very clear language, and you did it intentionally. Maybe because you have unresolved issues with the youth pastor on your staff, maybe because you wanted the shock value of being edgy. Either way, you cannot feign ignorance and pretend you didn’t mean to cause a stir. That’s intellectual dishonesty. You had to know exactly what kind of reactions you would get.

        I’m not sure why we in the Christian community have started valuing being edgy and controversial. We applaud it as “candor,” or “honesty,” when those are just euphemisms used to mask aggressive and insensitive talk. Somewhere along the way we decided that it was cool to be passive aggressive and condescending towards our brothers and sisters in the name of “truth,” and unfortunately the Christian blogging movement has fueled this attitude. Just like the rest of the internet world, we’ve become careless in our speech and flippant about the consequences of our words. This is a far cry from the way that Paul instructs us to deal with one another (Eph. 4:29-32), and is simply unacceptable. We’re supposed to live as a people set apart,

        Chris, I have never met you, and I bear you no ill will. I hope God uses you mightily in your ministry to college-age students. At the same time, I hope that you will come to understand the responsibility that comes with having a public forum for your thoughts, and will see why your words are not acceptable. My prayer is that you will understand why this post was hurtful and unfruitful, and that you will have the humility to apologize for it.

  • philliprwilson@gmail.com' Phillip says:

    Can we blame youth pastors? of course. Can we blame Senior pastors? you bet? How about church leadership committees, teams, vestries, deacon boards, personnel committees, whatever you call them in you denominational circle.

    The biggest issue to me is this: We as the church have so comfortable with traditional ministry that we have completely missed the mark on working together across the church in short, Intergenerational Discipleship. Parents with students, student with adults, seniors with teenagers.

    How does one have a successful youth ministry? Hopefully by aligning with the children’s ministry pastor. Hopefully the transition from Kids ministry to student ministry is seamless and done with the two ministry leaders working together. As a student pastor, I would like to know what is going on in the kids ministry, and what those kids are learning, so I know where to continue in the discipleship journey.

    So where does that leave College Ministry/ young adult ministry. Because to have a successful college ministry, you must have a successful young adult ministry, where college aged transition to married life and to be parents. Yet we feel numerous campus bible studies where the seniors of the church provide exam goodie bags is an adequate college ministry.

    The biggest problem I tend to see is the lack of discussions between the student pastor and the college ministry leader, where in many churches is the same person. I wonder if the depth of the ministry is swayed because of the student pastor who is responsible for age graded ministry from 6th on until you graduate college. I would also venture to say that Senior pastors are disconnected from the process in just passing it on to the student pastor.

    There should also be an alignment between the college ministry leader and the senior pastor. Is his preaching challenging all who are part of the congregation, or does he communicate best to the 50 year old average age. Do we create contemporary service and hire a “teaching pastor” who can relate to the “young dudes” because he wears tight jeans, cool glasses, and says “pissed” from the pulpit.

    The problem is this: We have segregated our churches. We feel, we cannot all get along. Grandma wants a hymn, junior wants a loud electric. So the best way to go deep in discipleship is to divide into 6 services between saturday night and sunday morning and that will sure provide deep discipleship. If that doesn’t work, we will plant another church in the community and we will make sure we are hip with a coffee hour and remove our denominational ties from our name and what was once the First Baptist Church, has now become (insert trendy name here) Church.

    Are there places for the new church plants, yes. Are there places for age-graded ministries within our church, yes. But it is NOT the answer. Until we get down to the real job of making a disciple of all ages in our church, churches will continue to run stagnate and will continue to miss the mark on reaching any generation for Christ.

    So is is a student pastor problem? yes. But, dear Senior Pastor, learn the ministries of your church. Be involved. Delegation does not release you from the responsibility of shepherding that specific age group, it allows you to work with a team, so we are all making disciples from cradle to grave.

  • studentministry@fbcp.org' Barbara says:

    very provocative article, chris. i see a lot of people wanting to rewrite it in the comments section but i love your heart and your candor.

  • chris@thewellua.com' Chris Brooks says:

    I would like to stay two things off the top.

    One: Thanks so much for all the thoughtful, introspective, honest, and constructive conversation and contributions to the current discipleship dilemma most of us minsters are facing. I am honored and challenged by your comments (all of them except Alan’s).

    Two: I have prayed for each one of you who have commented by name or at least your screen name (except Alan).

    I formatted this post in what I thought would be a creative rhetorical device, writing with irony, overstatement, and an attempt at some parabolic panache that might grab the target audience’s (youth ministers and college ministers) attention. I also hoped to get readers so mad at me pointing the finger (not that finger Alan) that they would point it right back. When that happened, we could all discover together that this is not at all helpful and that we all need to step up and take ownership and responsibility. For instance, here is section that I cut from the original draft in effort to be brief and concise (a neglected discipline for most of us weekly preachers).

    One option I have learned from our political primaries and debates is to take zero responsibility and blame the sad state of affairs on the guy across the aisle or, in my case, the guy across the table at church staff meeting. It’s not the “Sorry I’m not in the office, I preparing for a talk at the coffee shop” college minister’s fault or the young adult pastor’s fault. So let’s point the finger and blame the youth pastor and call him shallow. Then the youth pastor can say that it’s not her fault and point her finger and blame parent or parents who are absent physically and spiritually. Then parents can say, “It’s not our fault,” point the finger and blame the preacher and how he’s not enough – deep enough, funny enough, smart enough, practical enough, short enough, long enough, exegetical enough, topical enough, etc. The preacher can say that it’s not his fault and point the finger and blame the congregation or parish because they never get involved, give, or listen. And we all know that the congregation is going to point the finger and blame the worship pastor (because Lord knows if we just get everyone’s musical preferences satisfied first, then we will fulfill the great commission). Then the worship pastor, who is caught somewhere between not trendy enough and trying too hard to be trendy, can say it’s not his fault and point his finger and just blame the liberals because Jerry Falwell said everything is their fault anyway. Just kidding – we usually blame lack of resources, church competition, and everyone else’s stubborn inability to see things from our perspective. All of that finger-pointing has gotten us here in the first place. So let’s take a step back and try something constructive and somewhat thoughtful instead.

    That would actually be funny if I didn’t just describe 70 percent of our churches. And from what I’ve seen, many of the other 30 percent just don’t have that many ministers on salary.

    I am not angry blog guy. I am just a pastor like you who is hoping to formulate an accurate diagnosis so that we can all agree on course of treatment. I personally just walked through three years of failing health. I was furious and frustrated that, despite a good diet and exercise program, my body was continuing to betray me. When I finally received a diagnosis, I was so elated. Why? Not because I think having an auto-immune disease is cool, but because I finally understood why my body was reacting the way it was in spite of me making every effort to do what I have been told to do to be healthy. Now I understand not just the “why” but the “how,” and a treatment plan and strategy can begin to emerge.

    The Body of Christ is simply not healthy. Something is keeping her from performing her God-given mission to make disciples that make disciples. And at the risk of oversimplifying an complex problem, if we want disciples that make disciples, then maybe we should start first by making disciples. Let the healing begin!

  • I appreciate your intent, but it comes across as deconstructive versus reconstructive. Another issue to account for is that you’ve placed a lot of weight on youth pastors and in doing so presume they are the spiritual caretakers of the students. Arguably from Scripture, isn’t that the whole church? Wouldn’t that include all generations, starting with their parents? And likewise, wouldn’t that include a college minister such as yourself?

    Perhaps it’s easy to toss grenades, but I’d offer that you could lend a hand.

    • chris@thewellua.com' Chris Brooks says:

      Yes! Tony, I agree discipleship is a church wide, family wide, and all generational issue. I was using the stats and the problematic response to those figures as spring board for us to re-think our approach. The five suggestions was my attempted at reconstructing a new approach not only the what we do next but the how. Would love to hear any suggestions you may have seen or implemented personally
      that have gotten traction.

      • tonymyles@hotmail.com' Tony Myles says:

        Sure. In a nutshell, it’s what I proposed – a merger versus a division; a baseball team versus a track team; a handshake versus a high five. So how about we use the best of both worlds in a teen’s life – peer community and church community? Let’s not set them up to have only a great youth ministry, nor should we not offer them one and assume they’ll just cluster into the church as a whole. Let’s offer both – let’s hire youth workers and college pastors who understand the long-term goal of adults who can self-feed their own discipleship. Perhaps that means not scheduling competing ministry opportunities to weekend services so they don’t have to choose between their own Sunday School class and the main service; let’s not just make a youth band, but let’s form a youth band that plays with the adult teams; if there is a season when we need to emphasize peer ministry over the clustering into the Body, then let’s not be afraid to do that because it resembles the old approach.

        We don’t have to be critical – we can become complementary. There’s no reason to shake our fist at youth pastors or youth ministry when many of them are doing the best they know how to. In many cases, they’d love to have the pastor or college pastor become more hands-on… the problem is in many churches it’s easier for the adults to nod their head at that but not live it.

  • Wow. What a broad-sweeping generalization of student ministry. I’m pretty connected to a lot of youth ministries around the country – and I find them to be deeply engaging beyond the entertainment factor, rigorously pursuing the Jesus-life of discipleship with their students, and endeavoring to engage parents in the faith development of their children….and all of this while battling a societal shift that paints the church as irrelevant, Christians as close-minded, and Jesus as dangerous……which, frankly, is exactly how I view a lot of what you’ve written. Possibly taking your own 5-point advice (and attempting to collaborate with your student pastor to bridge the gap, rather than accusing and placing blame) would be more productive.

  • 611ministries@gmail.com' Shawn says:

    I appreciate your intent also, Chris. I totally get that we need to stop passing the blaming on to others.

    Had I not read the comments section first, and just posted my feedback, I would have torn into you. Cause, frankly, your post pissed me off. You generalized me and then talked down to me as if I knew nothing of what it means to be a pastor or one who walks in by the Spirit. But I get what you’re trying to say. And I agree that as ministers of the gospel we need to present an authentic picture of Christ – in word and deed – and not just “fun times.”

    Still, my beef is your generalization of youth pastors. I’m more than a fun-times-guy who wears t-shirts and jeans to work. At my core, I’m a pastor called to walk along side of students and families. Just this week, another Junior High student of mine was sent to Juvenile Detention. Why? Cause of issues that stem from home and school. Two weeks ago, I dealt with a kid’s friend who tried to commit suicide. Last week a mom and her daughter came to me for help cause she is getting bullied in school (6th grade) cause of her cancer – and the school isn’t stepping up. Divorce runs thick in our ministry. We have low income students who can’t afford luxuries other students can afford. We have kids that cut. We have kids that are abused / have been abused. One of students was almost raped (7th grade) a few months ago. One high school student has been in jail since October. And the list goes on.

    I say this all to simply say, I am more than ” the happy-go-lucky youth guy whose biggest problems are pimples and prom.” Our kids are getting it. They’re starting to wake up to the fact that life isn’t about them, but about Him. Our ministry isn’t hyped-up with glitter and glam. I teach Jesus. We worship Jesus. We spend time in prayer, each night, lifting up others to Jesus. This, I believe, is why we are “successful” and why kids are growing spiritually. Students are experiencing the Way, Truth, and Life. And in Him, they are finding hope and fun.

    We’re in this together. Following Him, with you.

  • endure412@gmail.com' Jake S. says:

    This post is so repulsive to me. Most youth pastors I encounter are genuine in seeking the LORD for His will in their ministries, and are genuinely broken for their students. They invest in them over and over only to see the seeds that the LORD plants through them be choked out by home environments where there are not healthy examples of faith or circles of peer influence that discourage them from pursuing Christ. They often struggle with discouragement, and the last thing they need is an angry, accusing rant that plays to inaccurate stereotypes of their profession. It’s unfair of you to project whatever experience you’ve had (it sounds like you and your staff need to work toward restoring some relationships) onto the community of student pastors as a whole. I rarely speak this way, but you should be ashamed of yourself, Chris. Whatever good you may have attempted to do in the second half of the post is completely undone by the hurtful (and I’m not saying this rhetorically; this post was genuinely hurtful) and imprudent introduction that you composed.

    I’m not against speaking the truth in love, but you neither (a) spoke the truth, nor (b) attempted to be loving. Our words and speech have consequences; they have the opportunity to build up or tear down. It’s unfortunate that instead of being productive and building up your brothers in the faith, you chose to accuse and berate them in a way that (speaking at least for myself), was entirely discouraging and hurtful. I hope that you’ll use your blog as a platform for more helpful and fruitful discussion in the future.

    • briankimball@me.com' does it really matter says:

      agreed. i’m not sure what you posted in the second half because i was so pissed at the first half. i’ll go ahead and lump all college pastors together and say that they’re all (term omitted)…that was out of love, of course.

  • markhcox@gmail.com' markhcox says:

    My favorite part of this post has to do with the definition of success. Because let’s be honest…it’s so easy to define success by attendance. I battle that trap all the time (and I’m not counting attendance out as a positive thing!). Loved it. Shared it. Thanks!

  • […] Skip to content HomeAbout usBlog writers/speakersResourcesWayfarer Camp ← Is youth ministry subtly sabotaging college ministry? by Robert Neely | February 9, 2012 · 5:00 pm ↓ Jump to […]

  • sean.stw@gmail.com' Sean Walker says:

    Thanks for the post Chris. I think you mentioned part of the problem (parents abdicating their role), but put too little responsibility on parents and too much responsibility on youth ministries. I bet a kid that grows up with a shoddy youth ministry but with parents who are living out their primary discipler role… that kid is very likely to continue to walk with Christ post high school regardless of the quality of his youth ministry. To blame youth pastors for kids leaving church in droves post high school, would be like me getting mad at Aflac (supplement medical insurance) when I can’t pay my medical bills b/c Blue Cross Blue Shield (major medical insurance) didn’t come through with their majority of the funds.

    I’m not trying to pass the buck to parents either, and say to them “Good luck. You’re on your own! Not my problem.” I’m a youth pastor who is saying, “I will do everything humanly possible to assist you (parents) in discipling your child.” And for those teens who have no parent to disciple them, we (more than just my youth ministry) invest as much time as we absolutely can into their lives to teach them how to walk with Jesus for a lifetime.

    I get kind of tired of the over-generalization by critics that most youth ministries have it wrong. Show me the empirical data that most youth ministries are about #s only and not about discipling before lumping all youth ministries together and making them the scape goat. Are there some bad youth ministries? I’m sure there are. But I’ve been in, around and worked with quite a few different student ministries, and I cannot think of one that is not trying to intentionally disciple the students in their ministry.

    It’s like a TV commentator saying, “We need better teachers! That’s the problem with education today!” And I’m watching that and thinking, “Sure, who doesn’t want better teachers? But what our school systems DESPERATELY need are better parents at home.” At the risk of being incendiary myself, I kind of feel like in this post, you sound like that commentator. I think you are pointing the finger at the wrong people. The youth guy in any church isn’t going to change the lives of students on a mass scale with any new student ministry model if parents continue to neglect their God-commanded, Deuteronomy 6 duties. If the opposite happens and parents start picking up their mantle, and the trends reverse, I don’t think youth ministries will deserve most of the credit either… parents will.

    Are there some lame youth ministries out there? I’m sure there are. Are youth ministries the main culprit responsible for so many students leaving church post high school? I really don’t think so.

    Strong push back is always appreciated.

    Again, I appreciate the post Chris. I have great respect for you.

    • Wheatonguy18@gmail.com' DPaul says:

      I think Chris is obviously using hyperbole and overstatement to make a point. Some of the critics of this post have pointed out an unfair caricature of youth pastors in this overstatement. Chris has pointed out that he’s overstating for the reason of pushing conversation and proving a point. Here’s the issue, though: Chris uses a common cliche of youth pastors and a stereotype of them to discuss his point.

      But things become cliches and stereotypes for a reason….because they are commonplace and there is truth in it!

      Look. We aren’t saying parents don’t play an enormous role. We aren’t saying all youth pastors are like the ones described. But in discussing youth pastors in general, I think we could argue that Chris is actually hitting close to home on a lot of points.

      • endure412@gmail.com' Jake S. says:

        I think most of us are intelligent enough to deduce that Chris is using rhetorical devices. The question Chris (and those of you who think this kind of rubbish is acceptable) needs to ask himself is: why do I think it’s okay to use rhetorical devices to ostracize fellow believers and workers in the faith. Is sarcastic, generalizing, cynical finger-pointing an acceptable means of interaction for believers? Answer honestly. Don’t proof text. Does this kind of thing fit into the spirit of gentle, loving, and selfless relationships that scripture describes among the people of His church? Does this build people up? Does it encourage? No. It tears town, hurts, belittles, and blames. I don’t see that as the kind of unity that Christ envisioned and prayed for.

        …and frankly, I don’t buy your point about stereotypes. That’s a total load. If this same article played on racial or ethnic stereotypes, it would be universally condemned. You wouldn’t dare say that stuff if this article began with a discourse on why [insert race here] were sabotaging the church. That’s utter bullocks, and people are only defending it on here because everybody in the church can agree on one thing: it’s easy to blame the youth pastor.

        Let’s face it. It is! For all of those stereotypical reasons you’ve all listed. People don’t understand the way we dress or talk (at least the younger among us), and generally tend to frown upon that which is foreign to them. As a result, it’s easy to be critical of them. They’re easy targets, and aren’t always allowed to fight back (most of it isn’t said to their face anyway). It’s alright though, you guys continue blaming us. We’ll continue investing ourselves in the lives of young people to the best of our ability, rejoicing over those who become faithful disciples and being broken for those who don’t, while (in many churches) the rest of the church ignores them/refuses to make them significant in the life of the church, and their parents (in many homes) continue to neglect their duty to model authentic and mature faith in the home.

  • thay003@hotmail.com' thay singh says:

    piffle. part of the process of growing into adulthood is learning to *own* your faith. There is no way to do this without making it a proactive choice in the face of difficult circumstances and without a supportive community. Many of those leaving will come back. Many won’t. Each one has their own path to walk in the light of God…

  • […] interesting one here on the Wayfarer Blog. When my good friend Chris Brooks released his blog post Is youth ministry subtly sabotaging college ministry?, I knew it would create a response. I was pretty sure it would get people talking. But the question […]

  • joshbayne80@gmail.com' joshbayne80 says:

    LOVE IT!!! I don’t expect many to get it, but those who do receive it humbly and with a servant’s heart, not that of “How dare you browbeat me!”

    Here’s a concern: Say that I make drastic changes within my youth group to ensure stickiness. How do I know they are effective? It seems to me like I wont know that my changes are effective for 3-5 years, when said young people move on to college and test the waters. Am I saying we should not change, no. But how do we make calculated changes without knowing what the outcomes looks like?

  • […] on youth pastors (Scott’s not one of them!), who sabotage their opportunity to shape a generation of students because they are so focused on growing a huge, cool youth group.  Double shame on senior/lead […]

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