In the last post on youth ministry, I observed that by God’s command and design, parents are called to be the primary “youth pastors” of their children. When this God ordained foundation of youth ministry is minimized or ignored, regardless of how well intentioned it might be, it can only result in harm to our youth. There is no doubt in my mind that this minimizing of the parents role has been a primary factor in leading to the current crisis in youth ministry. Biblical Youth ministry must begin with the family.
However, the fact that parents have the primary responsibility to disciple and train their children does not mean that they have the only responsibility. The broader church has an important role to play in the discipleship of her youth as well. In this post, I introduce the second key foundation of youth ministry: Multi-generational Discipleship.
Let me begin with a question. How important to your spiritual growth is the larger body of Christ? Or to put it another way, what role does the larger body of Christ play in your sanctification? Scripture indicates that our relationships with the larger body of Christ is of vital importance. Consider the following Scripture passages:
- Proverbs 13:20 - “Whoever walks with the wise, becomes wise...”
- Heb 3:12 - “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, so that you will not be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
- Heb 10:24 - “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
- Gal 6:1 - “Brothers, if any of you caught in transgression you who are spiritual should restore him...
- Heb 13:7 - “Remember your leaders, consider their outcome and way of life, imitate their faith. “
All of us need older, wiser, more mature saints to speak into our lives as we grow in Christian maturity. We need our brothers and sisters to gently restore us when we are caught in sin, to model for us faithful walking with the Lord through good times and bad, to help us apply God’s word to our everyday lives and decisions, and to comfort us with the promises of God which have comforted them. How impoverished would we be spiritually if we had no relationships with or access to other brothers and sisters in Christ? This reality, which is true for Christian adults, is also true for Christian youth. They also need to be connected with older, wiser, and more mature members of the body of Christ. They also must walk with the wise, that they might become wise. They also must have friends and mentors whose way of life they can consider, and whose faith they can imitate.
In Titus 2 the Apostle Paul indicates his expectation that multi-generational discipleship will be present in the church. He sets forth the principle that the older men and women in the congregation have responsibility for, and play a vital role in, the discipleship of the younger generation.
Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled. Likewise, urge the younger men to be self-controlled. (Tit 2: 2-6)
This is a picture of personal, multi-generational, discipleship. It is important to note that what Paul requires in this passage cannot be accomplished simply by having older youth mentor younger youth. A 17 year old girl cannot train or model for a 14 year old what it means to be a godly wife and mother. It actually takes a wife and mother to do that. Similarly, an 18 year old boy cannot adequately train or model for a 15 year old how the Gospel empowers the constant fight against the world, flesh, and devil. It takes a godly man.
What are the implications of this second core foundation for youth ministry? I will list just one, namely that a primary focus of youth ministry must be to connect youth to the larger body of Christ. There are a variety of different ways this can happen, but it must be a priority. There is a serious problem of isolation in much youth ministry today. Many churches, in a well-meant attempt to reach youth, have created a completely separate youth culture, complete with a separate pastor, building, events, small groups, church service, missions trip, etc., The result of this segregation is that the youth of the church effectively become a separate congregation. Little, if any, participation with adults is expected or encouraged. Multi-generational relationships are not formed. Worse, adults in the church begin to think that they do not have a responsibility towards the youth, because “that’s the youth pastor’s responsibility.” The problem with this approach, of course, is that (just like us) youth will grow spiritually when they are connected to the larger body of Christ, not removed from it.
Thus, a biblically based youth ministry focuses on exposing youth, not merely to Christian teaching, but also to Christian men and women. If youth only build meaningful connections to the youth group, and not to the larger church, then a key foundation of God’s design for youth ministry is being missed. And again, this can only be to the detriment of the youth.