Why Theology and Youth Ministry Seldom Mix

  743 views

I just read an interesting blog called “Why Theology and Youth Ministry Seldom Mix.” Here’s the link to the article by Cameron Cole and Dave Wright on the Gospel Coalition Blog. It’s a great discussion regarding the challenge of incorporating theology into youth groups. I wonder if others see this as a challenge or concern within the CRCNA. 

If you don’t jump to the actual article, I’ll summarize the arguments used to explain why the two seldom mix:

People underestimate what students can comprehend. (Low expectations of youth comprehension)

Youth ministry has a popularity culture. (Perpetual popularity contest)

Churches have different expectations of youth ministries. (So many opinions on the focus of youth ministry)

Youth pastors just love kids and want them to meet Jesus. (Evangelistic passion at the expense of theology)

The egg-and-armpit relay ruined youth ministry. (The culture of fun)

So what do you think? Is the article correct? Have you connected the critical foundation of Reformed theology with your youth group ministry? Or maybe you don’t think a Reformed perspective is as important as the evangelistic perspective. Does anyone in your youth group know what TULIP stands for? Should they?

Come on. Weigh in on this one.

Posted in:
Image Credit

The Network hosts user-submitted content.
Posts don't necessarily imply CRCNA endorsement, but must comply with our community guidelines.

Let's Discuss…

We love your comments! Thanks for your help upholding the Community Guidelines to make this an encouraging and respectful community for everyone.
Community Builder

Theoiogy , a manmade science, is interesting, but not a requirement for salvation.

Community Builder

ahh, yes, but youth aren't coming to YP  for salvation; Doctrine (theology) is extremely important for the background to a healthy relationship of holy living. It's the grease that makes the engine run....don't discredit it so easily!

I should hope they are mixed.  Certainly, theology has implications in all areas of life, including youth ministry.  It seems to me that if the two are separated, then youth ministry seems to lose some (a lot) of its purpose.  

I am sure that theology is lacking in many youth ministries - perhaps some are too focused on fun, games, and pop culture.  But then, can we not have an understanding of fun and games that is backed by theological thinking?  At the same time, it is unfortunate if we begin to assume that junior high and high school students are simple uncapable of having theological discussions, so we simply entertain with lights, music, and games.  

Every person develops a theology, an understanding of who God is.  Instead of letting people wander alone in this process, let's help guid discussions, let's help nurture growth and understanding to allow students to develop a strong theology of who their God is.

Community Builder

Actually you could probably call them the "Myths of Youth Ministry", eh?

We had an end of year evaluation youth meeting (3 weeks ago) to figure what how we could improve how we were interacting/connecting with the kids. You know what we found out to our surprise; They wanted more discussion, more topics specific to high school struggles, more elderly mentor speakers from within the church describing their struggles and successes in overcoming them and more small group interation. Youth don't want to be spoken AT, they want to be spoken WITH....very relational, very counter-cultural (according to today's society). Yeah, if you just throw a Bible at them and quote Scripture verses, they will rebel. If you are honestly being tranparent and engaging them at their level and letting them give feedback, you can easily thread theology into every week meetings.

I find the pendulum has swung back in favour of Biblical (exegetical, contextual) teaching.  We are scrapping the study tools of 3rd party org's in favout of Lectio Divina. My students are more interested in what the Bible has to say than what I (thier youth pastor) thinks about current youth and pop culture trends.  We are preaching like never before and they are eating it up... however I agree that this generation needs relational oppertunites to engage in dialouge along with preaching. This is vital and too often overlooked...

Community Builder

Lectio Divina.....with a splash of small group discussions, eh?

I have had some eye opening conversations with young people. We tend to think they are not interested in Theology, but could it be they are not interested in the way they are being taught theology. The youth of today want to make a difference in their world. If you show them how theology will help them do that and teach them in an interactive manner they get excited about theology. If you are going to sit them down and lecture them they will shut down. The young people I have talked with want to hear how their elders have lived out faith in good times and difficult times. They have a respect for the wisdom and experience of their elders that I sadly lacked at their age.

Community Builder

Huzzah! Eloquently said....cudos!

Recently, I was at a debate forum at the University; the debate was on abortion...it was called the Great Abortion Debate.  Most of the people there perhaps 70 or 80?, were young people.  There were perhaps a half dozen seniors or semi-seniors.  Most of the young people there, some married, some not, were supporting the pro-life side of the debate.  Young people will get involved in things if they believe they are relevant, important, and vital.   There are many issues today that are relevant, important and vital to our lives as Christians, that will attract the attention of young people, if the older people stop taking these issues for granted. 

For example, the abortion issue is one.  Another example is spending more than five minutes a day in prayer.   Another example is avoiding, and promoting the avoidance of pre-marital sexual activity.   Another example is giving God the honor in our treatment of creation, including giving 10% of our income back to the Lord. 

There are other issues, for which we need to pray, and for which we need to claim God's dominion, and our response.  And these issues are all connected to our confessions, to our theology, and to scripture.  That is the learning opportunity, and the opportunity for action that we have.

I would agree that there is some general truths mentioned in the article...  I my self (Youth Pastor) have loved and hated the "make sure it's fun but also theologically deep at the same time" job description we are at times expected to fulfill. 

I do take issue that quoting teen self report surveys about what students belive is the best way to take the acurate pulse of teens ability to wax eloquently about thier theological beliefs. I'd doubt very much that parents of those teens would do much better in thier surveys.  And that is I believe the bigger issue.  I'm not suggesting here that theological training is soley the parents responsibility as some "D6" fans suggest.  I just think together as a family of faith (CRC) we have all dropped the ball.  Many churches decided to drop catechism because it was what??? Boring!  Looking back I think we put to much emphasis on 3rd party organizations like Youth Unilimted, Youth Specialties, Zondervan and Faith Alive (as wonderful as they are) to insert the pep into theology and mix in a little of the "fun" that was missing...  Eventually we resorted to the same thing the broader evangelical churches were resorting to, fun youth leaders who loved Jesus. What I am begining to wonder is (as Tim Keep seems to be) did the CRC ever really undestand the role of fun and games in teaching theology?  I doubt it...  

I ski with my youth every year.  So do many other youth groups.  Here is the differnce... We DON'T bring a speaker and hire a band when we go. We just go... We ski our hearts out and laugh our heads off.  We do devotions each morning and each morning I invite the youth to simply "play in God's backyard." He's there laughing with us when we laugh and when we marvel at the intricacy of the slide he built for us to slide down.  We play. And when we play together something mysterious happens (I bet God knew this would happen) people want to talk about God. Not the Moralistic Theaputic Deity described by Christian Smith (excellent book btw) but the God of the Bible. Sometimes it's a God conversation on the lift, in the hot tub, in the van on the way home. And then there are the follow up conversations I get to have the next week, next month when a student calls me up and wants to go out for lunch and is "suddenly interested" in doing proffession of faith, taking a class or wanting to reach out to a friend who needs Jesus... In those moments I am aware of the connection to the time we spent together having fun God's backyard.          

I inherited a youth ministry paradigm that suggested for "play time" or "fun" to be time well spent it had to a) draw a crowd and b) somehow be twisted and reworked into a deep "spirtual point".  I have worked hard over the past three years to develop a ministry paradigm in which a) I am invited to shepherd God's kids no matter the size of the group, where my self worth is not tied merely to numbers. b) It is understood that God invented fun. We experience his joy without the need to maufacture a theological proof text out of the already God ordained moments we are given to enjoy with our youth. c) We (parents, primary influencers of the faith and even the fun youth workers) preach/teach/model the Biblical Christ centered gospel... The whole package... The easy to swallow and the hard to swallow... With it's foolishness and with it's ability to provide deep assurance to the youth of our congregation.

It's too easy to play theology against fun and vice versa. I think there is a way to think theologically about them both without watering either of them down in potency...

Sadly the result of churches nixing theology in favour of all fun options is dually noted.

Koen B

Community Builder

Koen:

Well-thought out....there are more than one in your camp...Being a Vermont skier we may think alike; offering opportunities to explore in God's playground. I like that....Don't give up; embrace the challenges adn see children of God continue to embrace God's free gift....

I appreciate the  many thoughtful comments in this discussion.  I can only add what has been my experience both as a pastor, a Navy Chaplain working essentially with "young people," and as a father, whose two children were taught at a formative age by a wonderful youth leader who shared and passed his excitement with theology along to them.

The problem is not the young people; they are asking and willing to think deeply about important questions of faith.  Many of these young people will dive into biblical and even sysytematic theology if anyone is willing to challenge them to do so.  The bigger problem in my view is that our youth are all too often growing up in churches where their parents, adults in general, and pastors in particular are disinterested in historic Christian doctrine, and their knowledge of and ability to defend essential doctrine (e.g., the Trinity) is so spotty, that it is far easier to assume the kids just want to have fun and feel loved. 

We've been too lazy, ignorant, and/or timid.  But, then, it's hard to start our young people on meat and potatos when we haven't yet been weaned.