Synod Discussion on Adolescents


By Roxanne Van Farowe

June 15, 2010 - About 50 people gathered Monday evening for a discussion on youth ministry in the Christian Reformed Church.

“Our students graduate from high school and graduate from church in many cases,” said Ty Hogue, youth pastor at Harderwyk Ministries, Holland, Mich. “We need to help them retain a living and active faith once they graduate from high school.”

Hogue presented a concept paper of the recently-formed Youth Ministries Task Force which aims to create a “coherent youth ministry plan” for the denomination.

The task force identified three key needs: helping adolescents live in today’s culture, equipping adolescents for discipleship, and encouraging congregations to engage adolescents.

Elder Ken Douma, Classis Lake Superior, said that often there is a disconnect between adolescents and the older generations in the church. “We should be focusing more on adults, teaching them how to live their faith in ways that kids will engage with,” Douma said.

Elder David Stewart, Classis Columbia, said that young people need to have real roles in the church. “We have youth on every church committee,” said Stewart, who pastors the youth at Sunnyside [Wash.] CRC. “We’ve started to see a shift in the mentality. It’s becoming their church, as equals to the adults.”

The group also discussed ways to make choosing curriculum simpler and to build relationships with youth. “What if every kid had five adults that knew their name and cared about them?” said Hogue.

For complete coverage of Synod 2010 including live webcasts, visit

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I'm the discussion about Young Adults (ie, Ty's comments) or youth (ie, middle school-high school - adolescents)?

The discussion is on "Ministry to Adolescents within the CRC. When they mention 'Adolescent' they are referring to youth as young as grade 6 to young adults in their early 20's. Perhaps the title of this blog should read Adolescents not Young Adults - the change will be made. Thanks.


There's nothing new in all this. The bottom line is if churches are focused on making disciples including and especially adults, the whole family including youth will come along.
When the youth and young adults see living and active Christ followers from cradle to grave, they will be more likely to stick.
"Helping adolescents live in today's culture" is a systemic problem of much of the CRC which suggests there is an isolation factor going on. If the church is engaging the culture around them as a regular part of ministry and life, this would be less of an issue. youth would already be growing up along side the reality of life and culture outside the church.
"Equipping adolescents for discipleship" suggests that discipleship is more a programmatic implementation than a lifestyle. And again adults need to model this. Shouldn't everything we do in church be about the disciple-making process from cradle to grave?
"Encourage congregations to engage adolescents" again reflects the lack of discipling happening in our congregations and is a systemic issue in the CRC.

I agree, there does not seem to be anything new in the article. As youth workers within the CRC we need to take a more holistic approach to ministry and realize that ministering to youth is just as much about ministering to the entire family. We have separated youth ministry from the rest of the church causing this huge gap resulting in youth and young adults leaving the church. As youth workers we need to be intentional about not separating youth ministry from what the rest of the church - it's time for full integration. If this becomes the approach Youth Pastors/workers will focus not just on youth but more on the entire Family - both of the youth and the family of believers. Discipleship will take place - Duet 6:4-9. As a church, if we truly live out Duet 6:4-9 the church will experience Acts 2:42-47. That's not just youth ministry - it's kingdom minded MINISTRY!

I think there is something new in the article.... something that I am very excited about. Perhaps it helps that I was there in person for the "mini-seminar", but I think what is new is a spirit of excitement in the CRC about Youth Ministries. We, as a denomination, are finally doing something specific in regards to ministering to the youth of our denomination, and I LOVE IT. I think that too often we think that there will be a natural flow of discipleship. While I would love that to be the case, it often is not. That is why we need to get in there and work with our young adults.

I also would like to point out the importance of what David Stewart said, that young people need to have real roles in the church. I often think that it is easy for the young adults to fall out is because there was not much of a connection to keep them there in the first place. I see a beautiful picture of a church where young adults take ownership of their church, and in doing so, invest significanty in it. My guess is that David's church has significantly decreased in young adult fall-out.

Mark, you make some great points for consideration. Would you be willing to share some more about the discussion that took place at the meeting. It will be helpful for youth workers across North America to read about the 'excitement' that you are talking about.

I agree with your comment about David Stewart. Reading what you wrote has encouraged me to call David and ask him about his Young Adult Ministry and to talk about how that has effected the Young Adult 'fall-out' rate at his church. Perhaps, I can get David to share his thoughts via the network.

Hey all,

In an attempt to keep people on the same page about what the purpose of the meeting was about, I'm including the document that was shared.

The youth ministry task force is an attempt to get the denomination to realize that there is no discussion going on at any level [that we are aware of] about ministry to adolescents [grade 6 to 12] and what it looks like to form them as disciples of Jesus Christ and full participants in the life of our congregations.

The paper below is a first draft of our attempt to prompt discussions in a few key areas about what we think needs to take place denominationally and congregationally while we still have the time to influence the lives for our students for Christ.

Remember, it's a draft! It's first steps but steps that are long overdue and need to be taken. Comment, critique, but be ready with us to do something to impact the lives of our students and get the CRCNA talking and moving in directions that make a difference!

If you are interested in a pdf copy of the document, please email me at

chap at harderwyk dot com


Ty Hogue
Youth Pastor
Harderwyk Ministries • Holland, Michigan

Ministry to Adolescents within the CRCNA
A Concept Paper of the Youth Ministries Task Force – June, 2010 DRAFT


The Youth Ministry Task Force seeks to network agencies, people and resources within the CRCNA to foster the spiritual formation of young people within their families and within the local church. We seek to equip churches to integrate young people into congregational life.

• We want to see intentional ministry to adolescents in every church in the CRCNA, ministry that focuses on caring, non-manipulative relationships between adults and youth.

• We want to see churches, pastors and parents be as equipped as possible in their quest to care for and be with youth and children.

• We want to see our denomination invest in ministry to adolescents, whatever form that investment takes. Ministry to adolescents needs to have a more prominent place in the CRCNA.

• We want to see our classes and denominational ministries optimally networked for the resourcing of youth ministry within congregations.


This document focuses on a period of life known as adolescence. Recent research has shown that what most people understand as adolescence is actually split into three time periods that correspond to our current grade clusters in North America. Early adolescence is the onset of puberty and roughly the middle school years of grades 6 to 8. Mid-adolescence is roughly the high school years from grades 9 to 12. Late adolescence (emerging adulthood) is the college years and beyond. Some scholars see adolescence lasting into a person's late 20’s. These, of course, are broad generalities; clearly, adolescents mature at different rates.

The increased length of adolescence is changing our children’s understanding of the world around them and their own development. It also presents adolescents with need to deal with adult situations and difficulties. We no longer even try to shelter children from the adult world with its responsibilities and problems.

As a denomination in partnership with others, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to increase our investment in adolescents and to help our churches, leaders and families respond to an ever more complex and changing world around them. We believe we can do this best by investing in the following key areas for reflection and the development of strategies for ministry to adolescents.

Key Areas

I. Helping Adolescents Live in Today’s Culture in the Light of Our Scriptural and Theological Foundations

Identify, develop, and distribute biblical and theologically Reformed resources to help adolescents engage in the routines of their everyday lives from a Biblical world and life view.


• Continued help from Faith Alive and our educational institutions for our youth pastors in the form of resources that encourage biblical and cultural engagement and a Reformed theological worldview.

• Conversations among those involved in youth ministry and our academic institutions to continue exploring the best methods for communicating the joy and truth of the Gospel.

• Continued exploration of research on adolescents and their development to understand and framing that research within a Reformed worldview.

• Challenging Reformed institutions to add to the discussion on culture and adolescent development through research and conversations.

• Draw connections between culture and theology for adolescents through a process of discovery and discernment, not teaching.

Moving Forward

• Identify and gather resources that teach from a Reformed perspective, regardless of publisher. (Many of these are already in the ministry resource section of the Calvin College Library.)

• Assemble curriculum, writings and lesson plans written by Reformed ministries and youth workers in order to resource those in need for their youth groups.

• Making those resources available to congregations and youth workers with special emphasis on materials that help in several critical areas: Biblical world and life view; transition into college; and preparation for profession of faith.

II. Equipping Adolescents for Discipleship

Promote continued discovery, understanding and implementation of “lifelong discipleship” practices and work to support and equip youth pastors, church councils, parents and leaders for a ministry that integrates young people into the life of local congregations.


• Facilitate access for congregations to training and trainers regionally throughout North America and encourage attendance and discussion at national, regional and local levels.

• Be a resource for materials, seminars, consultation to churches that help them draw connections between theology and culture, and take steps to integrate this into how we shepherd and raise children.

• Enable students to testify to the work of God in their lives to non-believers.

• Offer regular training for youth workers.

• Communicate with Christian Schools and educators to discuss trends and
issues that relate to students.

• Encourage relationships with local public and charter schools.

• Encourage integration of youth and family ministries.

• Foster service learning and service projects, including those related to justice
and racial reconciliation.

• Offer resources related catechetical instruction and milestones of faith to
congregations, helping them plan how to include children at the Lord’s table and increase their understanding of the creeds and confessions.

Moving Forward

• Work with Youth Unlimited, the Association of Reformed Youth Pastors, and the Leadership Exchange to host ongoing leadership events on how to engage students and congregations in best practices for growing in discipleship.

• Explore with the Reformed Church in America how our denominations might collaborate on youth ministry training.

• Meet with RCA representatives to discuss the current patterns of discipleship training in their denomination.

• Meet with denominational ministry and classical representatives to learn about current resources for youth ministry in congregations.

III. Encouraging Congregations to Engage Adolescents in the Life of the Community of Faith

Help congregations understand and participate in the life-long covenantal vows they make at baptism and profession of faith. This means realistic and attainable practices for adults to build relationships with adolescents and encourage them in their life in Christ in the local worshiping community.


• Consult with classes concerning their thinking on this matter.

• Gather best practices, then encourage conversation at classis that may lead
to contact with interested congregations about implementing a gradual and sustainable plan for working with their adolescents.

• Encourage classes to hire their own youth coordinator, as recommended by synod.

• Encourage congregations to create or enhance their own milestones and liturgical markers for fostering faith in adolescents development and their involvement in congregational life.

• Avoid language that speaks of adolescents as the “future of the church, ” which can imply they have no appropriate role until they make profession of faith or later. Point churches to age-appropriate ways to involve adolescents in every aspect of church life.

Moving Forward

• Ask throughout the denomination for stories and examples of churches that feel they are doing a good job at involving youth in the church’s life so as to share their practices with others through the CRCNA's online youth network and other media.

• Invite congregations to expand what they do liturgically to mark the faith development of youth and to involve them in church life.

• Review the covenantal milestones of baptism and profession of faith in the light of the insights contributed by the synodical Faith Formation Committee for how to assist congregations help adolescents translate their vows into practical steps of involvement with congregational life.

Examination of our surrounding culture through the lens of Scripture and a Reformed worldview, coupled with an understanding of adolescent development, can increase our ability to equip pastors, councils and parents to engage in their covenant responsibility to raise our youth in the ways of the Lord and in the life of His church—to the glory of Christ!

Our task force seeks to explore the above key areas with CRCNA classes and congregations. We also seek to explore with the denomination’s various ministries how we can collectively develop strategies for action in each area.
As we do this, consultation with other denominations and organizations will help us learn from their research and best practices, adapting it to our own settings. In our era of rapid societal change and denominational confluence it would be a mistake to try to strengthen our ministry to youth in isolation from others. Rather, we can and should join hands with those in various denominational and church settings to see what they are discovering and evaluate how it may fit into our own context.

Ty, thanks so much for posting this for clarification. I hope youth workers will take the time to read it and comment on it. Let's keep the discussion going.

Great start Ty and others on the task force. I think it is a good first step in addressing the problem of "graduating from church" after their senior year of high school. During this process, my hope is that the CRC and DYM will find ways to partner with local churches to speak to the reality of our efforts to make disciples and to help them to overcome the resistance to needed changes. I have not met any church without a desire to train up their students to know and love Jesus. However, I have encountered too many that do not want to come to grips with current trends and adjust their programming to be as effective as possible. I look forward to hearing more.