Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Dangers of Youth Group

Blogger: Joe Harrison

Youth Group. Young Life. Teen Gathering. Young Adults on Fire. Whatever you want to call it, almost instantly it sends a shiver of discomfort down my spine. Youth Group can be a very dangerous thing for the young kids out there who are either new Christians or not Christians at all. Why, you ask? Because Youth Groups that actually teach the words of God, the lessons of Christ, and so on, are far and few in between.

I have been to a number of different Youth Groups; I can count at least six. And of those six only two were Bible-teaching Youth Groups (my thanks goes out to Josh & Lisa Hatthaway back in the SJCC days and Mr. & Mrs. Farrow back in the CRBC days for being those two groups). Two in Five. That's about 35% Bible-Teaching Youth Groups, leaving 65% out in the dark.

Here's the problem I saw with those 65%: What I saw was a group of Christian Leaders who were worried about being relevant to today's teenagers. Worried about being acceptable to today's teenagers. Worried about being cool to today's teenagers. And it was all of this combined that led to 58 Minutes of worldy entertainment. Games, secular movies, games, jokes, stand-up comedy, more games, and so on. 58 minutes. Leaving a miserable and ridiculous two minutes at the end for a quick prayer.

Youth Groups are more in a danger of turning to the Emerging Church movement than Churches are. I have been to some Youth Groups where they sing secular songs from popular bands that maybe just happen to mention God or Angels or Heaven. This is one of the trademarks of the Emerging Church movement. They teach about life experiences, feelings, and thoughts, unrelated to what the Bible says. Another trademark of the Emerging Church movement. They teach you to be a "Good Person", nevermind bringing the Gospel message into it; and when they do, it becomes a "Accept God because He is the 'Happy Pill'" gospel message. Another trademark of the Emerging Church movement.

Get the picture?

Now, let's examine the Why. Let's jump back up to what I said a couple paragraphs above. I said:
...Christian Leaders who were worried about being relevant to today's teenagers. Worried about being acceptable to today's teenagers. Worried about being cool to today's teenagers.
All three of these things are true, but they stem from one main root. And it's the same root problem of all the Christians out there who think we need to update the Gospel message to make it more relevant and acceptable. The root problem is: they are putting too much work on their shoulders and off of the Holy Spirit's. Understand that it is the Holy Spirit Who prepares people to hear the Gospel. It is the Holy Spirit Who convicts. It is the Holy Spirit Who leads someone to Christ. We the Christians are but the vessel of the Holy Spirit. We share the Gospel, the Holy Spirit does the work. When we worry about the Gospel message's relevance and think we need to change it, that's us starting to think that we have something to do with a person coming to Christ. Don't get me wrong, we do in some way, but it is the Holy Spirit through us Who does most of the work. He works through us, as in we should still share the Gospel. I say that because I could see some readers thinking I meant that we don't need to evangelize because we can just let the Holy Spirit do it. That's not what I'm saying at all. While, certainly, He doesn't need a vessel, the Holy Spirit works best when using us as a vessel to reach the Lost.

But this is why we do not need to change the Gospel. This is why we do not need to become relevant to teenagers. Teach the Truth for what it is. But you may say:
"But then we will lose some attendance!"
First off, God is not concerned with the numbers as much as He is concerned with the Truth being declared. Secondly, look to the Flagship Verse of Evangelism:
"So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11 (NKJV)
I mean, do I even really need to continue this point any further than that verse? It seems pretty crystal-clear to me. Declare God's Truth for what it is, because it will not return to Him void! What we tend to fail to understand is that we may share the Gospel with someone, with a teenager, and that person leaves and never comes back again... but the Truth that you revealed to him/her is now in his/her mind. It is in his/her memory. He/she will remember it. They have been exposed to the awesome revelation of Christ! You have done your part, now the ball is in the Holy Spirit's court.

But when we waste time being relevant, playing games with the teenagers, singing strange secular songs with them, watching secular (and usually dirty) movies with them, we are only "callusing" them to the work of the Holy Spirit. Why are we taking 58 minutes to share with these kids what they already get when they are out in the World? Why are we not sharing with them something new and exciting like the reality of Christ? I think another part of it is that Youth Leaders get stuck in the idea of "Well, if we preach about Christ than that means we have to talk about Sin and Hell all the time." NO! No, sir. You do not understand. God isn't just about Sin and Hell and Punishment and Death. God is far beyond our wonders, beyond anything we could ever imagine, He is so glorious and wonderful, and there are a boat-load of stories in the Bible that show us how incredibly magnificent God is. So preach the Gospel, but also teach Who God is!

If you are a Youth Leader and you are reading this, I beg you, if I knew you personally and knew where you lived I would drive over to your house right now and fall to the ground wrapping my arms around your legs in a desperate plea: TEACH THE TRUTH TO THE TEENAGERS. And regardless of whether they come back or not, LET THE HOLY SPIRIT WORK. They have been exposed to the revelation of Christ. And they will not soon forget it. And also think about it as preparation. You share the Gospel and teach from the Bible to the teenagers, and they never return again. But maybe a few days, weeks, months, or years down the road they come face-to-face with someone else who is preaching the Truth. Instantly their minds will jump back to when they were first exposed to It. That first time hearing it has prepared them; they have already been exposed to It, now when they come face-to-face with it again, they are familiar with it.

Please. Teach from the Bible. And teach the Gospel.

Now I have nothing against games and fun per se, but taking 90% of the time to play the games and leaving only 10% for the Bible is just completely and utterly ridiculous. If anything it should be reversed. Games have their time and place, but they should certainly never override the Bible. I would go as far as to say that it shouldn't even be balanced at 50/50. Bible-teaching should always have a higher percentage than games, etc.

Remember. You are the vessel of the Holy Spirit. Do your job, and He will do His. Don't damage today's generation even more than it already is. Do that which you have been sent into the World to do.

(Look for a future episode of Christianese Radio that will be taking this subject further)


  1. My thinking is that yes, if you don't cater to what attracts them, you will lose "market share." But I do remember someone in the New Testament tearing up a market place....hrm who might that be? :-)

    Teach what you believe. Never deviate from that for *anyone* for any reason! Bravo!

  2. Dooglio sire, that was awesome.

  3. *Cough cough* And um, Joe- well done ;-)

  4. I'm a leader at a youth group... not the Youth Pastor, but one of the staff members. Don't feel obligated to drive all the way across the country on my behalf. :)

    One thing my pastors (youth AND adult church alike) are always saying is "Anything you create, you have to sustain. Anything God creates, He will sustain." The more you bring people to a church or kids to a youth group by program and entertainment, the more program and entertainment you'll need to keep them coming back. But preach the truth, and it will grab them and keep them coming back.

    That said, I don't see anything wrong with playing games at youth group, or having a "cool" pastor... it just shouldn't be the focus. In fact, there can be benefits to both.

    A couple examples. An icebreaker game can be a great way to start off the meeting. It gets people loosened up, and makes sure everyone knows any new people, and builds relationship between teens.

    Also, the pastor of the youth group I help lead is also very "cool". He worked at Guitar Center for years. He has dreadlocks (tasteful... not HUGE). And this gives him street-cred, which is important in Tacoma, WA. There are people that we simply WOULD NOT reach in the community if he looked like a "normal" youth pastor. They'd shut him out before he had a chance to demonstrate the gospel, much less SPEAK it to them.

    But again, this MUST NOT be the focus. You need scriptural teaching at the core. If your ministry is not bible-based, and saturated in prayer, it is ultimately doomed to failure.

    It's amazing the doors that "being cool" can open, if kept in context. We are currently, as a youth group, in the process of opening up an all-ages concert venue based out of a rented space in our church building. This is one of our youth group's outreaches (not funded by the church).

    The goal is to get the kids of South Tacoma into a safe environment where we can just live out our faith with them and get into their lives. We won't get up and "preach", although every one of us volunteers are deeply rooted in God. Rather, we'll live it, and speak when we're in the kids lives. Actions speak so much louder than words, and we want to speak the love of our Savior in a tangible way to the community... to the kids who would never set foot inside a "church".

    That ministry would be impossible without the confluence of both being cool and being rooted in scripture and prayer. So, long story short, "coolness" and entertainment are nothing if you're not earnestly seeking God. But if you are, they can be powerful tools in His hands. Scripture and the gospel are KEY.

    Thanks for staying with me for this whole rant, and God bless. :)
    -Matt "Welldigger" Dupea

    P.S. Feel free to read this in the podcast, Joe, if you think it would add anything to the show. Or not, if you don't. :)

  5. Amen!! So encouraging to see this!! I will be passing it on!!