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Reaching A Generation For Christ #2, November 29, 2020: Putting Youth Ministry in Perspective

As I indicated in the introductory article to this new series, “Reaching a Generation for Christ,” I am planning to publish a new article the 4th Saturday of every month. As I struggled with the content for this series, I did not make my own deadline and missed the October issue. The series will be loosely based upon the book of the same title, edited by Richard R. Dunn and Mark H. Senter III and published and copyrighted in 1997 by Moody Press. We will examine some of the thoughts and ideas presented in this book, compare them with Scripture and try to draw some applications. The articles will be written primarily by me, with perhaps a guest article periodically. I would appreciate your comments and feedback on the articles, and if you think they contain beneficial content, please share the posts with others.

Richard R. Dunn begins the first chapter in the book with a story describing the experience of Steve, the first youth pastor at Easton Community Church which is also Steve’s first assignment. “In the candidating process Steve had felt quite confident of his readiness for youth ministry. Now, on the occasion of his first day as a youth pastor, several questions are beginning to threaten that self-assurance. These questions include: How can I ever meet the needs of students from such diverse and social backgrounds? How can I build maturity into the lives of the twenty junior high and fifteen high school students who attend youth Sunday school? How can I build bridges to the other five thousand students who attend schools within five miles of the church? What changes should I be making right away?” (p. 26).

Mr. Dunn says that everyone in youth ministry has a perspective that is “based upon their past church, ministry, educational, and personal spiritual experiences” and that they have a “preconceived set of ideas about what is important in terms of values and practices in youth ministry.” He also suggests that, because no one has perfect 20/20 vision, as it relates to youth ministry, there is the opportunity to bring that perspective into clearer focus. He further suggests a process through which this refocusing can be accomplished, that includes the following three frameworks:

Theological Framework: A “God-View”

Dunn describes this framework as one’s understanding of “the way God sees.” He says, “Based upon biblical knowledge and theological reasoning each person has a perception of who God is and how He views the created world, including people and relationships” (p. 29). He then describes six benefits of this framework:

1. “It provides the basic rationale for youth ministry….

2. “It guides the ministry Godward….

3. “It guides the ministry into the faith community….

4. “It critiques ministry practices….

5. “It determines the context and shapes the delivery of the teaching….

6. “It provides ministry motivation and challenge for service….” (pp. 29-33)

Developmental Framework: A “Youth-View”

The second framework, Dunn labels developmental and defines as one’s “understanding of the way the world is experienced in the life stage of adolescence: ‘the way youth see.” He says, “’How do students experience and make sense of their world?’ is the central question to be answered” (p. 34). He then describes four reasons that this framework is important:

1. “It overcomes inaccurate stereotypes….

2. “It informs theological understanding of spiritual maturity….

3. “It provides tangible “touch points” for intangible spiritual ministry….

4. “It shapes the discernment of outcomes and process of assessment….” (pp. 36-38)

Sociological Framework: An “Inside-View”

The third framework, Dunn labels sociological and defines as how the teenager’s environment shapes their perspective into a worldview. He says, “The socio-cultural framework is formed by the youth leader’s understanding of (a) the student’s views of social roles, networks, groups, and interpersonal affiliations and (b) the student’s relationship to cultural symbols, myths, rituals, belief systems, and worldviews” (p. 39). He then describes six reasons that this framework is important:

1. “It bridges generational assumptions….

2. “It bridges cultural assumptions….

3. “It informs a holistic understanding of an individual’s personal and spiritual development….

4. “It provides a framework for exegeting behavior….

5. “It critiques the relevance of practices for a moment in time….

6. “It identifies, in concert with the developmental lens, tangible “touch points” for incarnational ministry among youth….” (pp. 40-43)

After presenting these frameworks, Dunn draws some conclusions, which I have summarized with the following four quotes:

1. “Developing one’s ministry perspective is a long-term process of focusing theological, developmental, and sociological lenses (see Getz 1988 for a similar development).”

2.  A youth minister assignment will serve as “a catalyst for intentionally broadening and sharpening his particular understanding of the nature and practice of youth ministry.”

3. “Ultimately, it will be his daily commitment to listen to students, to seek wisdom in God’s Word, to pray with and for the students, to reflect upon successes and failures, and to submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit that will help him form an increasingly mature ministry perspective.”

4. “Steve came to Easton to make a difference by ministering the gospel to students in the community. Little did he know that the ministry of the gospel in that community would make such a difference in him.”

How Does the Teaching of This Chapter Compare with Scripture?

I am afraid that many who believe strongly in “youth ministry” will not appreciate what I am about to say, but say it I must. As you study the subject of Bible Authority, you understand that there are three ways to establish the truth on any topic. Those three ways are: 1) direct command, 2) approved apostolic example, and 3) necessary inference. As you apply those to “youth ministry,” you find no authority for a separate program labeled such to exist within the local church. Now, if you want to form an organization separate from the church that seeks to guide young people, that is perfectly fine. I have personally been associated with various works of this kind.

Florida College in Temple Terrace, FL operates the Florida College Summer Camp program with camps scattered throughout the country. I have been a counselor at one of those camps. Those camps endeavor “to provide future generations with a glimpse of the Florida College experience, full of opportunities to grow spiritually, make memories and build lifelong relationships. With more than 20 camps across the country, volunteers with a passion for the mission of Florida College make it their aim to provide what many campers call the best week of the year” (

Another program that I have personal experience with is The Heart of a Champion Character Development Program. The stated mission of that organization is “to transform culture by providing the necessary resources to educate, motivate and empower students, teachers, families and groups in core principles essential to lifetime personal development and maximized performance.” This program is conducted within the framework of a High School or Junior High School. In describing the program’s approach, they say, “Heart of a Champion teaches students about character using a program that consistently reinforces positive character traits by giving examples of persons with high character. These stories are told through quality print and video stories that engage all students. Our program focuses on nine core character traits – Commitment, Leadership, Perseverance, Teamwork, Respect, Integrity, Responsibility, Self-Control and Compassion. Each month students learn about a different trait that is broken down into four weekly lessons. Each lesson involves one video story, one print story, one group activity, and group discussion questions” (

A third program that I have personal experience with is YouthFriends. I served as a mentor to two young men while living in the Kansas City area. Youth Friends described its work, “YouthFriends volunteers are caring adult role models from the community who volunteer with young people in schools, grades K-12. The goal is to help students achieve success, both academically and socially. A child is matched up with a YouthFriends Mentor through his/her school district. YouthFriends will meet for one hour, once a week, either one-on-one or in a small group.” I was saddened to learn, as I prepared this article, that YouthFriends shut down on May 31, 2013. An article by Joe Robertson that appeared in the April 10, 2013 Kansas City Star, described their difficulties, “After 18 years and some 300,000 students served, YouthFriends is calling it quits. The nonprofit agency recruited and screened thousands of adult volunteers for more than two dozen area school districts, sending them into lunchrooms and classrooms to spend time one-to-one mentoring a youth friend. But signs of financial strain had been mounting, as the agency this year required participating school districts to begin bearing some of the program’s costs. This week, the agency notified the districts that the service would end by May 31” (

Kert Wetzig gives a good history of the development of youth ministry in his 3 part series titled “A PERSPECTIVE FOR YOUTH MINISTRY” at But a significant note is this statement in part 1, “It is interesting to note that there is no historical precedence for youth ministry. As you read through the annals of church history, you do not find any mention of youth ministries or programs before the nineteenth century (but then again, you also do not find Sunday schools, nurseries, ushers, etc.). There is virtually no mention of the role of children or teens in the church.2

2 In some instances it appears young children were discouraged from attending church at all. Elmer T. Clark, in his book The Small Sects in America (New York: Abingdon Press, 1949), pp. 202-203, tells of a written attack directed towards a man who insisted on taking his children to their rural Baptist church in the 1880’s. The letter said, “I do not object to seeing young people to meeting providing they behave themselves; and of course, it is especially encouraging if they seem to have an interest in gospel truth; but Mr. Gold goes farther than this, seeming to hold it as a sacred duty for Old School Baptists to take their children; even their babies to their meeting and see that they ‘give what attention they can to the preaching.'”

Is Youth Ministry Killing the Church?

Interestingly enough that is the title of a recent article that appeared in The Christian Century ( Kate Murphy in the February 4, 2010 article says, “Kenda Creasy Dean and others warn that when our children and youth ministries ghettoize young people, we run the risk of losing them after high school graduation. I saw evidence of this in Jonathan. Over the years I’ve worked with young people as passionate and serious about their faith as Jonathan is. I think I’ve done youth ministry with integrity. But I may have been unintentionally disconnecting kids from the larger body of Christ. The young people at my current congregation—a church that many families would never join because “it doesn’t have anything for youth”—are far more likely to remain connected to the faith and become active church members as adults, because that’s what they already are and always have been.”

Another article, written in 2013, “Christian Teens Abandon Faith Because of Youth Groups, Not Despite Them,” says, “According to a new 5-week, 3-question national survey sponsored by the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC), the youth group itself is the problem.  55% of American Christians are concerned with modern youth ministry because it’s too shallow, too entertainment focused, resulting in an inability to train mature believers.  But, even if church youth groups had the gravitas of Dallas Theological Seminary, 36% of today’s believers are convinced that youth groups themselves are not even Biblical. (

A more recent article written November 20, 2017, “The Flawed History of Youth Ministry in Less than 400 Words,” says, “Scholars have dedicated much ink to youth ministry’s problems in its initial generation. In particular, the field has drawn much criticism for its failure to form students with lasting faith. Some surveys estimate that as many as seventy-percent of young people left the church after high school (Lifeway, 2006). However, youth ministry has learned a great deal in the last decade, and continues to move forward.” According to author Cameron Cole, there are 3 problems that plagued youth ministry in the past: (1) Youth ministry had the wrong purpose, (2) Youth ministry used the wrong provisions, (3) Youth ministry operated in the wrong place. He claims that if these problems are fixed that youth ministry can be effective.

So What Is the Application We Need to Make?

I concur wholeheartedly with the answer given by the website to the question “What does the Bible say about youth ministry?” Since I already cited this article last month, I will only copy the first paragraph of the article here.

“Although youth ministry is a fixture in the modern church, there is no biblical model for such a ministry. However, biblical principles can and should be the model for all ministries in the local church, including ministry to youth. Sadly, too many youth ministries are built not on biblical principles but on fads, hype, and shallow youth culture. For this reason, many are asking the question: Is youth ministry even something God wants the church involved in? If the church wants to follow the model of fads, hype, and shallow youth culture, then the answer is a resounding no! However, student ministry, at its core, should be evaluated on the same biblical basis as any other functioning ministry in the local church…. (

So the application of the principles in Reaching A Generation For Christ by Richard R. Dunn and Mark H. Senter III are fine for organizations like the three mentioned above, but their application to our work with the young people within our local churches is not appropriate. The Bible is to be our standard of authority in those instances. In future articles in this series, then, I will reflect upon and note my observations as how they might relate to Florida College Summer Camps, Heart of a Champion Character Development Program, and other similar youth-oriented programs.

Thanks for reading …


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Reaching A Generation For Christ #1, September 26, 2020

What is Youth Ministry?

By Randy Sexton

I have a book in my library which I purchased October 23, 2009 but did not begin reading until August 9, 2018. The book is titled Reaching a Generation for Christ and is edited by Richard R. Dunn and Mark H. Senter III. The book was published and copyrighted in 1997 by Moody Press which it says is a ministry of the Moody Bible Institute. The subtitle of the book is A Comprehensive Guide to Youth Ministry, and the back cover introduces the book in this way, “In Reaching a Generation for Christ, more than fifty of the country’s youth experts send a resounding call that the years ahead can bring one of the most exciting and fruitful time ever for youth ministry. Never before has so much youth ministry been taking place. Yet we have barely begun to tap into all the creative, fresh ways to present the good news to this generation…. A comprehensive, compelling new book that expands upon and updates The Complete Book of Youth Ministry, this is a valuable resource for youth pastors, volunteers, leaders, and anyone who is concerned about capturing young people’s hearts and minds for Christ.“

The book contains 7 parts and 32 chapters written by various authors who “have studied youth ministry, taught about youth ministry, and have done youth ministry.” The 7 parts include:

  • Framework for Youth Ministry
  • Structures for Youth Ministry
  • Contexts for Youth Ministry
  • Skills for Youth Ministry
  • Challenges in Youth Ministry
  • Resources for Youth Ministry
  • The Future in Youth Ministry

With this introductory article, I hope to launch a new series, “Reaching a Generation for Christ.” I am planning to publish a new article in this series the 4th Saturday of every month. We will examine some of the thoughts and ideas presented in this book, compare them with Scripture and try to draw some applications. The articles will be written primarily by me, with perhaps a guest article periodically. I would appreciate your comments and feedback on the articles, and if you think they contain beneficial content, please share the posts with others.

The question for this introductory article is What is Youth Ministry? As I address this question, there will be four components: What Do the Scriptures Teach, What Has the Church Done Historically, What is a Youth Ministry Culture, and What Action Do I Need to Take?

What Do the Scriptures Teach?

The Scriptures certainly have much to say about teaching children to love and obey God. But the concept of a Youth Group or a Youth Ministry is foreign to the Scriptures. I would concur with the following summation of the teaching of Scripture:

“God has already given us everything that pertains to life and godliness (2Peter 1:3), including the principles and models of ministry in the Scriptures. If our goal is not to grow a youth group, but to see the first-century church ideals and convictions reproduced in the context of twenty-first-century teens, then Scripture does indeed contain sound principles for youth ministries within the church. Every ministry’s goal is to make disciples. Student ministry should be purposeful, active, engaging, and spiritual. For it to be biblical, it needs to follow the model in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 with students being mentored for character, instructed in doctrine, and equipped for every good work so that they will engage in effective ministry. The leaders (i.e., adults, mentors, pastors, youth leaders) are there to model, mentor, and equip these young ministers in Christ-like character, sound doctrine, and effective methods to reach lost peers and make disciples of their own (Matthew 28:18-20). This is clearly the ministry model of Jesus Himself. According to many scholars and experts on the life of Christ, somewhere around half of His original disciples were teenagers when He began His discipling ministry to them. His was the original ‘youth group.’

The Apostle Paul gives us a good picture of this kind of effective mentoring ministry in 
2 Timothy 2:2, when he says to Timothy, ‘And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.’ Here is the application for those in student ministry today. Mature believers are called to equip the saints with sound doctrine to produce the outcome of sound living. Now let us bring this all back into a twenty-first-century student ministries context. The goal is making disciples and seeing the power of God unleashed in and through the lives of young people. Teens are at the point in their lives where they need to know the truth of God, how to live a life pleasing to Him, and what task He has called them to. As long as our motivation and message match that of Christ, then our ministries to youth are not only biblical, but necessary.” (

What Has the Church Done Historically?

Conservative Churches of Christ have not historically had a “youth minister” or a specific ministry labeled as “youth ministry.” The conservative view of Scripture is that any organization smaller or larger than the local church is not authorized (except the church universal, of course, which has no physical organization).

Ed Harrell in his book, The Churches of Christ in The Twentieth Century, mentions “Young People’s Meetings” as a source of division. In fact in 1936, Foy E. Wallace, Jr. listed them among his “list of hateful problems.” He says that in that same year, “Guy N. Woods attacked the ‘menace’ of Young People’s Meeting Societies.” He quotes from an article written by Woods, “The Menace of the Y.P.M. Society” that appeared in Firm Foundation, March 17, 1936, p. 1, “Not since the shameful defection produced by the innovation of instrumental music and missionary societies, has a more insidious evil encroached on the purity of New Testament churches. For a time covertly, but now brazen and bold, the Y.P.M. Society, rears its ugly head, as religious journals weekly tell of further departures from the ancient order of things and the simplicity of the Lord’s arrangement” (pp. 45-47).

If you look at the history of youth ministry in denominations you find a “mixed bag.” Dave Wright, coordinator for youth ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina has written a very informative article that can be found at In this article, Wright traces the history of youth ministry from the beginning of Young Life by Jim Rayburn in the 1940s, Youth For Christ and Bible Clubs of the 50s and 60s, the parachurch movement of the 70s, and the entertainment-driven focus of the 80s. The result he summarizes as follows:

What happened in all that? First, we moved from parachurch to church-based ministry (though the parachurch continues). In doing so, we segregated youth from the rest of the congregation. Students in many churches no longer engaged with “adult” church and had no place to go once they graduated from high school. They did not benefit from intergenerational relationships but instead were relegated to the youth room.

Second, we incorporated an attractional model that morphed into entertainment-driven ministry. In doing that we bought into the fallacy of “edu-tainment” as a legitimate means of communicating the gospel. Obscuring the gospel has communicated that we have to dress up Jesus to make him cool.

Third, we lost sight of the Great Commission, deciding instead to make converts of many and disciples of few. We concluded that strong biblical teaching and helping students embrace a robust theology was boring (or only relevant to the exceptionally keen) and proverbially shot ourselves in the foot.

Fourth, we created a consumer mentality amongst a generation that did not expect to be challenged at church in ways similar to what they face at school or on sports teams. The frightening truth is that youth ministry books and training events were teaching us to do the exact methods that have failed us. The major shapers of youth ministry nationally were teaching us the latest games and selling us big events with the assumption that we would work some content in there somewhere. In the midst of all this, church leaders and parents came to expect that successful youth ministry is primarily about having fun and attracting large crowds. Those youth pastors in recent decades who were determined to put the Bible at the center of their work faced an uphill battle not only against the prevailing youth culture but against the leadership of the church as well.

The task before us is enormous. We need to change the way we pass the faith to the next generation. Believing in the sufficiency of Scripture, we must turn to the Bible to teach us how to do ministry (rather than just what to teach). Students need gospel-centered ministries grounded in the Word of God.

What Is a Youth Ministry Culture?

In the preface to the book Reaching a Generation for Christ, it is stated,

“Though theology remains the queen of the sciences, the developmental, sociological, and historical lenses assist the innovative youth leader in doing theology in the environment of this generation. Even with the four lenses, youth ministry is still an art. The Spirit of God guides the insightful disciple in painting on the tapestry of growing lives. As in The Complete Book of Youth Ministry (1987), this book revolves around three statements amplified in “Part 2: Structures for Youth Ministry:

  1. Youth ministry begins when adults find a comfortable method of entering a student’s world
  2. Youth ministry happens as long as adults are able to use their contacts with students to draw them into a maturing relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
  3. Youth ministry ceases to happen when either the adult-student relationship is broken or the outcome of that relationship ceases to move the student toward spiritual maturity.”

According to some who are active in Youth Ministry, there are five components that are necessary for building a strong youth ministry culture: creativity, communication, creating common experiences, articulating and reinforcing core beliefs, and commitment.  (“How To Build a Strong Youth Ministry Culture, Andy Blanks, February 18, 2019) (

According to one source, “In the past ten years there have been a number of excellent studies on the religious beliefs, practices, and attitudes of adolescents. Unique among these research projects is the ‘Study of Exemplary Congregations in Youth Ministry (EYM), funded by the Lilly Endowment. The EYM Project focused on identifying congregations that consistently establish faith as a vital factor in the lives of their youth and discovering what accounts for their effective approaches to ministry. Seven denominations were involved in the study: Assemblies of God, Evangelical Covenant Church, Lutheran (ELCA), Presbyterian Church USA, Roman Catholic, Southern Baptist, and United Methodist. Dr. Roland Martinson of Luther Seminar was the project director.” (Special Research Report: The Spirit and Culture of Youth Ministry, ( /uploads/5/2/4/6/ 5246709/ spirit__culture_of_ym_essay.pdf).

But some believe that current youth ministry culture has missed it’s mark. Notice, “Obsessed with cool. Trendy. Impulsive. Self-focused. Caught up in the moment. Probably sounds like a description of some of the kids in your youth group. Actually, um…well…this is not an article about youth culture or the world of today’s teenagers. This is an article about us—those of us in the youth ministry culture, those of us who work with teenagers—and how we seem to be sliding into an adolescent approach to our faith and mission. Look at our must-read books, listen to our conversations, go to our seminars and measure our values. Even a quick survey of the current youth ministry culture tells the story: We’re not just working with teenagers; we’re starting to think like them. ( “The Culture of Youth Ministry,” Duffy Robbins,

What Action Do I Need to Take?

The statistics are alarming. As Dave Wright points out in the article sited above, “Mike Yaconelli, founder of Youth Specialties, stated this rather boldly in Youthworker Journal in 2003. According to Lifeway Research, 70 percent of young people will drop out of church after high school, and only 35 percent will return to regular attendance. Christian Smith’s National Study of Youth and Religion found that most American teenagers have a positive view of religion but otherwise do not give it much thought. Kenda Creasy Dean, in her book Almost Christian, asserts, “American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith—but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school.” 

The Barna Group says, “When Barna president David Kinnaman published his 2011 book You Lost Me, we heard from many people (especially church leaders) who were shocked to learn that 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background had dropped out of church at some point during their 20s—many for just a time, but some for good.

Eight years later, research for Kinnaman’s new book Faith for Exiles: 5 Ways for a New Generation to Follow Jesus in Digital Babylon reveals that the church dropout problem is still a problem. In fact, the percentage of young-adult dropouts has increased from 59 to 64 percent. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. 18–29-year-olds who grew up in church tell Barna they have withdrawn from church involvement as an adult after having been active as a child or teen.”

So what is the solution to reversing this trend? Kinnaman has some interesting ideas that he presents in his new book, which I have not yet read. We may take a closer look at it in future articles in this series, but he introduces the concept of “resilient disciples.”

“It is not all bad news, however. Through more than a decade of interviewing teens and young adults, Barna researchers kept encountering a small but significant number of young Christians who run counter to the overall trend. So, using the same research parameters as in You Lost Me (18–29-year-olds with a Christian background), Kinnaman and the Barna team fielded new research to study the countertrend. Yes, most Christian twentysomethings spend at least some time disconnected from a faith community. But what about those who stay? What, if anything, do they have in common?

In Faith for Exiles, Kinnaman and his coauthor, Mark Matlock, get to know the one in 10 young Christians for whom they’ve coined the term “resilient disciples.” “From a numbers point of view,” Kinnaman says, “10 percent of young Christians amounts to just under four million 18–29-year-olds in the U.S. who follow Jesus and are resiliently faithful. In spite of the tensions they feel between church and everyday life, they keep showing up.”

So what does it mean to be a resilient disciple? As defined in Faith for Exiles, individuals in this group: have made a commitment to Jesus, who they believe was crucified and raised to conquer sin and death; are involved in a faith community beyond attendance at worship services; and strongly affirm that the Bible is inspired by God and contains truth about the world. In addition, they agree with one or more of the following statements that speak to the exilic conditions in which their faith still thrives:

  • I want to find a way to follow Jesus that connects with the world I live in.
  • God is more at work outside the Church than inside, and I want to be a part of that.
  • I want to be a Christian without separating myself from the world around me.”


Tune in again next month when we will continue this series.