A Different Way to Do Teen Ministry Campus Ministry Church, Mentors?

https://i1.wp.com/www.unitydanville.org/skedlogo.gifTheory Part 2 — Or why teens shouldn’t have to tell us what they did last summer

Let’s push this line of thought just a little further. And by “a little” I really mean “a lot” — because this isn’t going to be easy for anyone.

A few weeks ago our teens participated in a very worthy program called 30 Hour Famine. Now, to be clear, I like this program a lot and I’m totally sold on its value. I say that because I’m not sold on its marketing. The website says,

The 30 Hour Famine is a World Vision program that allows young people to make a significant impact on the problem of world hunger while growing closer to God and to each other. By pledging to go without food for 30 hours, participants not only raise money to help feed and care for children worldwide, but also gain an understanding of how it feels to experience hunger. Over the years we’ve learned that this experience, combined with a greater awareness of the suffering taking place in many parts of the world, will inspire young people to compassion and a greater desire to make a difference in the lives of others. Learning to rely on God and each other also bonds them and helps them grow spiritually.

(emphasis mine). Notice the mixed message. Just as soon as they talk about helping hungry children all over the world, we are told that this will help our kids by teaching them valuable life lessons and building relationships (“bonds them”). So it’s roughly 25% for the hungry children and 75% for our own children — if you count the words, which I’m bad to do.

But they’re just marketing to the teen ministry culture, and that’s what you’ve got to say to get the leaders to get the kids to do it. So I understand. And that’s not even what bothers me the most. What bothers me deep down in my gut is —


Yes! Although the 30 Hour Famine is geared towards youth, we encourage everyone to participate. In many churches, parents and other adults also fast during the 30 hours. This demonstrates support and encouragement for the young people involved.

(emphasis mine). Why should adults fast? Well, for our own children. It’s for them, after all. It’s all about us! You’d think adults just might be asked to fast for the hungry kids all over the world. Isn’t that a sufficient motivation for adults to fast?

Evidently not. Evidently, the adults are to fast for our own kids, thereby setting an example of doing good works for the sake of our own children — as though we’d never fast for children in another country. Oh, please!! Why not fast to feed the hungry? Why does it have to be for our own children?

You see, it’s of little value to include adults in youth ministry if the adults are falling all over themselves to serve kids rather than by showing them how to serve others. If the adults would skip a few meals because they have a passion for the hungry around the world, then they’d serve their own kids by sharing that passion and encouraging the kids to participate in their spiritual journey with them by sacrificing just as they do — indeed, as they would have done even if the kids didn’t participate.

Do you see the difference? Compare —

1. Church no. 1 has a well run teen ministry that does the 30 Hour Famine with just the teens and their adult volunteers, including many parents. The kids work hard, fast, raise a lot of money, and they learn valuable life lessons and bond. The rest of the church is largely unaware of this program, are never asked to participate, and clap politely when they learn about how much money the kids raised and the valuable life lessons they learned. Among the valuable life lessons: teens are willing to fast for the hungry: adults are not.

2. Church no. 2 has next to no youth ministry at all. It’s short of budget and has no permanent staff. The kids don’t invite their friends to their great devos, because they don’t have great devos. They don’t have devos at all. They just go to church with the adults.

One Sunday, the preacher speaks passionately about the starving children around the world. He shows pictures. He gives statistics. And he announces that he’s going to skip meals for 30 hours and take the savings and give it all to feed the hungry children. He challenges the church to join him in this 30 hour fast. He offers training classes on how to properly fast.

Amazingly, nearly all the congregation joins him in his fasting. His passion is contagious, and many members have traveled on missions and have seen the starvation upfront. They are delighted to have a way to meet this need. At the training sessions, several adults stand up and tearfully explain the poverty they’ve seen upfront and how they are so glad for an opportunity to come together to meet this very real need together as a church.

A few weekends later, they gather to spend much of the 30 hours together as a church, hungry, but praying, playing, and worshiping together — and the teens and their parents are there doing it all together, too.

Some of the teens even invite friends because they find the passion for the needy attractive. They want to share the feeling. They want their friends to know what it’s like to sacrifice for those in need — to be just a little like Jesus.

And the end of the fast, they announce the amount they raised to the church. It’s a poor congregation and it’s not a huge figure — but they stand and cheer and whoop and holler. They are thrilled! They know they’ve made a difference. And they know the price they each paid to make it happen. They walk out together making plans to do this again next year. A few want to do it more often than once a year.

The teens learn valuable life lessons. They learn about starvation. They bond. And they learn that the church is a community of people who will sacrifice to help those in need — and they’ll do it together, as a body. And they learn that adults do this and do it with passion. The kids want to grow up to be like the adults who were there that weekend — not just their parents and the youth ministers, but the whole group, especially some of the older members who showed the deepest passion and joy in service.

They befriend some of the older adults, who become mentors because they know and love the kids and the kids pester them into meeting and eating together. You see, they’ve shared a profound, sacrificial time together, and they’ve bonded forever in a way that we don’t normally see between adults and teens in our age-segregated age.

The kids have learned valuable life lessons — that adults care about the hungry and sacrifice because they care, that being around adults in sacrificial service is kind of cool in a way they’d never expected, and that they are a part of a church they are proud to be a part of — because it lives the sacrifice of Jesus. Some of kids consider going into missions fulltime.


23 Responses

  1. There is a powerful temptation to call others to something we ourselves are not. It’s so much easier… but so futile. In the end the student will be like the teacher. We need to focus on our own personal discipleship. Really focus. If we do that, the other things will take care of themselves.

    I still remember a statement from a sermon by Mid McKnight back in the 1970’s: “If you only lead one soul to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, make sure it is your own, and it will be worth all the effort.”

  2. Communal, multi-generational, geographically specific – characteristics not just for youth ministries, not just for “church”, but for a Christian life well lived.

  3. Jay,

    If a 30 hour fast is a good thing to do, why not just say so. And instead of criticizing the marketing plan, why not just say, “Hey! We could ALL do this! What do you say we join the teens and support and encourage everyone healthy enough to join them?” And even those who cannot be health-smart and fast with them could offer prayer support or share a video they may have about the hungry of the world, from Bangladesh to Broadway and Main Street.

    Overall, I agree that feeling we have to have very specialized ministries to very specific sub-groups only marginally follows the example of Paul when he said he ministered to the Gentiles while Peter ministered to the Jews. We need more community and more family-style relating to one another, as a community of believers gathered in one place. But we build that community NOT by criticizing those who are trying to follow the job description we gave them, but by noting how often those job descriptions fail to take into account the effect of good ministries to overlap such job descriptions. And we need to celebrate the overlap instead of claiming a ‘foul’ has been committed somehow.

    Keep the specialists if you can, but let them know that it isn’t necessary to always get approval before ministering in the overlap. Just communicate what you are doing and let those whose specialized ministry description you may be overlapping that God gave you an open door. It may be God orchestrating the overlap, you know?

    So criticizing the marketing plan may not be the best way to address this. Maybe exclaiming what a good idea it is among the other specialist-ministries is the way to go?

    What do you think?


  4. By the way, I do realize that I’ve just been the pot calling the kettle ‘black’ by critiquing the way you’ve critiqued teen ministry. But maybe we can both find some grace to accept one another’s good intentions?

    If not, then please forgive my presumption.



  5. Glenn,

    I think Jay’s overriding thesis is that we tend to segregate teens to their detriment. He is only using this fast as an illustration. (Note: this is part two of a series).

    I agree that we do a disservice to teens by sending them off to be by themselves. We may be sending them a message that 1) adults would rather not hang with teens, 2) it is all about them, and/or 3) teens are a special subgroup of humanity.

    That being said, I must admit attending youth group did help me when I was a teen. My parents were divorced and didn’t attend a church. Youth group was my entry point into the church and sometimes my shelter from the troubles of home.

  6. I can appreciate where all of this is coming from. I am the Youth Minister at a congregation of about 125. Our “youth group” is one college sophomore, one high school sophomore, and usually one and at most five middle schoolers. Four of those five middle schoolers spend every Sunday morning in “children’s church.” And I get frustrated with all of this becuase I, unfortunately, bought into what the youth ministry industry tells us to expect: shiny happy teens who are crawling over each other to be involved in every facet of church life. We tried to do the 30-Hour Famine and the elders denied the request (not CoC-affiliated). But yes, even with a handful of youth, we get marginalized because that’s what is expected, that’s why there’s a Youth Ministry and a (barely) paid Youth Minister. I know things need to be done differently, and I really appreciate Jay tackling this touchy subject.

  7. Adam,

    Exactly. The congregation should help — be scaffolding to help us build the community Jesus adds us to — and we’ve gotten to where the congregation often gets in the way.

  8. Glenn,

    It’s necessary to criticize the marketing plan because the marketing plan is a microcosm of a flawed youth ministry culture — a culture that elders, preachers, youth ministers, and members have all bought wholesale. It’s not enough to do the 30-hour famine together unless you also intentionally work to break the mold, escape the mindset, and look for ways to re-integrate the children with the adults. And it’s not an easy task.

    To borrow a business term, we need a paradigm shift — and that means recognizing the problems we need to escape from and consciously working toward a new way of doing things.

    Now, I’m not picking on youth ministers — well, not just youth ministers. The buck stops with us elders. It’s the entire leadership structure that’s at fault. But I’m a parent, too, and I’ve just had my youngest of four finish his time in youth ministry — and I just figured this out too late to be of much use to my own children. And that would be squarely my own fault.

    To change things requires that everyone involved see the problem, understand why it’s a problem, and work together to find a solution. And that means we all get to take a little criticism — starting with the elders. But that’s why we elders get paid the big bucks.

  9. J.P.,

    Thanks for the insight from the youth minister’s perspective. I’d love to hear from more who are or have been youth ministers.

    (Just what denomination has all the hungry kids, I wonder?)

  10. I agree with Glenn above and also with Guy over in the “Amazing Grace: Patternism Articles in New Wineskins”.

    I feel that article as well as the articles in this “A Different Way to Do (Teen Ministry Campus Ministry) Church” series and to a certain extent some of the political posts recently reflect a sharp shift in the tone of this blog. It’s suddenly like being in a different place.

  11. Mike Ward,

    Could you explain your post @ 9:30pm better? I’d like to better grasp what you are saying.

    It is just funny how like-minded people can respond to the same thing in the exact opposite way. I’ve been thinking lately, “Wow! These political posts sure have my head spinning. My entire paradigm has been turned up on its head…turns out, not all Christians hate welfare, etc.! And not all Christians feel that it is our duty to sign those random petitions at church for whatever political cause!”

    For me, this is liberating. Not that I necessarily agree…it’s just that it has forced me to look at some things through a different lens. And for me, that is a good thing.

    I think Guy had fair criticism. For me, Glenn’s was too sensitive. If we can’t look at something objectively (critique), we’ll never improve.

    But from your post, I got the feeling that you were implying OIJ has taken a sharp turn towards negativity and criticism…or something like that. I’d like to better understand your criticism.

  12. Like it. You addressed an issue I just mentioned in my comment on part 1. Good job.

  13. So it’s back to a one-size-fits-all, pulpit-minister-as-one-man-band motif, where the minister is expected every week to craft a message that uniquely speaks to every member regardless of their wide diversity in spiritual growth?

    Should teaching and training never be shaped to the disciple’s level of growth and understanding?

    Everyone act just like the most mature Christians among us! I don’t care how old you are, how long you’ve been a Christian, or how equipped you are for such activity! Just do it! and if you don’t, go sit over there with the non-disciples.

    Heaven forbid we offer milk to the infant and meat to the mature.

  14. Moses preached the sermon of Deuteronomy to a crowd which included the toddlers (Deut 29:10-11).

    Jehoshaphat called the assembly together to pray, including the toddlers (2 Chron 20:3)

    Ezra’s prayer, call for repentance, and oath were conducted before an assembly that included the children.

    Of course that does not mean that the small children were present in every assembly. Nor does it mean that they have to be present in all of our assemblies. But there is a reason that the Holy Spirit recorded that bit for us. There is something to be gained by having children witness their parents’ worship.

  15. Alan, it is indeed hard to assemble ALL ISRAEL without assembling ALL ISRAEL, eh? I mean, if you leave the babysitters and babies at home, then they aren’t in the assembly.

    Of course there’s something to be gained by having children witness their parents’ worship — but Jay’s whole premise seems to be that gains for the children shouldn’t be a focus, but rather that everyone should be treated the same and have the same things expected of them.

  16. Nick, I won’t try to speak for Jay, but IMO the point is that we shouldn’t be catering to the children as though everything revolves around them. Including them with the adults (and not just on Sunday morning) can be good for them. Creating in children a sense of entitlement to being served is not good for them. That’s one message I got from reading Jay’s post.

    But the answer has to include the parents being “all in” — fully invested in following Jesus. That’s not the first thing on a list of many. It’s the only thing on the list. If we do that, the children will do just fine IMO.

  17. Maybe we should stop catering to the adults first?

  18. Nick, Exactly!! Whether that catering includes musical tastes, or babysitting the kids while the parents worship, or taking over the responsibility for spiritual training of the kids… or turning worship services into a spectator event… or any of a thousand other things churches do to attract people to services. Jesus didn’t do any of those things.

  19. I also struggle with figuring out where serving one another stops and catering to one another begins.

  20. Rule of thumb: When people act as if they are entitled to the service, you might be catering to them.

  21. Nick,

    I don’t think you’re fairly characterizing what I’ve written. For example, I wrote,

    We still need teen ministry and teen ministers, but not to run a separate sub-congregation. … And we’ll still need the teens to attend youth rallies and go to concerts by Christian artists. We’ll still need classes. Youth ministry will still happen; it’ll just be different.

    And how does advocating that teens serve alongside adults who act as mentors for them mean that the teens must act “just like the most mature Christians among us”?

    I think we treat the teens as babes for way too long. Yes, they are less mature and less capable. But they aren’t 5 year olds. I think our expectations are way too low. (And our expectations of our adults are too low, too.) The teens can do much more than we generally expect of them (as can the adults). They won’t perform at the same level as adults, but they also won’t do anything beyond our expectations.

    They should certainly do many things with other teens that are age appropriate. They shouldn’t spend all their time apart from adults — or only with adults who are there to serve them. They need to learn by serving alongside the adults at every opportunity that makes sense given the nature of the opportunity and the maturity of the kids.

    The Bahamas mission example from an earlier post would be, to me, a classic example.

  22. Jay, I’m really sorry. I was having a really rough day in several directions, and I dumped on you.

    Honestly, I think that the best hope for the Western church is for us to equip, mentor, and fertilize our Spirit-empowered teens who are too young to pay attention to arguments about “the complete” or doubt His power in and through them, and turn them loose to generate a spiritual earthquake in our culture.

    Again, I’m really sorry I was such a jerk earlier.

  23. Nick,

    Apology gladly accepted.

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