My hope is that this post will really make you think about your youth ministry, and the role you play in the greater ministry of your church. I also want to engage in some dialogue, something that sometimes doesn't always work on blogs. But I want to try it anyway. I want to hear your thoughts on this subject, as you are the experts.
Let's start this post off by thinking about the idea of "family ministry." One of the more refreshing "trends" in youth ministry is a return to focusing on family ministry. When I refer to family ministry, I am referring to a ministry philosophy that lifts up the family unit as the primary platform or the medium through which students' spiritual development takes place. I say "trend" because my prayer is that it is more a movement than a trend, an awakening of sorts . . . I see more and more youth ministers coming to the realization that ideally, their role in discipling students is a complementary one, not a primary one. Ideally, parents should be the chief disciplers of their children. Ideally, a youth pastor or youth worker would supplement and compliment the disciple-making that is taking place in the home. Ideally, a youth pastor's role would be twofold: acting as equipper and motivator of parents; and playing the vital role of "meaningful adult" in the lives of students (mentioned in various important studies some of which you can see here), shepherding them to a deeper relationship with Christ.
I say ideally because this simply does not happen in a lot of cases.
A couple of days ago I had a long conversation with a very experienced youth pastor. He serves in an established and influential church. We were talking about the challenges a family-based youth ministry models. He and I were batting different points back and forth, when I was reminded of a great point made by one of my youth ministry mentors. Several months ago I was talking with Dr. Allen Jackson, Director of the Youth Ministry Institute at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, and all-around youth ministry guru. We were having a similar conversation to the one I was having with my youth minister friend, basically talking about the challenges of discipleship that youth pastors are faced with. Dr. Jackson said something profound. He said (and I paraphrase) the reason parents are not discipling their children is because parents themselves are not being discipled. Adults are not being discipled in our churches, therefore they have no basis for how to lead their own children in discipleship. How do you train someone to do something you have never been trained to do?
In essence, a lack of disciple-making in our churches has created parents who either do not know they are called to be the leaders in their students' spiritual growth, or do not know how even if they are aware of the call (my words, not Dr, Jackson's). I believe Dr. Jackson was exactly right. And when we begin to really apply this logic, we can quickly see how the process of discipleship has been altered and subverted.
So, what do we make of this? --Do you see discipleship happening in the homes of your students? --Has youth ministry been negatively impacted by the spiritual state of students' parents and adults in general? --If so, how have you seen this affect your ministry and/or youth ministry in general?
I welcome your thoughts, as I believe this is a crucial dynamic that greatly impacts the way in which we carry out our call to help make disciples of teenagers. If you have a moment, share your responses in the comment section below.