We are launching our teen ministry this fall, and it has caused me to just think through some things.
Teen ministry needs to focus less on the "fun" and
more on the "grow." It's the only place in our society where a teen will receive help and encouragement to grow closer to Jesus and be part of His Kingdom besides in their house (if they have a healthy Christian family), encounters with other Christians, and on Sunday mornings. We have a sacred responsibility in our teen ministries that is too often neglected.
Our teen ministries across this land have erred with good intentions. Somewhere along the road, the purpose of teen ministry was to be fun and draw kids in who don't really want to grow spiritually. The hope was that we would pull them in with the fun and then they would grow spiritually despite not having the desire to grow initially. Despite the complete ineffectiveness of this approach, it has been hard for us to shake off. Because being entertaining and drawing the largest crowd is just the wrong goal. Because the side effect of that approach is that the teen ministry then neglects to actually help the kids grow who actually want to grow. And so nobody is growing spiritually although the youth group may be growing numerically.
The result of this approach, which also creeps into church as a whole, is that the teens move on from youth ministry and expect the church as a whole to be the same way. Our churches then get filled with people who just want to be entertained while the people who want to actually serve and grow don't feel that the church is the place for them. They then leave the youth ministry and, maybe, the church as a whole because it is a
shallow institution that isn't attempting to do the mission it should do.Youth ministry shouldn't be a place of high energy and fun yet low spirituality where spiritually lackadaisical parents send their kids to be entertained and, hopefully, grow. That type of ministry won't work. That model of youth ministry has created the dead church of today. I have no desire to pursue it and continue its damaging legacy.
We have neglected our sacred role of focusing on helping people grow spiritually.
To fix this, we really need to be spiritually intentional and up the spiritual intensiveness of our teen ministries. But it will only work in a church environment that wants that. Parents don't complain if the English class or math class at school isn't focused on fun and games. People understand and know that they send their kids to those classes to learn English and math. An English and math teacher isn't evaluated on how fun their class is. They are evaluated on how well they teach.
This doesn't mean that learning and growth can't be fun. It just means that pizza and games must take a backseat to them. We have a sacred role to play as the church in society. We are the ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. Let's not abandon that role to just appeal to more people. In the end, nobody else is going to do what we are called to do if we neglect doing it.
So if you are involved in a teen ministry, you are joining in on the sacred responsibility to help the students to grow closer to Jesus and find their place in the Kingdom of God. Don't let that goal get pushed to the side by attempting to make things fun. Fun isn't the goal. Let fun just be a tool used in making the greater goal of spiritual growth a reality. Because let's be honest, our entertainment society specializes in fun. We can't compete with that. But we are the only place that will focus on growing closer to Jesus and being the Kingdom of God. Let's keep that in focus. You can teach. You can mentor. You can pray for them. And in the end, their spiritual growth is what matters.