The Rise of the Teenager – 2

So what did the church do with the newly-discovered ‘teenager’? Sadly, as the trend had been since Finney, the approach was to parrot, reflect and compete with popular culture, rather than challenging its very foundations. In the 1930s, Lloyd Bryant of Manhattan began organising massive ‘youth rallies’. Along with the efforts of Jack Wyrtzen and radio personality Percy Crawford, these rallies grew to be nationally successful events, and the organisation became known as Youth for Christ.

Parachurch youth ministries began to flourish. Local churches soon felt they needed to follow suit with their own ‘versions’. By the 1950s, the church ‘youth group’ was an established norm. Soon, youth camps, youth concerts, youth ‘Gospel music’ and eventually, ‘the youth pastor’ had become simply part of the landscape of professing evangelicalism. So, indeed, Spurgeon, Edwards, Wesley, or Baxter wouldn’t have a clue how to ‘do youth ministry’ – because they never had such groups.

But what was the upshot of this concession to youth culture in the church?

1) Secular youth culture was about entertainment and the worship of one’s youth. Not surprisingly, church youth groups were almost always patterned around entertainment. What youth group have you ever been to which did not include games, party tricks, films, outings, sports or some kind of ‘hook’? It was hardly questioned as a method. Young people want to have fun. Youth should be fun. Right?

But to preserve the ‘fun’ aspect, it was necessary that the teaching be dumbed down or ‘specialised’. No serious teaching of the Scriptures, no expository preaching could exist if the ‘fun’ element was to be preserved. So teaching became trite, lightweight, minimal and usually topical – particularly the perennial topics of dating, friends, fashions and worldliness.

Yes, we were told to shun the world in our youth groups. How ironic to tell young people to shun the youth culture around them when you are providing essentially the same thing in the church.

2) Secular youth culture lived on its music. The music gave it its identity. So what could church youth ministries do except concede in this area as well? Witness the birth of Contemporary Christian Music in the 1960s, as the church realised its doppelgänger could only survive with a ‘Christianised’ version of the music of popular youth culture.

3) Youth groups tended to produce immature people: spiritually immature, because of the shallow teaching, and emotionally immature because they were encouraged to revel in their adolescence with other youth (cut off from the mature members of church) and magnify their immaturity.

4) Not only so, but youth ministry always had a high fall-off rate. Somewhere around 20 or so, most drop out, because the entertainment factor seems to be less pronounced than in ‘youth’. They feel alienated when the church now expects them to ‘grow-up’, and they go elsewhere for the entertainment offerings. As someone said, what you win them with is what you must keep them with.

5) Sadly, youth ministry often divided families. Instead of keeping families together, church youth ministry has often split them up. As a teenager, I was part of a church where my involvement had me at church five nights, sometimes six, a week. My parents hardly saw me. This isn’t teaching youth commitment; it’s criminally irresponsible on the part of the elders.

This ‘targeted’ approach to age-group ministry is, in its worse forms, a secularisation of the church. Our segmentation of the church is so foreign to the words of Paul:

Titus 2:2-6 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience;  the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things —  that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed. Likewise exhort the young men to be sober-minded,

The young are to have the wisdom of the old around them. The elderly are to have the vigour and sprightliness of youth around them. This is God’s pattern for youth ministry – it is the older discipling the younger. But instead of this cohesive one-another ministry, the church bought into target-marketing by age group. So the church began a process it battles now to break – people go from children’s clubs to youth groups, to young singles’ groups, to newlyweds’ groups to new parents’ groups to teen parents’ groups to empty-nesters to quilting groups for the elderly.

This is not Titus 2; this is Madison Avenue. This is Wall Street. God’s Titus 2 pattern is not so much ministries, but ministry.

The burden of youth ministry falls on parents. Parents must not allow the youth to form herds in which they reflect and magnify one another’s immaturity. Some basic suggestions:

* In church, peer association must be discouraged when family association should be central – like sitting together in church.

* Youth should attend adult discipleship and Bible study courses – they can handle it!

* Youth events must avoid triteness and silliness and encourage a studious attitude towards the Word.

* And the music? If you want teenagers enslaved to youth culture, then teach them that Contemporary Christian Music is simply their music ‘for today’, and the golden oldies can go to their ‘traditional’ hymn service in the morning. [Incidentally, why would Christians want to parrot musical forms that found their origin in the rebellious youth culture in the 50s?]

* Do we really need a ‘Youth Pastor’? A recently graduated extrovert who acts like a high-schooler himself? In other words, a paid entertainer with an NIV under one arm and a volleyball under the other? The youth pastor must be replaced by the father. It is the father’s role to instruct his ‘teenage’ sons and daughters.

So should a church have a youth ministry? I don’t know about a youth ministry, but the church should definitely minister to its youth. Elders must acts like fathers. Godly women teach the younger. Gather together as a families and as a church family. Disciple these young people through the years that the world makes into something they need never be.


3 Responses to “The Rise of the Teenager – 2”

  1. Dave Says:


  2. Brother Ed Says:


    This “evolution” of the youth culture is being repeated over and over again in our churches. My conviction is that the division be eliminated all together – even in Sunday School.

    It is one more proverbial “nail in the coffin” for the family unit.


  3. David Says:

    Too true. We talk about being separated from the world, but bring it right into the sanctuary.

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