Revolution: "A sudden or momentous change in a situation; to overthrow the current system for something radical and fresh"
Youth ministry needs a revolution. It needs to be overthrown, retooled and reborn. The majority of what passes as youth ministry is organized babysitting: songs, games, a short devo and pizza afterward…yippee!
Mark Senter III wrote in The Coming Revolution in Youth Ministry that there is no way which the programs and youth ministry tactics currently being used will ever stem the moral tidal wave of corruption that has encompassed our teenagers. In his ground breaking book Mr. Senter emphasizes again and again the urgent need for a fundamental transformation of the way that youth ministry is done in America. I agree with him.
If you disagree with the radical assertion that the overall approach to youth ministry is a failed experiment, stop and think about three stark realities:
- According to Dr. Gary Railsback up to 50% of evangelical college freshman will forsake their Christian beliefs by their senior year of college.
- According to George Barna:
- 2 out of 3 Christian teens will evacuate the church after they graduate from high school
- 63% of our teens don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God
- 58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths
- 51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead
- 70% don’t believe an absolute moral truth exits
Not only are we failing to reach the non Christian teens in our culture, we are failing to reach the "Christian" teens in our youth groups. Oops.
We all have bad, sad stories of teens who have forsaken their Christian roots for the tempting fruit of this world. We are not alone. Jesus had Judas. Paul had Demas. Who do you have?
Who is your Demas, your Judas? Think of that one student in your youth group who turned on Jesus. As I think of the teens in my youth group who became sad stories I have to ask myself if there was anything I could have done to have prevented them from going AWOL. Ask yourself the same thing.
I believe that, for the most part, the answers that typical 21st youth ministry thinking has proposed for these problematic stats and stories are weak. Most curriculum factories churn out dummied down tidbits of truth that barely challenge the thinking of the average Christian teen. Of course, there are exceptions to this (praise God!) But the average curriculum taught at the average youth group is producing average Christianity. And "average Christianity" is an oxymoron that ranks right up there with "jumbo shrimp" and "military intelligence." Average Christianity is not enough to give our teens the moral fiber they are going to need to serve Christ with passion in the temptation trap called the college life.
The same Christian teens going to your youth group every week are taking Calculus, Trig and economics at school. Their minds are being pushed by ambitious teachers, trying to expand the thinking of their students. Meanwhile we are giving them five reasons not to have sex before they get married! Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for abstinence. But what about the character of God, the deity of Jesus, the doctrine of justification, sanctification and glorification??? Plunge a teen headfirst into who God is, what salvation is, all the great stuff of theology, and then abstinence and holiness, and practical Christianity will become a no-brainer.
Spurgeon (a preacher who lived a long time ago) said that "The key to great preaching is great subjects." Most youth leaders have taken the greatest subjects, hidden them behind the counter and fed their kids junk food Christianity instead.
Don’t be afraid to push your teens. Push their thinking. Expand their minds through the amazing truths in the Word of God. Help them stop and meditate on the mystical, mind-blowing truths of God. Get a good old fashioned debate going over key theological truths. The fireworks will trigger spiritual adrenaline in your teens’ minds and souls that will help them to know and own the truth for themselves instead of living off borrowed faith.
It’s not just our curriculums that tend to be weak. Our strategies are weak too. Instead of challenging teens in and equipping them toward the fulfillment of the Great Commission we compress most of their outreach energies into the annual mission trip. Too little. Too late. Too bad.
It’s time we believe in teens, motivate them to go for it and unleash them in real and viable ways to change the world. In so doing they themselves will be changed and youth ministry will be revolutionized.
Don’t wait for the curriculum or the conference or the whitepaper. Revolution begins with a simple, radical idea. These radical ideas are often simple to understand yet hard to execute. Why? Because, as one sage put it, "Every significant break through started as a break with." If you join the revolution you will be breaking with mainstream youth ministry thought.
But the real revolution begins with you. If you are willing to live a revolutionary life then God will use you in powerful ways to launch the revolution in your teens. Revolution ultimately finds its epicenter, not in a revolutionized curriculum or youth ministry model, but a revolutionized life.
Let the revolution begin in you and me.