A former student of mine was put in an awkward position when he was made aware of some comments made by a Mr. Scott Brown (see the link below) that stirred up quite a debate within his church and the leadership. Mr. Brown is director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches. Here are a few of those comments: “Philosophy and practice of comprehensive, age-segregated, programmatic youth ministry” is “contrary to the ministry patterns of Christ…Modern youth ministry is also inherently destructive in its impact. It divides the church by creating generational division and multiple cultures instead of a unified body…I hope we are now at the end of this 50-year failed experiment”; and modern youth ministry is “a weed that gained root in the church”; and “This slippery slope of age segregation leads to the isolation of an individual’s perspective to one that only looks outward from within the confines of (an) age group and excludes the lessons that can and should be learned from previous generations.”

Now that Brown’s film Divided has gone viral, the debate is becoming more heated. (As a former youth pastor in three different states and Canada, as well as an executive director of Youth for Christ, and now a professor of youth ministry at a major Christian university, after reading all these comments, I have reached a stage of being really ticked off). These are fiery comments that demand a response.
OK, there is one thing I tend to agree with: “We now have almost three generations of children who had no father who walked beside them, but a youth group instead” and as one homeschool representative responded, “Scott Brown and others make it sound as if we tend to abandon the youth during this time, turning them over to the influence of other teens and ungodly models more than to the influence of godly mentors and the family.”

Regardless of where a person stands on this issue, the movement seems to be picking up steam. I attended the first D6 (Deuteronomy 6) conference in Dallas in September 2009 and have attended annually since. Frankly, I wanted to see where it was headed in regard to the FIC movement. Upon attending the past conference (2011), I was pleasantly surprised that there appeared to be an intentional strategic plan to include children and youth ministry juxtapositioned with family ministry. There were 2,000 – 3,000 people there. D6 also has its own family-friendly–“dads, moms and grandparents are the primary spiritual leaders in the lives of their students”–curriculum. Some of the attendees weren’t overt FIC people, but you knew there was an undercurrent. The emphasis was on homes and families, and no one was going to argue against that. Also emphasized: dads being the head of the household and being responsible for the spirituality of their family. OK, still no problem. Also emphasized: parents being responsible for the education of their children. No debate here. (Homeschoolers tend to resonate with this thought at a level and involvement that others may not be as enthusiastically embraced.)

From my viewpoint, wise dads identify and enlist those sources (and individuals) that can help facilitate spiritual growth, along with educational growth in their kids. Wise dads know their limitations. Now, this doesn’t excuse them from becoming students themselves; but it does permit them to outsource some of their limitations in order to accomplish a delicate and critical task of raising godly families. However, there are some educational shortages with which I need assistance. Frankly, there are some spiritual and biblical knowledge shortages in my life with whihc I need assistance. I want to be all that I can be; but neither can I be everything to my teenagers, nor can I know everything. My teenagers already know that. I need others in my corner who are supporting me and my role as a father. The youth pastor or youth worker needs to be in my corner. For a long time, we have dismissed any input from youth workers on the subject of parenting who weren’t parents. I have dismissed that way of thinking. Youth workers, who are not parents themselves, can recognize good parenting and they can recognize bad parenting. Why? Because they had good or bad parenting. We as seasoned parents shouldn’t dismiss such a relevant perspective.

Those of us who are passionate about youth ministry could give biblical counterpoints to Brown’s position. Those who were youth in ministry and those who practiced ministry among youth have done a noble job in using current methodology, while maintaining the ancient and sacred message of hope and faith in Christ. Today, that tradition continues in youth ministry. These youth pastors and leaders know they have to consider the cultural context, as well as the psychological context. From a cultural context, Brown is putting the blame for the mass exodus of young people from the church on youth ministry and Sunday School. Well, where was he when these ideas were being shaped? Youth ministry (and Sunday School) were started with a godly and biblical motivation based on admonitions in Scripture. Retrospect is beneficial, but it’s also easy. It’s much more difficult to think and plan ahead. To call youth ministry a “weed” is an offensive, hurtful and ugly characterization.

From a psychological context, teenagers are beginning to become independent from their parents. It’s a slow process that typically starts in middle school and ends when they finish high school or college (though some have what is called a delayed adulthood or extended adolescence, which often is an excuse for the struggling adolescent to avoid adult responsibilities). Sometimes this process is seamless, but most parents see adolescence as a turbulent transition. Regardless, teenagers are beginning to separate from their parents. Some parents can’t handle this; others handle it incorrectly. Instead of loosening their grip on their kids, they tighten their grip. Instead, parents should begin to loosen their grip appropriately and in a timely manner. Do parents want their kids to be dependent on them into adulthood? (I’m sure there are some Mommy Dearest types out there; but for the most part, the answer is no). I sure don’t. So it’s my job as a parent to prepare them for adulthood. During adolescence, parenting needs to modify itself to compensate for the young adult inside of a teenager’s body.

I’m all about the family context, but frankly we tend to hang out with those closest to our age. To amalgamate everything into church ministry is a step back into the Stone Age. It is certainly idealistic. As one of our pastors said, “Tear down the silos and work in the barn.” In other words (to stay with the farm analogy), the various animals have their stalls, but they are all under the same roof. Sure we have times to get everyone together, but not everything is done together. When was the last time you went to a family reunion? You don’t mind them, but you don’t go to one every weekend; and when you do go to a family reunion, you do age-appropriate things. I can do everything I could do when I was 14…for about 2 minutes. I don’t want to and cannot do everything that everyone is doing at a family reunion. Teenagers don’t always want to be with adults; adults do not always want teenagers to be children and teenagers. It’s just not human nature. God designed us that way. “When I was a child, I thought as a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me” (1 Corinthians 13:11).

We cannot dismiss 50-plus years of youth ministry. There has been much debate on the attrition rate of students leaving church when they begin college and never returning. There are obviously enough stats to raise alarm regardless of which survey you cite, but to put the blame solely on youth ministry is biased and skewed. Let me weigh in on this ecclesiastical issue with a probable solution. One way to lower the attrition rate among college-age students is to have a vibrant and active college student ministry. This is the link that is missing in many churches between high school and adulthood. The modus operandi for many churches is to utilize their college students as volunteers and workers within the church (at best) or morph them into some adult church group (at worst). College students need to be ministered to, as well; and they still like to have fun, date, do adventurous things and be challenged…similar to…youth ministry! So now we’re back to square one.

This problem might not have occurred if during the past 30 years parents stopped dropping off their kids at church and expecting the church to teach their children all they need to know about faith and instead discussed what they learned at church as a family at home and built on the teaching they received from church teachers and ministers. The youth worker’s job is to build the foundation and help cultivate what parents have built into their children. The youth worker is to help/aid the parents in giving them the essentials that a teenager needs in order to stand alone in his or her faith. What does that look like? When that teenager begins to make the right decisions on his or her own–without prompting from parents–regardless of the potential social consequences. In other words, they can stand alone.

In his profound (and unfortunately out of print) book Raising Adults, Jim Hancock (1999) makes the following comments based on research:
“There’s a lot of evidence that kids listen to adults before they listen to their peers. You’d think this isn’t true because of the mythology around peer pressure. The truth is, kids gravitate first to older people who accept and value them and with whom they feel safe. If no one like that is around, then they look to peers for relationship, affirmation and support.”

This is a strong confirmation for the parents’ role, as well as the youth worker. Youth workers are on the same side as parents. Sure I’m biased in my opinion of the validity of youth ministry, and one could argue this position is simply one of job security. I would be the first to argue that methods do change according to the cultural climate, and some methods become archaic. However, our culture has catered, targeted, influenced, manipulated, brainwashed and marketed our teenagers. Youth ministry in its traditional and modern sense has been a viable, effective and blessed methodology. There are countless numbers of teenagers who have been impacted for the faith by organized youth ministry. The apostle Paul had a pretty good attitude about those with whom he disagreed: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. The latter do so in love, knowing I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing they can stir trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. Because of this, I rejoice…” (Philippians 1:15-18). I will strive to disagree agreeably; but in the meantime, I will continue to promote, push, ponder, perfect, pursue and practice youth ministry.

Big List of Sources Cited
ChristianPost.com, accessed Dec. 16, 2009.

Hancock, J. (1999). Raising Adults: Getting Kids Ready for the Real World. Colorado Springs, Col Piñon Press.

The National Center for Family-Integrated Churches beliefs (aka confessions) are biblically based with a view of the local church as a “family of families” with an emphasis on multi-generational ministry. According to its website, family integration is not the only issue, but it is the defining issue of our day. It is this loss of family culture that is being addressed…the type of family modeling that is exemplified by the New Testament church. It is also claimed not to be a denomination but a network of churches believing in biblical church authority. It would be interesting to hear the discussions of those churches (or church authorities) that don’t agree with the NCFIC when it comes to practical ministry. In fairness to the NCFIC, it does not view itself as the only solution to the culture-driven, age-segregated, peer-dominated modern church; but it is clear that its stance has direct impact on youth ministry, “NCFIC is unabashedly opposed to the non-historical, non-biblical emphasis on youth culture…” NCFIC, Accessed Jan. 4, 2010.

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